Geekbox Reviews: Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: IO Interactive
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (November 20, 2012)
Genre: Stealth-action
Official Website:
Reviewed By: Eric Neigher and David Wolinsky

Eric Neigher, Motor City Cobra: I’ve been a fan of the Hitman series before it was produced by Square Enix, and the developers have really gotten the stealth-killing thing down to a science now. As far as Absolution goes, I feel like the game has lost a little bit of the free-form goodness of old, pre-metagaming Hitman titles. Here, you’re always made aware that doing things this way yields this score multiplier, whereas killing this guy has incurred this score penalty, etc. It takes you out of the game and puts you in a game about a guy playing a game the right way, instead of about just killin’ folks.

What are your thoughts on the structure and storyline? Do you feel like Absolution does a good job of sucking you in? And how do you feel about the fact that the prologue takes place in your hometown?

David Wolinsky, Smooth Criminal: Here’s where we diverge, I suppose, in that I couldn’t get behind previous Hitman games. I always thought it was a cool concept, but the execution felt clunky and strange. I also have been stoked for this Hitman since E3 last year, which baffled me because I had given up on the series and figured it just wasn’t for me. Absolution is.

As far as the whole “it lost a little bit of the free-form goodness,” foo, I say. Foo! It’s a series that’s changing and trying new things. What’s the alternative? Square could go the Nintendo route and give us New Hitman: The Bald Adventures, not really changing much but slapping a new label on it. I’m aware it’s a different type of game bearing the same name — and this is one that got its hooks into me right away. What difficulty are you playing on, Eric? Because I assume those prompts don’t flash at you all the time on the higher ones. I’m playing on normal, which is pretty brutal. There’s a routine that sets in in each level (remain undetected, infiltrate, make the kill, escape), which on the surface might seem repetitive but, then again, the game is called “Hitman.” That’s what hitmen, do, right?

It’s a punishing game, but one that lays out the rules and obstacles for you plainly. You have to hone your skills to get better at it, and the better you do, the more abilities you unlock or enhance. But before I delve in deeper, yeah, a good chunk of the game takes place in Chicago. My knowledge came in handy, really, because on the fourth level I took a detour en route to the Terminus Hotel and laid low at the great vegan restaurant on North Broadway near the Binny’s, didn’t murder anyone, and just ate spring rolls. My score multiplier on them were off the charts. And no gluten, bitches!

So, as a series fan, do you feel all these changes are so heretical it’s a turnoff?

Eric: I’m playing on the first of the professional difficulty levels, so I don’t get those helpful hints. You make a great point that the game can really be tailored to conform to a variety of different play styles and gamer preferences. I’m just a major “completionist” in games like this, so I like to try new things and have them work, rather than be told: unnecessary! That’s just me, though.

I don’t feel the series will be a turnoff to longtime fans, inasmuch as the changes to how the game is played are concerned. They aren’t major, and as you pointed out, you can customize them to a large degree. The story, however, may be a different… story. You start out as your usual, badass, amoral self, and then the game quickly transmogrified into a pastiche of Leon (a.k.a. The Professional) and Sucker Punch, only the former of which is at all worth pastiche-ifying in any way. Sure, you still get to kill people in interesting ways, and the game works hard to make sure that the people you kill “deserve” it so you don’t feel like a total tool, but the whole moral quandary thing that the story presents you with diverges from the core Hitman ideology of just being an efficient killer and nothing else.

I know you’re playing on console and I’m playing on PC (as usual), so I don’t know if you’re aware of the myriad graphical options and control schemes you can customize on PC, but I’m wondering: how does the game look and how does it work with a controller? Is there intrusive auto-aim, does movement flow well, do you feel part of the action?

David: Big props to you for playing on a harder difficulty. All I know is the guys doing the guided demos at E3 last year were very, very good at it. It’s cool to know it’s up to me to get better at this game, and I want to — in fits and starts. Much as I love the game, and there is depth there, I find there’s built-in, limited shelf life. Each level is essentially the same thing, as I said, and it makes sense, but either you’re in the mood for it or you’re not. I don’t want to spoil too much, but some of my favorite levels were the hospital, the gun range, and the gee-shucks ‘50s-feeling city block. Although Hitman nobly varies the environs, it is very much the same thing again and again. I happened to enjoy that particular thing, so it’s cool for me, but even then I didn’t want to gorge on it like a wee one on double-chocolate birthday pie.

I think the game’s tone also deserves a nod, because it manages to tweak schlocky action tropes (“one last score…”), inject a good amount of dark humor (murdering as a hot-sauce mascot beaver seems like something out of Death to Smoochy), and still manage to make you feel like a badass when you’re excelling at the challenges laid out before you. I also like how many different ways you can accomplish the same hits, although I still to this day don’t get how to use the piano on an apartment floor to murder anyone, do you?

There was no intrusive auto-aim in my experience, and I wonder if that’s some sort of hand-holding option? Given how there’s a mode that arms you with a crosshair and nothing else, I’m assuming you can switch it off. It works perfectly on a controller, although sometimes I wish there was an ability to dive out of the way when you’re almost spotted. Instead I almost always find myself trying to creep away very, very slowly and backwards — and there’s nothing more suspicious than that, save for being a hulking bald dude in a black suit and red tie wielding a wrench in a library.

Anyway, it’s a highly customizable game, and that comes to bear strongest, perhaps, on Contracts mode, which I really like as well. It’s a vertical slice of the game completely independent of the main campaign. You can play levels made by the developer (I’d recommend this) or ones made by other players (these aren’t quite as up to par yet, which makes sense) — they take place in the same levels but have different requirements, like, say, “Kill the Chinatown chef using garrote wire, dump the body, and you can only do it dressed as a Chicago cop.” It’s cool and intuitive because you have to play the mission you want to create — meaning no one can create something impossible — but, again, it’s more of the same. And, again, I mean that in a good way.

The contracts mode has tons of potential, but the community hasn’t yet created a ton of content. And what’s there isn’t incredibly compelling just yet. But, hey, that’s just me. Eric, what do you think? And any final thoughts on the game overall?

Eric: I think the contracts mode is a clever way to infuse an indirect multiplayer option into the Hitman milieu, and that’s a very welcome addition across the board. I agree with you that the killing can get repetitive — most levels give you mutually exclusive bonuses to encourage replay (a bonus for using all the disguises and one for using no disguises, for example), something that feels like the game is just trying to pad the playtime. Contracts mode helps ameliorate this to some degree, as you said, by forcing you to use only certain disguises or weapons, etc., to get the full bonus.

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed Hitman: Absolution, and I think it’s done just about everything right. I wish the story were a little more original, but if you enjoy sneaking around and killing people, Hitman’s free-but-guided philosophy strikes the perfect balance between open-world and linear.

FINAL SCORE: 3,995 out of 4,700 red neckties custom-made by Tommy the tailor (a.k.a. Tom “the tool-man” Tailor)

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