Hitman: Absolution review
Three-quarters of these levels are purely about traversal: you’re just trying to get from A to B to move the story forwards, and if you’re given anyone to kill at all, it happens in a cutscene or scripted slow-mo event. The other quarter do give you a target to kill, and a choice of how to do so, but that segmentation means you’re operating in a space that isn’t as rich or complex as a typical Hitman: Blood Money mission.
The other thing that really hurts Absolution’s few actual assassinations is the new equipment system. There isn’t one. You give away all of your trademark kit at the start of the game, and start most missions with one bad, loud pistol. You never get to buy or choose your weapons in the campaign, so you’re stuck with whatever you find lying around. The ones you pick up will carry over to the next segment of the mission, but are lost again when you complete it.
Can you snipe this target from afar? Depends if the level designer left a sniper rifle somewhere. If they did, they probably put it in the ideal sniping spot to save you the mental effort of choosing one for yourself. Can you set explosives and detonate them when your target walks by? Depends if the level designer left any inexplicably strewn around, and if you find their illogical location. Even then, you can no longer throw them, put them inside containers, or stick them to surfaces.
So much that used to be universal, versatile systems is now left to the level designer’s whim. Hitman’s greatest pleasure was coming up with your own solutions, but even at its best, Absolution makes it feel like you’re choosing between the ones the designers provided for you.
Its most promising addition is a new way of handling disguises. As in real life, you can dress up in the clothes of almost anyone you kill or subdue. And as in previous Hitman games, wearing the right clothes makes it easier to walk into restricted areas undetected. The twist this time is that people wearing the same clothes you’ve dressed up in will find you suspicious, whereas everyone else will leave you alone.
It makes sense – cops might be suspicious of a cop they don’t recognise, but not a janitor. And it could be the basis for an extra layer of strategy: dress as a janitor to get past the police, then take out a cop and put on his uniform to get in everywhere else. But it’s undermined by two things.
The first is, yet again, the level design. You spend the vast, vast majority of every mission trying to get past the same type of guard, and they almost never permit a disguise other than their own. Gangsters shooting up an orphanage full of nuns – an actual thing that happens in this videogame – will open fire on anyone but their gangmates. Cops at a crime scene are similarly strict. So you spend almost all of your time dressed as the people you’re avoiding.
That leads you into the other problem: suspicion is viciously over-reactive, and to all the wrong things. Guards rumble you in a split second if you stray close to them, and in pretty short order even at extremely long range. That changes it from a disguise game to a stealth game: your only challenge is to break line of sight, so you stick to sneak mode, hug cover, and do commando rolls between anything that blocks their vision. This – unlike walking normally – they have absolutely no problem with.
On lower difficulties, you can hold down a key to allay their suspicions by putting your hand over your face. I can’t think of a way to mock this that would make it sound any more absurd than that, so I won’t try. It’s a crutch to mitigate the stifling effect of a bad mechanic. And the fact that it’s useful is actually a bad thing: it uses a resource called Instinct, which you can recharge by killing guards. So there’s now a material reward for the gratuitous murder the series has always tried to gently discourage.
Both suspicion and regular stealth glitch out regularly: I’ve been spotted through two solid walls on several occasions, and at other times supposedly silent actions brought guards running. Irritating in any game, disastrous in one with no save function.