Developer: IO Interactive
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (November 20, 2012)
Official Website: http://hitman.com/
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)
This week, we talk about a bunch of old junk. Get off our lawn, you damn kids!
The Geekbox — Episode 196 (2012-11-27)
Wherein we discuss Taxi Driver, No Country for Old Men, Ratchet & Clank, Disneyland, sexy Tinkerbell, dead men telling no tales, Captain Jack Skellington, Captain Eo (in 2012), crystal skulls, the terrible lessons that Pixar movies teach us, Medieval Times, and our favorite video games of all time. Starring Ryan Scott, Adam Fitch, and Ryan Higgins.
Running Time: 1h 34m 9s
Direct Download — iTunes — Stitcher — Zune Marketplace — RSS
I smell another awesome episode!
Good Job, Brain! #39: Smell You Later (2012-11-26)
Hey, who farted? We sniff out the story behind scents and smells! How our brains associate smells with memories, Smell-o-Vision at the movies, bizarre perfume ingredients, the odd world of celebrity fragrances, how stores are manipulating you with scents, anosmia, and… can you trademark a smell? ALSO: Um, Actually…, fantastic old-timey words, “First in Line” quiz. Starring Karen Chu, Colin Felton, Dana Nelson, and Chris Kohler.
Running Time: 47m 50s
Direct Download — iTunes — Zune Marketplace — GoodJobBrain.com — RSS
The Comic Conspiracy — Episode 85 (2012-11-26)
We welcome listener Brandon Freid to the podcast as we discuss his Secret Origin, catching up on some books, re-reading books, directors writing comics, which Deadpool comics to recommend for a 10 year old, Batman Heroclix, and Amazing Spider-Man #698 spoilers. Starring Ryan Higgins, Omar Brodrick, Brandon Freid, Brock Sager, and Toby Sidler.
Running Time: 1h 10m 52s
Direct Download – iTunes — Zune Marketplace — RSS
Happy Black Friday, people who are smart enough to stay indoors instead of going to dumb crowded sales! Now do something valuable with your time, and listen to us talk about stuff that happened three weeks ago.
The Comedy Button — Episode 55 (2012-11-23)
This week, we learn about Max’s run-in with a high-level San Francisco hobo, go on surprise vacations, date older women, make fun of the dorks who wear Bluetooth earpieces, argue with backwater hicks, discuss current events that happened three weeks ago, hate the 1%, share our Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez love, get some hot Xbox Live dates, plan some bachelor parties, and lay down some drinking rules. Starring Scott Bromley, Brian Altano, Anthony Gallegos, Ryan Scott, and Max Scoville.
Running Time: 51m 47s
Direct Download — iTunes — Stitcher — Zune Marketplace — RSS
Time for some serious Nintendo talk!
The Geekbox — Episode 195 (2012-11-20)
Wherein we discuss the Chokebox, Disneyland trolling, Medieval Times, The Cable Guy, the Wii U launch, adding Nintendo Network friends, the Miiverse, Nintendo predators, extreme Wii U loading times, the terrible Xbox 360 dashboard, Wii to Wii U software transfers, retail games vs. digital games, ZombiU, New Super Mario Bros. U, the secret history of the Koopalings, Wreck-It Ralph (again!), Q*bert, and Twitter trends for smart people. Starring Ryan Scott, Adam Fitch, and Ryan Higgins.
Running Time: 1h 6m 16s
Direct Download — iTunes — Stitcher — Zune Marketplace — RSS
Assassin’s Creed III
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (October 30, 2012), Wii U (November 13, 2012), PC (November 20, 2012)
Genre: Stealth action-adventure
Official Website: Assassin’s Creed @ Ubi.com
Reviewed By: Eric Neigher and David Wolinsky
Eric Neigher, Midnight Rider: So, in Assassin’s Creed III, much like every other Assassin’s Creed, you go around in a cowl, chop bad guys down with a knife or tomahawk, and generally just be a badass. In this one, you can jump around on trees, which is cool — and you get to kill British people, which is… actually kind of guilt-inducing, but still cool.
But one thing I’ve had an issue with as I’ve been playing is that every time the historical setting, Colonial America, gets to an apex, you’re pulled out of it to the game’s familiar frame story, about a dorky guy named Desmond living in some city in the future. The narrative, to me, is greatly harmed by this device. What are your thoughts?
