Hitman: Absolution review
With or without Instinct, the new disguise system removes the single best thing Blood Money brought to the series: the ability to walk freely around almost every level, planning your approach without having to conceal your presence. It reduces Absolution to a more ordinary stealth game – and for me, Hitman was always better than that.
I keep coming back to the failings of the level design, and most of them stem from its determination to tell a story. It’s a tedious farce of pantomime villains, voiced by Hollywood actors utterly wasted on this adolescent, exploitative trash. And I'm fine with that. Every Hitman game has had a terrible story, but until now it has rarely mattered.
The problem with Absolution is that they actually decided to focus on it this time. In an attempt to paint you as some kind of misunderstood hero, Absolution has you quitting your job to protect a teenage girl. This story frequently requires you to get from A to B, but rarely involves a legitimate reason for you to kill. And when it does, you don’t always get to do it.
Several of the actual kills happen in cutscenes, and sometimes all your hard stealth work in getting to the target is rewarded with a cinematic of your character screwing it up. It’s kind of mindboggling to imagine how anyone could stray so far from the point of a series whose entire concept is right there in the title.
I guess the new Contracts mode is meant to be the antidote to this, and it is a nice idea. You can load up any level from the main game, choose your weapons (at last!) and mark up to three people as targets. The way you choose to kill them, and how stealthily you do so, become the objectives of a contract. Other players can then take on your contract and try to kill the same people, with the same weapons, just as stealthily. They get a score for all those things, and a bonus if they do it faster than you.
Creating these contracts is a little aimless: civilians and guards are pretty much interchangeable, so I don’t have any burning desire to pick out three particular targets who need to die. But playing other people’s contracts is fun: some are very straightforward, but already people are adding entertaining twists. The last one I played insisted that I run into a town dressed in full samurai armour and kill a particular cop with a sledgehammer. Players will probably come up with sillier contract concepts once the game is out.
It’s no substitute for the kind of freedom Hitman used to give you, though. When creating a contract, you have too much – it doesn’t matter who you kill, so who cares? And when playing one, you have too little: the contract specifies what to wear and which weapon to use, so you’re basically just following orders.
And guess what? DRM! Despite the fact that the contracts themselves must be tiny amounts of data, you can’t play any of them – even your own – offline. You have to be connected and logged in, and if their servers are down, you’re shut out. They've really done an impressive job of racking up all the different ways you can irritate PC gamers.
These are all the reasons I found Absolution crushingly disappointing. These are the reasons it’s a terrible Hitman game, and it’s worth saying that in the strongest possible terms, because Hitman is an important and brilliant series of games. But despite all of that, it isn’t a terrible game, and it doesn’t deserve a terrible score.
Called something else (I’m still rooting for Doorman: Absolution), it’d be a decent sneak-em-up with some welcome Hitman influences. Creeping past people is inherently fun, even if you’re gaming some weird suspicion mechanic while you do it. So is knife-throwing. I will never be able to forgive the shitty checkpointing, but it’s certainly less of a problem once you get good. And on the rare occasion that you find a disguise that lets you roam freely, some of the levels have lots of different routes to try.
There’s one mission, right near the end, that’s genuinely very good. There’s one target, a decent sized area, a particular disguise that lets you roam anywhere, and three different ways to make the death look accidental. It’s still smaller and less interesting than any of Blood Money’s main missions, but it’s one I actually wanted to replay. Any game that can capture part of that thrill is worth playing.
Currently, though, Absolution is not worth buying. If they can somehow patch in a save function, and if players do interesting things with Contracts, it will be. Until then, I’d wait for a preposterous Steam sale.
That’s something I never thought I’d have to say about a Hitman game. I desperately hope the reaction to it is strong enough to convince the developers to change direction, because I couldn’t stand to watch the series die like this.
A passable stealth game, but one that betrays almost everything that, until now, has made Hitman great.