Hitman: Absolution (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) review

Hitman: Absolution is a solid return to the Hitman series after six years, but it doesn't represent the best of what the franchise has to offer.
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The Hitman series is back after a long hiatus with Hitman: Absolution for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. The last Hitman game, Hitman: Blood Money, came out in 2006 and since then there’s been a dearth of thoughtful sneaky killing games. The series has always been unique because of its emphasis on problem solving and creativity over simply sneaking around and killing everyone. Plus, a new game is welcome in the face of other excellent stealth games like Dishonored  and Batman: Arkham City  which reward being sneaky but make you capable of taking on an army single-handedly if you get caught. Hitman: Absolution is trickier because you can’t punch through enemies as easily and you’re not as durable. This causes you to focus on being clever instead of fast.

Again the Hitman
Once again you play Codename 47, a cloned/bred/brainwashed/trained super-assassin who’s once again in his mysterious Agency’s good graces for all of five minutes. He’s ordered to assassinate his former handler in a mission that serves as a tutorial, and immediately after pulling the trigger he decides to honor her last wishes by saving a young girl who might be like him and is wanted by various people.

The story has very little impact on the game, and considering the first mission’s should-be-emotional-but-is-really-just-bizarrely-lethargic kill, that’s a good thing. The plot is used to take you to various locations so you can sneak around and kill people using different weapons and disguises.

Gameplay
The core gameplay feels like the Hitman series, focusing on problem-solving and stealth more than action. Assassinations are laid out like puzzles, with multiple solutions of varying difficulty and complexity appearing depending on how you look at them. You can always shoot or garrote your target, figure out how to poison them, or devise creative and convoluted ways to kill them using an unsettling number of environmental objects that indicate that no matter where you go in a city, a half dozen things could potentially crush or electrocute you if someone sneezes.

While cover mechanics let you hide from gunfire and Codename 47 is a skilled fighter, running and gunning doesn’t work very well and you’ll quickly die when you try to go up against more than two or three people at once. Most of the time, you’ll have to disguise yourself by knocking out people when they’re alone or sneak around in the shadows to avoid confrontations. The game is even less forgiving to fighters than Dishonored, which offered enough head-on skills to give you a chance in a fight. In Hitman: Absolution, if you get the attention of the enemy and can’t lose them, you’re going to die.

An “instinct” mechanic similar to Batman: Arkham City’s Detective Mode or Dishonored’s Dark Vision highlights objects you can use and shows you enemies through walls, but it feels out of place against Hitman’s otherwise realistic action. The harder difficulty levels disable instinct, letting you play like a series purist.

Multiplayer and Conclusion
Besides the single-player campaign, a Contracts mode lets you play a sort of challenge multiplayer mode. You play through a mission and kill a character creatively before escaping. That contract is then shared with friends who can try to beat your score in killing the same person. It’s very limited and loses novelty fast. A simple tool for clearing out or populating levels with different characters so players could really customize assassinations would have turned the Contracts mode into a must-play challenge system instead of a somewhat fun game variant.

Hitman: Absolution is a challenging return to the Hitman series that generally keeps the spirit of the games close, but it doesn’t reach the heights of previous games like Hitman: Blood Money in variety and openness of missions. It feels slightly stripped down, with fewer weapons choices, customization, and assassination options, but a handful of great missions make the game worth playing through. This isn’t Hitman at its best, but it isn’t Hitman at its worst, and it stands as a refreshing stealth/adventure/puzzle game that prioritizes finesse over force.

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Specifications
Genre Action Games
Platform PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
ESRB Rating M for Mature

Verdict
Hitman: Absolution is a solid return to the Hitman series after six years, but it doesn't represent the best of what the franchise has to offer.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc