“Nothing could piss on this day!” – Guard before he took his daily afternoon window dive.
Hitman: Absolution is the first Hitman game I’ve played, and it’s left a relatively positive mark on me. There isn’t much to say about the story as you spend the game chasing after a little girl, but there are memorable characters. The game’s main antagonists hilariously mirror one another in the way they operate, look, and fail. As Agent 47, you work to do what you were designed to do – the impossible.
A friend of mine (yes, the same one from the last review, don't judge me) once described his first impression of this game as “trial and error.” He should probably start writing these reviews because that epitomizes Absolution. Many of these levels are filled with scattered puzzle pieces. Certain things you find and do can lead to “signature” kills for discretion and bonus points, but they’re extremely circumstantial. For instance, in one level, you find a set of wires, use a wrench to expose the circuitry, and turn on a generator so a guard electrocutes himself when he goes to take a piss.
How was I supposed to know he was going to take a piss? I probably wasn’t: Trial and error.
Absolution plays a lot like Splinter Cell. There’s a huge emphasis on the “stealth” element and you’ll spend most of your time crouched behind walls. The only difference is that instead of interrogating guards, you’re choking them out with a string of piano wire and stuffing them in a random closet. Aside from the assiduously detailed graphics, one major pro of Hitman is that it plays into its own surrealism by allowing players to work with 47’s ‘instincts.’ These are presented in a meter that gives players a special edge over their adversaries, and best of all, using the visuals it provides alone comes (mostly) without consequence.
Agent 47’s instincts give you a special visual mode that allows him to see guards through walls, predetermine where they’ll walk and spot important elements of each mission. Some of these are entry points and some of these are things you have to sabotage that you have no idea why you’re sabotaging. That’s where patience comes in. It’s your biggest weapon, and stalking guards during their patterns usually clarifies why each element is important. Seeing as guards do their rounds (my spidey senses aren’t too good with people’s bladders), they’ll probably do the same things over again. Even pissing.
One thing I like about the game is that you don’t have to do things the way it tells you to. You can create distractions and silently choke guards to death, scout out walking patterns and wait until they're correctly positioned to sneak up on them, or just break out your silenced handguns and pick them off. Assuming you choose the latter, one of your options is “point shooting,” a mechanic that taps into the true genetically enhanced badassery that is Agent 47. You stop time, quickly aim and tag your targets before your instinct meter runs out. Once you do that, you sit back and watch an awesome cutscene of 47 doing the dirty work.
Of course, while all of these things are cool, Absolution isn’t a game without flaws. With the point system, you’re penalized for knocking people out (because pacification is apparently a bad thing) and you’re penalized for killing people. The game can’t make up its mind. It promotes killing creatively on targets but killing guards (who you’ll sometimes find more practical to kill than sneak by) is apparently a bad thing. These are the same guards who would shoot you in a heartbeat. The only way to negate the penalty is by silently killing them and hiding their bodies (o glorious hypocrisy), which is also contradictory in the sense of demoting the player's ability to choose -- a feature the game advertises.
Some of the button inputs can be irritating. For instance, the same button used to hide bodies is used to pick up weapons. Guards tend to drop weapons the moment you kill them, so if you happen to strike near where you have to hide the body then you may find yourself trapped in a loop of switching weapons instead of stashing corpses. The "blending" feature is automatic when in disguise, so if you're crouching and using instinct to look at your enemies in bad environments then Agent 47 has a nasty tendency of randomly standing up when he's too close to someone. Fortunately,the blend feature automatically gets rid of heat so 47's spontaneous logic of 'OMG ACT NATURAL' seems to register well with everyone.
Nevertheless, with the new disguise system, Absolution is a game that takes the element of surprise very seriously. With Agent 47’s instincts, you’re capable of sneaking by guards and abandoning your rouse the moment their eyes are off you – a thing I had to learn myself. I was more accustomed to recklessly burning through meter but once you've played for a while you realize that guards stop noticing you when you pass (the game does a crappy job of explaining this). Unless you’re in a completely different disguise than the guards around you, you’re bound to get noticed; many times trying to blend in with the current set of guards is useless. It doesn’t do much to reduce the heat on you so the real challenge is finding an outfit of someone else who needs to be there but isn’t there in excess.
In other words, if there are plumbers and everyone around you is a guard, then get handy with a plunger.
Challenging, but realistic.
And that's how I summarize my adventures with Agent 47. While sneaking through levels and constantly reattempting individual segments became redundant, I'm still glad I got to enjoy the overall experience. Absolution is great. If you're looking for a solid game, then Hitman: Absolution is something worth trying, but don't hold your breath for anything amazing. For the good and the bad, you can expect this to be a challenging game that doesn't follow the commonplace doctrine of "easy gameplay, good impression." Like me, you'll probably get bored with essentially doing the same things over and over again with drastically different level design, but that doesn't necessarily make Hitman a bad game. While Absolution will challenge you and frustrate you to the point of cursing at the screen -- but you can at least take comfort in the fact that it does so the right way.
In the end, like me, you'll likely remember Absolution as a rewarding experience, if you remember it at all.