Hitman: Absolution (Xbox360)

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Hitman: Absolution was a bit of a mystery to me. I had no idea what the word Absolution meant in the title, but it refers to being absolved or completely forgiven for your sins. In Agent 47’s case, there’s a lot of forgiving to be done but knowing him, there will be a lot of dead people before anyone is forgiven.

Hitman Absolution Screenshot 7

It has been just over six years since Agent 47 made an appearance for The Agency (that we know of). 47’s handler, Diana Burnwood, has disappeared and betrayed the company, which means it’s up to 47 to take her down and return a young girl she has with her to the Agency.

Hitman: Absolution is, for those who are too young to remember the older games in the series, a stealth game. You play Agent 47, the genetically engineered super assassin controlled by the Agency, usually called in to perform high profile kills. The Hitman games allow you to complete missions in a manner of different ways, allowing either a stealthy unseen approach, or even a guns-blazing frontal assault.

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For Absolution the developers admitted that even though the game will include a purist mode (also known as ‘near impossible’ mode), easier difficulty options will allow less experienced gamers to enjoy the same story and action, and I can confess that I played many of the game’s levels on the medium to lower difficulties – clearly I have lost my edge.

One of 47’s many skills include the ability to use disguises in clever ways to fool the targets or their entourage. With his bald head and average build it’s easy to assume the identity of anyone required to get close to his targets. This also plays in very well with the developers encouraging you to choose an assassination plan before just firing off shots.

Hitman: Absolution Contracts Mode Screenshot 2

Agent 47, clearly a very well trained professional, has over the years learned to use his instincts. The Instinct mechanic in Hitman: Absolution is a sort of x-ray predictive vision, allowing 47 to see characters through walls, as well as the paths that they will take. This allows Agent 47 to make sure he is in the right place at the right time, either to avoid detection or to line up his target.

When assuming a disguise, characters of the same outfit will look at you more closely. For example, when wearing a policeman’s uniform, other cops will think they recognise you and soon identify you as a fraud. Instinct is also used in these cases to blend in to prevent you from being spotted. Some clever static locations can also be used to hide in plain sight. In a room full of cops a box of donuts can be eaten slowly to appear more like a cop yourself, while in a market of food stalls perusing the menu allows you to blend in.

Hitman: Absolution Contracts Mode Screenshot 3

Since murder is Agent 47’s career (even if not by choice) he needs the proper tools to perform at his best. There are a magnitude of weapons at his disposal, both traditional and not. Guns feature prominently, and besides his trademark silverballer pistols, he can also pick up revolvers and other pistols, sub-machine guns, machine guns, knives, sticks, pipes, bottles and syringes. The creativity in his murderous nature, however, doesn’t end there. Knowing a target will go for a smoke break, 47 can leave petrol on the smoking spot and wait for the target to set himself alight. If he knows his target is hungry, a bowl of fish soup can be poisoned, taking down the target.

Hitman: Absolution rewards players who spend time learning the target’s movements and using methods of discretion in taking them out. Finding targets is easy, but taking them down is not – the game really hits this home in the post-level rundown. Every non-target taken down costs you evaluation points, while being detected or making other mistakes also do not help. Performing silent take-downs and hiding bodies gives you points, though.

Hitman: Absolution Contracts Mode Screenshot 4

To make your playing experience even more stressful, and I guess more realistic by doing so, you are informed of the global average score at the start of every level. As an added incentive to score well you’re given a local average. Seeing how often South African players score above the global average inspires me even more.

I make a habit of mentioning what a game looks and sound like, because in games such as Hitman: Absolute, the sounds and visuals really make the game what it is. Believing you are in a Chinatown market is enforced by the sounds of the people talking, pots clanging, fires burning and fireworks exploding in the sky. Then seeing the crowds of people, glimmers of fireworks in the distance, steam swirling from pots and lanterns flickering overhead simply pulls you right in.

Hitman: Absolution Screenshot 1

Listening to characters along the missions can provide vital information for Agent 47 and you can, for example, hear that a big shot is about to broker a deal with his drug supplier, which allows you to then intercept that supplier and either poison his drug to kill the target, or kill the dealer and disguise yourself as the dealer. You can then lure the target away and take him out silently.

Some of the characters in Hitman: Absolution have really funny lines, too. Early on in the tutorial mission, a hired thug expresses his gratitude to his doctor that he is cancer free. As the thug asks himself if the day can get any better than this, you pull him out of the window where he plummets to his death on the rocks twenty meters below.

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Many Hitmen will use the global leaderboard scores to brag that they are the best in the world, or are at least better than their friends. In order to allow more Hitmen to show their skills in various situations and challenge their mates, IO Interactive has added a game mode called ‘Contracts.’ This mode allows you to create your own missions and challenge your friends to see who is the best of the best. This mode is, however, not just a level designer, but you rather play the mission yourself, and by taking down certain characters with certain weapons, you create the goals for your friends. This prevents you from setting up a mission that nobody can complete, and also forces you to be creative and thoughtful in the Contract’s execution.

At the time of writing there have been more than 50 000 Contracts created, and that number is sure to climb. By completing these missions you are rewarded in cash which can be used to buy weapons, outfits and other cool items to use in the next mission you create.

Hitman: Absolution Screenshot 3

Hitman: Absolution is best described in one of the earlier missions – don’t worry, this is also the mission that was shown at expos and online videos before the game released, so I wont give any story away:

In a dense Chinatown market, Agent 47 is tasked with taking out a target named the King of Chinatown. Finding the ‘King’ is easy enough and Agent 47 can just walk up to him, pull out his gun and shoot him, but this will cause chaos in the market as people will run to get out of the way. 47 can simply run within a crowd of people and hide from the police, or decide to take out all the body-guards and police officers.

A good assassin is never seen, though, so 47 can also listen in and detect that the target is waiting for his drug mule to deliver some drugs, which allows you a new direction to use disguises and poison to kill the King.

You could also lure him away in the drug dealer’s outfit to a place where nobody will see you, and then kill him, before hiding the body for some extra points. Finally, finding a sniper rifle in one of the adjoining buildings can afford you the chance to shoot him from a long distance away, giving you enough time to escape before anyone arrives.

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Naturally there are a few small problems I have experienced in Hitman: Absolution, but nothing that will put me off from playing this game in the Contracts mode some more. The first problem is the story – I get that 47 is pretty much a cold blooded killer, but I prefer to know that he is still good. In one mission I simply didn’t care about being stealthy and shot every single bad guy because the intruders in the level were attacking an orphanage.

There are also times when the detection system, especially on higher difficulties, works unrealistically. I found myself being spotted through walls and at other times I could stand right in front of other enemies and they couldn’t see me.

The levels in Absolution are also a lot more compact than in Blood Money, the previous game in the series. I understand why this is because the game cannot handle the insane amount of detail in each level, but certain levels could have been better served as one large map rather than being broken into different ones. For example, a mission trying to get to a hotel’s top floor to get to your target was separated into different maps, breaking down the continuity into chunks. I miss the larger, more open levels.

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Hitman: Absolution is streamlined in some areas for newcomers, but has been made more hardcore for experienced gamers, too. It looks fantastic, even with the sun shining off Agent 47’s head, it sounds brilliants with Agent 47 voiced by a South African (yay us!), and the characters have real depth. Then, when you’re done playing the story missions, you can either play them again for a higher score, or try your hand at the Contracts Mode. Hitman: Absolution is pretty darn awesome and does a great job of continuing the Hitman legacy, carrying it into a new era.

The Good: Choice-ridden levels; Varying difficulties; Satisfying stealth and action game
The Bad: Not as open as it could be; Story could be more engaging
The Awesome: Did you know that Absolution was released on the 47th week of 2012? Or that Agent 47 is voiced by a former South African? Awesome, I know!