Damnit, did I wait for this sequel like a bugger. Blood Money was an absolute gem back in 2006, and managed to balance many things in a way that lifted it far above the previous baldie-fests. However, none of the Hitman’s have ever quite hit perfection, leaving something off in game-play, story, characterisation or style.
Now, after all this bloody waiting Absolution is here, and it’s pretty damn groovy. Game-play wise, it is absolutely the new best in series. 47 is much more fluent and agile in movement and evasion, without going into Solid Snake/Ezio Auditore da Fudgestick territory, and he has a huge range of possible actions to interact with the world and hurt people. A part of this comes from 47 losing all his agent-crap (it’s not really a spoiler if it happens during the first twenty minutes), and having to think of new innovative ways to hurt hillbillys, like smashing their heads in with a brick, or throwing a screwdriver into their earhole. One problem with this, is that it almost makes the game too easy, having more ways to kill a passing gardener than make pancakes, making it less important to plan out your kills before going on a rampage.
The real issue with Absolution comes from what seems like an identity crisis, like 47 is trying to decide whether he is going to be James Bond today, avoiding cops, following leads to international super-criminals, solving conspiracies and keeping the world safe from cigar-smoking cunts; or whether he is going to be the Chicago Ripper, leaving behind a trail of corpses and blood splatter, just because it’s kind of his thing. To try to make it shorter: the real essence of Hitman, non-linear missions with simple parameters and a target, seem to have made way for story-based, linear episodes, quite few of which follow the line of “Kill Mr. Pudding and GTFO”, and a few too many revolve around “get to the end of the map and avoid cops/thugs/sexy nuns/Ctulhu”. How much you like this development, depends largely on how you imagine 47 to really be, whether he’s a kind of happy-go-lucky Leon type of cut-throat, or the Terminator, without the social grace and kind spirit.
Hitman games, at least as far as I’ve seen, follow a pattern of swinging between dark and brooding, and then grotesque and goofy. Silent Assassin and Blood Money were quite happy going over the top, being much lighter in tone and letting you drop a pianos on carnival performers in Big Bird outfits, whereas Contracts and Absolution seem to go back to dark and grimy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that goofy is right out the window of course, since most characters come somewhere between The Devil’s Rejects and Meet the Feebles in tone. The writer’s definitely seem to have a thing for Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse direction, where everyone is a degenerate asshole and all the villains are cartoon characters as envisioned by Frank Miller.
One big change people keep moaning about is the new disguise system, where people wearing the same clothes as you are much more sensitive to you and will pick you out if you get within sniffing distance, which produces logical brainfarts where ever it treads. Now yes, it does, and does not make sense. People who have worked as security guards should be able to spot the 6-foot-rock-faced statue with the barcode anywhere, and think “did that guy work here yesterday?” In the other hand, a crowd of 60 cops will somehow magically notice the one who doesn’t fit in in a police uniform, but will be completely oblivious to the chef who magically changed face and gender while they went for a piss. As a gaming mechanic, it does make perfect sense. In Blood Money you could just pick up the FBI agent uniform, and instantly be allowed access anywhere in the known galaxy without a single motherfucker giving you a second look, which instantly meant you could not fuck up the mission unless throttling babies in plain view, with most of the national media covering it. Often the key to cracking a mission was just finding the best uniform, and all the challenge went out the window faster than turpentine down a homeless man’s throat. Now, at least you have to stay sharp and plan outfits when moving between areas.
To be fair, there have been real developments to improve the replay value of Absolution, which is where all the previous titles have, not so much fallen short, as gone down with a wet splat. That includes big improvements in how the AI behaves, not repeating the same idiotic tasks with the efficiency of Noddy the Paper Mache Robot, just waiting to have their throats slashed and their snazzy uniforms stolen, but are somewhat unpredictable, in when to light up, and which corridors to patrol down. The other major improvement is the semi-multiplayer, where sociopaths around the world can exchange challenges on set NPCs, doing some actual bloody murdering for a change. Also, now you no longer have to spend hours scouting the map and laying out plans (which in hind-sight sounds like the fun part), as 47 can now see through walls, highlight intractable objects and guard patrol-routes likes he stole Batman’s fucking cowl.
I still have most of the game to explore, but so far Absolution looks pretty damn sweet. Though there have been some choices towards mainstream action, the player’s power to take the covert option is never really gone, and there is still a huge room for personalization. You think 47 should never ditch the suite, cos it looks too awesome? No probs, in fact the game rewards you for it. You want to ceiling to drip with the blood of any bastard silly enough to step in your way? Sure thing, would you like bullet time with that. You want to play it like Contracts and ignore the silly bitch of a plot and get on with good meaty murder? Bring it on, there’s a whole play-mode for it.
Going to go play it now. Lots of people to stab.
And yes, the way 47 covers his barcode with a plaster…it looks bloody silly. You can still see half of it sticking out, which should by all means make him slightly more noticeable. At least he’s safe from rogue barcode readers.