David Wolinsky, Paperback Writher: Well, hold up. I think it’s great that the game is set in the colonial era. I am predisposed to love it; I mean, I’m a guy who, in high school, wrote and recorded a comedy hip-hop album about Abraham Lincoln and Ben Franklin battle-rapping against George Washington and Thomas Edison. (Yes, really. Really.) I’m not bragging about that, but just saying: I really, really love this time period. So, a game that takes place in it? I’m down.
That said, I’m shocked at how much Assassin’s Creed III doesn’t really deliver. It’s very slow to take full advantage of everything the setting offers. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, where you think you’ll be riding with Paul Revere and teabagging George Washington (seriously, screw that guy)… and instead, it starts off with Desmond per usual, and then you ride a boat to America. It takes about an hour or two before you even hit the colonies.
I don’t know. I feel like Ubisoft and Assassin’s Creed is firmly in the “smell the farts” phase of its success. Ubisoft’s paid its dues and built a legitimately huge series, but I think the developers are getting lazy. I mean, its awfully telling that we’re — how many games into the AC series now? — and none of the fighting systems work decently. They still aren’t intuitive, they still don’t feel natural, and combat in a game like this is something you should be excited about, not suffer through. It should have been fixed in Assassin’s Creed II, but niggling frustrations like that still remain in 2012. But, hey, do you want cut-scenes bursting with melodrama set in not just one, but two different time periods? Because AC3 has plenty of that.
But, Eric, once you’re past all the initial tutorial stuff, how do you feel about the game’s flow? Is this a better game? Is it a necessary sequel? What works for you? What doesn’t?
Eric: I agree 100% about the fighting system. Just rip off Arkham Asylum already, jeez. Sleeping Dogs did that, and that game was really fun. I feel like you just use the same moves over and over on the guards/redcoats/whoever, and all the other key presses become irrelevant fodder.
Whether AC3 is necessary is a complex question. I guess we should take this time to remind ourselves that video games are a business, and that Ubisoft has a valuable property that it wants to exploit, so why not just throw up whatever it can and then cash in? OK, that’s harsh — this game does feel lazy, but not to the point that it feels like a craven cash-grab. It just feels… like a retread. I’m really beginning to hate Desmond and his stupid cadre of idiots that he uses as sounding boards for exposition, too.
As for the ship-to-ship combat, it’s definitely an interesting addition… but I feel like we’ve gotten so far from Assassin’s Creed’s original core that we might as well be playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! The ship fighting is fun and epic and whatever, but it’s not always very “assassin-y.” It’s also not very realistic for a game that pays a lot of lip service to realism — billing how you kill all targets at the real time and location of their actual deaths, for example.
Regardless, without its core, what remains in AC3 is a hodgepodge of different game types now: third-person naval action, Final Fantasy-esque cut-scene drama, tons of minigames for no reason, big epic wargame-ish battles — oh, and Assassin’s Creed is in there somewhere, too.
What did you think of the historical setting? Did you feel that it does right by the American Revolution, the political situation, and the whole thing with the Indian protagonist? Or did the story fall flat for you?
David: I dunno, man. Yes, much of the game falls incredibly flat — it’s almost like AC3 gets far too caught up in creating the world, rather than making it fun. I found myself frustrated and bored, and I suspect it’s because the series is finally falling prey to the same downfalls that plague so many open-world games: too much to do and a lack of any real depth. And we have a triple-whammy here, as the AC hallmarks are just getting old. I mean, what is this series really about? Answer: climbing and killing. Ubisoft’s wrung a lot of mileage out of these two key ideas, but they’ve lost their luster. Even with Ben Franklin in the game extolling the many virtues of bedding elderly women, I didn’t find it too entertaining.
Eric: In keeping with my usual practice of not playing one second of a game before I review it, and making many factual mistakes in my reviews, I would like to say that I’m glad Assassin’s Creed finally has a zombies mode. That was the most fun part of this game for me. That, and the title screen that I looked at for exactly eight seconds before writing this.
Anyway, I should be clear: Assassin’s Creed III is a good game on its own merits. If this had been the first game in the series, it would be really cool and interesting. But because it comes at the tail end of multiple similar games, what we really get here is a skin with some new minigames. The skin is pretty; it has put the lotion on itself. Between the new bells and whistles, the upgraded setting, and the generally competent execution, Assassin’s Creed III might be enough to completely satisfy some folks. But then, I know not what others might say. As for me: Give me originality, or give me the uninstall icon.
FINAL SCORE: 1,404 out of 2,160 cracks in the Liberty Bell