IO Interactive/Square Enix
I recently took a gander at the latest Hitman film, the generically titled Hitman: Agent 47, as I’ve heard that it was one of the worst films that many people said they’d ever seen. I guess I’m a sort of a cine-masochist, but I just wanted to see if it was indeed so bad that it was actually good. Let’s just say that I came away from the film feeling like I’d just experienced a lobotomy without any anesthesia.
It did, however, bring up memories of the one and only time I’d played any of the games. The one in question was 2002’s Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, and I remembered it as being very similar to the recent, striped down version of Daniel Craig’s James Bond iteration; a stoic, rather pathological, cold-hearted killer. Creeping around Russian cities and stealthily killing armed guards in order to get to the high value targets was such a blast in that game, that I often went to sleep plotting and planning my next mission, to be carried out the following morning when I’d wearily rise from bed and, bloodshot eyes and all, and resume my blood-soaked play-through.
That brought me to wonder where Agent 47 had been lately, video game-wise. So, I just had to try playing the over decade-old franchise’s latest offering, Hitman: Absolution. How did it stack up against my affectionately remembered experiences with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin? Let’s take a closer look…
Hitman: Absolution was released back in 2012, and it was largely an under-the-radar release, as it was directly competing with some heavy hitters in Diablo 3, Max Payne 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 3 (I know – lots of 3’s there), Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and the like. After reading a couple of the reviews of it at the time, I derisively dismissed it as a sort of red-headed step child to Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series, and like many others, simply ignored it.
Well, falling in line with my recent pledge to give every game a closer inspection, and at least a fair chance, I did just that, with Hitman: Absolution. My initial impression reminded me that the gaming world was going through a transformative period—starting around 2010 or so. Developers seemed to be taking a cue from the movie industry at that time, and as a result, many games had more of an emphasis on action, and less on character development and storytelling. This was unofficially harkened in with Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. Long known as the gaming world’s preeminent stealth action franchise, Conviction eschewed most of its stealth conventions in that iteration of the venerated series in favor of action (and lots of gratuitous violence).
Hitman: Absolution seemed to have followed suit, transforming Agent 47 from a man who carefully stalked the shadows, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike, to more of an expeditious assassin, less concerned about being noticed. While he’s still creeping up on clueless targets, choking them out, and stashing their bodies, there is a noticeable de-emphasis on doing things covertly. To its benefit though, the grisly proceedings are carried out in a much more personable camera-directly-over-the-shoulder perspective, so that you can really get an up close view of the action. Takedowns are also rendered in slow motion, adding to the game’s more cinematic sensibilities.
Hitman: Absolution does divert somewhat from familiar territory, however, since in this game Agent 47 has gone rogue and the developers are apparently fans of the film, Léon: The Professional. This time around, Agent 47 not only has his own agenda in full effect, but he’s also hyper-concerned about protecting a vulnerable young girl. Due to this plot anchor, he is more or less restricted to carrying out his dastardly deeds in the United States, and sticks to a much more linear storyline than previous entries. I found this take to allow for a much deeper and immersive gaming experience, as each of the mission areas are much more fleshed out and detailed, and while the locations may be limited in a regional sense, each one is its own large sandbox playground for Agent 47 to romp around in. There are still a multitude of avenues to take, and each one requires a vastly different approach, requiring not only careful planning and foresight, but also some on-the-fly adaptations that I felt was both refreshing and challenging.
Hitman: Absolution is spread over twenty missions, and each one can range from a few minutes long to well over an hour, depending on the method in which one carries them out. Naturally, the more action oriented approaches will resolve a mission in a shorter time span, while more stealthy engagements will require more patience, and therefore, more time.
The developers have also introduced a new factor that must be taken into consideration this time around: Suspicion. Whereas in previous Hitman games, Agent 47 could knock someone out, steal their outfit, and easily blend in with that person’s comrades or co-workers, in Hitman: Absolution, people are constantly looking sideways at one another. In this dangerous new world, people sometimes eyeball our friendly neighborhood assassin, and in some cases, straight up maddog him. This creates a tenser atmosphere, in that you can possibly get your cover blown at any moment—keeping you on your toes throughout your entire mission.
Falling in line with previous games, each mission’s successful completion garners Agent 47 with rewards in the form of ability buffs, such as being able to blend into crowds and take down enemies more stealthily. Your overall mission score depends on not only how many high value targets that you took out, but also how covertly you carried things out, as well as additional points for the completion of side missions and tasks. On the other side of the coin, if Agent 47 snuffs an innocent bystander or two he’ll be penalized for his transgressions, accidental or otherwise.
The game’s online mode, Contracts, enables players to break from the main storyline and put out hits on whomever they please. This allows you to play against other actual people from around the world in a free-for-all, competitive, multiplayer mode, where you vie for points and upgrades. This mode reminded me of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, a more singular experience, where you simply went from kill mission to kill mission with minimal distractions. Understandably, longtime fans of the series love to play Contracts, and I have to agree with them, it is indeed a blast to play, since there is nothing like matching wits with other, real, live, humans.
On my top of the line CyberpowerPC gaming PC, I was able to enjoy the visuals completely maxed-out, and at sixty frames per second (4k gaming folks will be stunned). Here, I must commend the developers on creating a truly beautiful game, full of rich, fully-realized environments, amazing weather effects, and incredibly detailed character models. The highly optimized sounds are also a pleasure to listen to, as is the entrancing, minimalist score. Sometimes, it really makes you feel like you’re really living in Agent 47’s skin, and pulling off that level of suspension-of-disbelief is a rare feat.
Hitman: Absolution is a work of love, and although its emphasis on action somewhat detracts from the overall experience, in my opinion, it was an adrenaline pumping, white-knuckled thrill ride. Its combination of gorgeous graphics, fun mission structure, immersive environments, and guilty-pleasure takedowns, all form a synthesis that, while not perfect, do the job well enough. Just don’t expect to play it like a pure stealth experience.
Even though Hitman: Absolution came out back in 2012, don’t let that fool you; it’s still a resource hog and will bring even mid-range gaming PCs to their quivering knees. Why not upgrade your gaming rig today? Here’s a great option, the Fangbook gaming laptop:
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