I threw Hitman: Absolution into my console hoping to relive the glory days of Blood Money and Silent Assassin. Rather than assume command of the master assassin once again as we take down a series of targets in a variety of fun and unique ways, we blandly progressed through the storyline (albeit, it was surprisingly better) in a convoluted mesh of formerly well-done mechanics that were removed, toned down, or just fucked with beyond recognition. The only remaining characteristic that this game seemed to have that was relatable to its predecessors is Agent 47. Replace 47 with some randomly generated protagonist and change the title and this would just be a run of the mill release that hardly gets noticed. I put the game down several times, taking way longer than it should have to complete the game, and strongly considered not finishing it and reading a synopsis, but I didn’t (because I have to write these with at least some credibility).
For a game whose main theme has always revolved around strongly emphasized stealth by encouraging the players, often through rewards, to remain undetected, frequently change disguises, hiding bodies, etc., someone at IO Interactive decided to shit on most of these and create a generic game that appeals to what I can only imagine as the casuals. (I just read an article by Shaun Munro from WhatCulture! on ten reasons Hitman: Absolution sucks and he made the point that they seemed to be driving it toward the Call of Duty crowd [gross]. We also bring up a lot of the same issues, so feel free to just read his instead of mine. He can write better)
Though the story is relatively interesting comparatively, it takes away from what made previous Hitman games fun. 47 is on a rampage to redeem what he’s done in the beginning of the game and rescue a young girl who is sought after for unknown reasons by the agency and 3rd-party individuals. There are still assassinations to be done, but they aren’t really set contracts that the player gets to carry out. There is no safe house, or bringing gear into the main story like with Blood Money, rather we have the option to play a ‘contract’ mode that isn’t as fun as it sounds. Since 47 is constantly on the move and having random things happen to him rather than doing his prep work before a contract, I guess IO decided there wasn’t room for him to come in to a mission prepared.
The game encourages you to complete challenges (stay in a suit the whole mission, kill target by blowing up the tunnel) in order to get an accumulated score that only serves a purpose to compare with friends and other players. If you are a completionist like me, you still want to do all of the challenges. The issue is the game is so fickle on some of the mechanics, that you will fail a challenge for some menial thing. At some points the game will show you being undetected for silently shooting two guards with their back to you during the ‘point shooting’ mode. In another instance, sometimes the exact same situation, it will say that the guard detected you somehow. Or stabbing a guard from behind cover as he approaches occasionally registers him as detecting you, even though you just put a knife into his throat. It blows some of the challenges and causes you to restart if you want to beat them. The list goes on for both combat and non-combat scenarios you’ll find yourself in.
IO thought a solution to this would be checkpoints. After a certain point in the level, you could hit a check point where you will respawn at if you die/restart. A sound idea, but poorly executed. When the player restarts (which will be often if you are going for challenges, personal or otherwise) the entire level resets. That means that when I just went through an entire floor of a building, meticulously killing each and every bad guy silently and hiding the body in order to counter lost points, and hit my checkpoint at a different point, everyone I just killed is back. If I need to back track on a level (which again, happens often either for challenges or level design) then I have to spend another 20 minutes doing what I did at the beginning of the level. This leads to even longer gameplay that is just a repetition of what you have previously accomplished. The only thing I can think of for IO developers to include this is to prevent players from relying on restarts to push through the level unscathed, so to speak. This would be acceptable if the fickle mechanics discussed earlier weren’t as big of an issue, but it just leads to even more frustrations.
The disguises “mechanic” is hardly even a resemblance of its past use. It might as well be called ‘Agent 47 puts on different outfits to no effect” (but I guess that isn’t as catchy). Even at normal difficulty, you don the same disguise as those around you and you have a very limited window of not being spotted. They give you limited ‘instance’ where you become “invisible” to them, but it serves as less of a new challenge to get past, and more of an annoyance that doesn’t serve the gameplay well. Rather than being a fun feature that is, often times, almost mandatory to get through parts of a level, it has become a shotty version of itself that serves very few purposes since the player can almost always get through the whole level in a suit without much of a challenge. The only upside to it is how poorly the cut-scenes work in disguises and weapons, purely because its as amusing as it is terrible for player immersion. One minute 47 is taking out everyone in a construction workers uniform, and strangles the target from behind. The next minute we are in a cut scene where 47 stands over the target in a suit with a gun and the target is full of bullet holes. IO didn’t really seem to give a shit about linking gameplay to cinematics.
The most troubling out of all the issues this game had was the layout of the levels. Everyone else has bitched about them, so I’ll keep this short…they’re terrible. All the levels present the players with almost linear access, rather than the “open-world” approach from previous games. While there are variations to how you may approach, I still felt forced to pick lane A, B, or C rather than providing me that Hitman experience of taking down a target as I see fit (let’s not even get into how there are fucking trash bins in every. goddamn. room.). Some of the levels had potential to be pretty interesting, like a level with chinese new year, but they were so small and limited they didn’t get a chance to live up to it.
I think it might be time to hang up the series for a while, or hand over the reins to a new studio. Hitman needs to get back to its roots and get with a team of developers that seem to care about putting out quality, rather than shooting for (and missing) that mass market. If IO would have stuck to what made the previous games great and put forth the effort, I think the game would have still been well received by fans of the series and new hitmen. Instead, the game felt like a forced out project because someone high up in IO or Square Enix demanded it so.
Tomb Raider has done well with a series reboot, maybe it’s time for Hitman to do the same.