Thursday Review: Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution is the most recent game in the venerable Hitman franchise, and it prides itself on offering a modern assassination game that is somewhat unbound by the rules of reality, the things that made the past games great, and the fact that it manages to succeed as a game in spite of these, then fall flat in the middle of the story for no good reason.

Part of the fun of Hitman has always been the various ways in which 47 can commit his crimes, then escape relatively unnoticed. Hitman: Absolution doesn’t necessarily remove this aspect, but it certainly overlooks a fair deal of it. The game’s focus has shifted from a more “contract assassin” narrative to one in which 47 is on a quest to solve personal vendettas against the people who… I’m not really sure if it’s possible to spoil Hitman: Absolution, given how trite and convoluted its story is, but long story short: Kill mentor, save mentor’s next protege, fight off several dozen attempts to kidnap said protege, happy ending.

The major weakness of Absolution is frankly the fact that it doesn’t feel very engaging. I never played the original Hitman games (they were before my time), but the main point of most of them was that you were going after genuinely bad people that you didn’t know were bad, with some not horrible guys thrown in there. You weren’t supposed to get too engaged with each individual target, and you weren’t dealing with annoying recurring foes.

Absolution removes itself from that. Not only is everyone horrible in their own special way (except 47’s mentor’s protege, Victoria, who pushes the limits), but they all take up pretty irrational all-or-nothing approaches. Of course 47’s going to constantly wind up racking up a body count, because not only are there few opportunities to complete missions with targets alive (even when there rationally could be solutions to this only hindered by further plot developments), but there’s really no reason not to. The game also puts the player in the middle of a bunch of mayhem-strewn scenes, then penalizes them for combat, a move that feels a little disjointed; if 47’s not supposed to leave a trace, the whole attack squad deployed to the orphanage/town/kitten breeders’ place probably nixed that before it began, and 47 gets penalized for dealing out a little retribution for the innocents in the midst of his personal absolution. I recognize that rewarding combat would have greatly alienated certain fans of the series, but at least on a couple missions removing the penalties could have helped the game.

The story’s also, to be honest, kinda weak. In addition to the fact that everything keeps getting worse, there’s no semblance of a good guy; everyone the player meets has blood on their hands, perhaps to ease the actions and justify 47’s choices, but this also means that there’s very little player judgment; of course the corrupt sheriff is going to be easy to kill, but what about the corrupt sheriff who actually cares about the greater good and justice but is coerced to look the other way? All of Victoria’s kidnappers are sleazy scumbags, so 47’s bloody path of revenge feels pretty natural, but were she to actually remain in the hands of a benefactor for some while the game would have felt better. Characters also really lack personality: a frequently vulgar Texan, a steroid abusing Mexican, battle nuns, snipers named after Romans, and some otherwise unremarkable sociopaths do not make an engaging cast, they make for a plethora of stereotypes.

I’m not going to complain about a lack of boss fights, but I will note that the game generally felt less engaging than one would have hoped. The adrenaline-packed moments weren’t stalking closer and closer to a foe, but rather trying to avoid detection after accidentally revealing 47’s position. At a certain point, sneaking up, bumping off, and dumping off a guard just got to be so routine that it hardly felt like work-or play. I also don’t know what the point of the upgrades were: they weren’t rewarding because they were just tossed out at random and they didn’t really make a huge difference in the campaign. The most rewarding part of the game was the clever place where you figured out an “accident” for 47’s quarry, but this wasn’t really available for all people, and the ability to randomly stumble into some means that it’s more than feasible that players get even that stolen from them.

However, what I will complain about is a climactic encounter near the end of the final act of the game; one of the major villains is waiting by his helicopter and you can just shoot him in the face with 47’s silenced pistols without any repercussion. It was, presumably, supposed to feel pathetic or dramatic without needing 47 to reveal himself, but it was also really lame and made me wonder what was next. The epilogue mostly made up for this, however.

Is it good? Sure, Hitman: Absolution can be a good game for a while (my not-quite-perfect but rather stealthy playthrough took 9 hours), but it’s also one that can be really, really, really annoying. Top that off with the fact that the narrative’s not really something to write home about, and that the game’s vulgarity often rises to a fever pitch without actually accomplishing any engagement in the story or providing a real benefit, and you’re probably better off waiting for sales, if even, to try it out. Just be warned that you’ll be left thinking that 47 is still far from absolved.

“Hey, guys, I had the best idea of a name for our rock band: Hitman Absolution!”

“That name’s taken. And bad for so many reasons.”

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