By Chris Matulich, October 19, 2012
For as great as most of the Hitman series has been, none of the titles have really achieved massive popularity. With Square Enix now at the publishing helm, the series hopes to reach new heights with Hitman: Absolution, and if my hands-on experience is anything to go by it may have finally hit its mainstream stride.
The demo, which was comprised of the game's future tutorial, displayed much of Agent 47's classic equipment, as well as the freedom in how his assassin's arsenal is utilized. Beginning outside of a mansion where his former handler who's gone rogue now hides, 47 must first make his way through a garden and greenhouse all while remaining undetected. The choice is up to the player; one can clear out every guard with Agent 47's trusty fiber wire or silenced pistols and stash the bodies, sneaking past everyone with a pacifist nature, or simply go balls to the wall Rambo style and decimate everything in the Agent's path. The freedom in how to accomplish each mission is unprecedented, making for a much more interesting and new experience, even when replaying certain missions.
While most of the core gameplay has remained the same over the past couple releases, Absolution sees some neat additions that help to enhance the experience. Hand to hand combat is performed through a series of button presses, with the sequence becoming longer or shorter depending on the players performance. Though not very original, melee causes the camera to zoom in, exhibiting the fantastic, albeit quick real time cinematic that shows some brutally awesome arm snaps and throat strikes.
Agent 47 can also now use his "instincts" to see objectives, guards, and enemy movement patterns. Put bluntly, it's a blatant rip-off of Assassin's Creed's eagle vision. It takes away from the difficulty and overall experience, and feels tacked on due to its copied nature. That said, it's still fun to use 47's Assassin Mode to mark targets and dispose of them all in a fluid procession that leaves a once crowded room completely empty. It makes killing an entire room pretty exciting, and provides some unique kills to give it some style, even if we've seen this all before.
Though combat holds some great fun, the mainstay of the series remains in Absolution; stealth is still key to every mission. Besides the normal cover options, disguises, and ability to stash bodies in containers or throw them over railings, Agent 47 can pick up random objects to use as weapons, but more importantly, to use as distractions for the guards. Doing so is key to remaining undetected, as it creates openings for silent assassinations or simple stealthy progression. Remaining completely hidden is a challenge, and as entertaining as the difficulty is, with the added instinct mode, it loses the effect previous games had. Even if a mission was horribly and destructively frustrating, once it was completed, the feeling of euphoria was unmatched (masochism, anyone?). Instinct mode dulls that, if not completely removes it.
Hitman: Absolution exhibits some slick visuals, especially with the lighting and shadow effects that aid in Agent 47's stealth. Details are vivid, both in terms of great character design that convincingly displays realistic movements and expressions, and the high quality backgrounds. Cinematics also showcase the same level of quality and impressiveness that Square Enix is known for, helping to create that noir-like style with some great edits and soft focus opportunities. Voice acting fuels the noir style and includes some well known talent, led by the best in the business, Steven Blum.
Hitman has always been a niche series, but with the addition of some borrowed (and tired) techniques, Square Enix hopes to broaden its reach. Though the emphasis on stealth remains, the inclusion of the hand holding mechanics makes Hitman: Absolution feel more like every other third person shooter. Having the freedom of mission execution, however, helps to counteract this, giving some promise to the upcoming title.