New Hitman is a disappointing sequel, but a solid stealth game

New+Hitman+is+a+disappointing+sequel%2C+but+a+solid+stealth+game

ign.com

Agent 47 silently dispatches a guard with his signature Silverballer pistol. Absolution strays from the unique gameplay of its predecessors, but it is a challenging, unique game on its own.

Kerim Kivrak, Copy Editor

With over six anticipation-building years since the release of the universally acclaimed Hitman: Blood Money, Hitman: Absolution has impossibly high expectations to meet.  It’s best not to think about Absolution as a sequel to Blood Money (those who do will be sorely disappointed) — it’s an original, fun and flawed game in its own right.

Absolution is a near-total departure from the design philosophy of the previous games in the franchise.  Traditionally, Hitman games have you carefully upgrading and selecting your equipment before stepping into a sandbox and using disguises and your environment to eliminate your target in any way you choose.

While the game still gives you a fair number of ways to kill your target, you cannot select your equipment before each mission and the levels are segmented, with a number of disparate areas with intermediate objectives standing between you and your target.  These objectives are usually along the lines of “Disable the security system” or “Get to the elevator,” the sort of thing that the previous games left you to choose to do.

Absolution takes a more conventional approach to stealth.   Stealth is about observing patrol routes, staying out of guards’ lines of sight and moving through a level without alarming anybody.  These principles were present in the first two Hitman games, but absent in Blood Money.  They return in full force in Absolution in one of the most challenging stealth experiences in recent memory and by far the most difficult installment in the franchise.

Whereas previous games had you starting with a blank slate and avoiding attracting attention to yourself, enemies in Absolution are always on the lookout for our bald-headed assassin.   Disguises take a backseat to evasion as they become more of an aid than a license to roam the level as you please.  Remaining out of sight is still the goal, whether that means blending into a crowd or crouching behind a crate, but a disguise gives you a few extra seconds of anonymity to others wearing the same uniform and total anonymity to everyone else.  These extra seconds will usually be enough time to break the line of sight and return to invisibility, but this is not a substitute for sneaking around.

The game’s AI is adequate; nothing more, nothing less.  NPCs will react to the noises made by objects you throw, allowing you to lure them away from your intended path and sneak by unnoticed.

Their ability to identify the source of a disturbance is rather inconsistent; if you throw a hammer in front of a guard, they will marvel at where it could’ve come from but never attempt to trace its path back to you.  If you shoot a guard in the head with a silenced weapon, any adjacent guards will immediately know where you are and open fire.

If bad AI bothers you enough to impede your ability to enjoy a game, chances are the stealth genre isn’t for you.  In stealth games, mastering and exploiting the AI becomes a part of the game itself.

As always, the player has the option to tear through each level with guns blazing.  Inside Absolution is one of the best third-person shooters of the year, with gratifying, visceral gunplay and a decent variety of weapons to pick up around each level.

But the game punishes you for straying from stealth.  In fact, with the new scoring system, the game punishes you for doing anything other than what it wants you to do.  It discourages creativity, spontaneity, and adaptation in favor of mindless repetition.  This has no place in a Hitman game.  Hitman’s greatest strength has always been player choice.  I can decide that risking getting caught during the laborious body disposal animation is not worth it, and that I’d rather leave the body in a secluded corner of a room where it would never be discovered.  In previous games, this was not a problem.  In Absolution, I am punished for this.

The game’s greatest flaw is in its level design.  This is tragic, considering the brilliant level design that marked the previous games.  There are many portions of the game with multiple entry routes, many paths you could take and contextual means of causing distractions or seemingly accidental deaths.  The problem is that for every well-designed area, there are half a dozen lazily crafted linear sequences.

Absolution is far and away the most cinematic Hitman game thus far.  The missions are not just a series of disconnected contracts; they all exist to advance the game’s narrative.  The story is told through cutscenes featuring top-notch facial animations and quality voice acting.  David Bateson returns as the iconic voice of Agent 47, and celebrity voice actors Vivica A. Fox and Powers Booth bolster the cast of new, thoroughly entertaining characters.

The story is predictable and not at all compelling, but the characters are some of the most memorable video game characters of this generation.

Within the levels themselves there are many scripted NPC interactions.  At worst, they help build immersion and add depth to the countless nameless characters.  At best, they are exemplary of the Hitman series’ characteristic humor.

Although many features from Blood Money are absent, the game’s refined stealth and shooting mechanics promise a new, radically different experience.  Faulting a game for being original is silly.

Does Absolution fit alongside its classic predecessors? No.  Is it an enjoyable game? Absolutely.