No women, no children.

–Leon

Hitman Absolution

Rant power: Activated!

I just finished playing Hitman Absolution, the latest installment in the Hitman series. I’ve been a big fan of the series since the beginning, and eagerly pre-ordered it when it was announced. I must say that after the first few missions, I was disappointed, but now that I’ve finished it all the way through I’ve mellowed down a bit. Let me give you the good and the bad.

Lets start with the positive stuff:

The game looks great. It should, with the engines available now, but still, it deserves mentioning.

I also liked the new `Instinct’ mechanic. Having 47 sense enemies through a wall is, while not very realistic, certainly more believable, and gives more immersion than the magic `Marauder’s map’ from previous games. I also liked the way they implemented hiding and sneaking, and the way you can extend the life of your disguises by acting in character. I also absolutely love that when you sneak around while in disguise, when you don’t have to be sneaking, guards call you out on it. “Stop sneaking around idiot, what do you think you are, a lizard?” (The generic aversion of running people, even when you’re out in the pouring rain, still mystifies me though). Disguises were also a lot more realistic than previous games.

It’s also nice that they’ve finally put the option back in to choose whether you want to single- or dual wield pistols you’re carrying two of. Why that was removed after the first game was always a mystery to me. Obviously, the first game was still better in that you could a) mix two different pistols and b) carry more than two of a single weapon (Why would you only take the ammo with you? Switching weapons is much faster than reloading), but at least we’re getting there.

The cinematic point shooting mechanic is nice, but not really something I’d go for in a game like this. But then, gunning down multiple enemies was never really my Hitman playstyle. I did use it a lot in the orphanage mission though. Fuck those guys.

Please note, from here on down, this post contains a shitload of spoilers, so if you are bugged by stuff like that, stop reading now.

Still here? Good.

You know what sucks about this game? The missions.

First there is the mission preparation. Or rather, the goddamn lack of it. When I’m a top-rate assassin, what I do before I go out on a job, is look at a map of the area, and decide what gear to bring. So I don’t end up overlooking a big square with my target on the other side, wishing I’d brought my sniper rifle. All the other Hitman games allowed you to pick your own equipment, but here, you’re just dropped in with nothing but a wire and your Silverballers.

What I really hated, and made me question the game after the first few missions, is the sheer goddamn overload of `sneak from A to B’ missions. The game is called Hitman, guys, not Sneakman. There are 20 named missions in the game, all but a few of which are split up into multiple sections. In total, there are less than 30 targets you can actually kill (not counting cutscene kills). There are many cases where you get two or three targets in a single mission, which leaves a lot of missions that are simply `Get there, preferably undetected’. Of course, you can do so by taking out guards, but it is made very clear by the scoring system that you shouldn’t.

All these `sneakthrough’ missions are extremely linear. There are usually only one or two paths, with the only options being killing everyone, or throwing bottles around and sneaking past everyone. That’s pretty much the only choice. The free world with tons of ways of getting the job done we saw in the previous games is replaced by a simple obstacle course.

The few missions where you actually get to kill people are usually better, and come a lot closer to the previous games. I really enjoyed the `Streets of Hope’, `Chinese New Years’ and the Penthouse mission, to name a few. they were large, with lots of different sections and hidden opportunities. Some are just as bad though. Operation Sledgehammer was crap, for example, and its only saving grace was the fact that you could grab an easy disguise all the way at the start, and then just run through it.

The worst offenders here are the Chicago missions at the start, made even worse by the hamfisted way you get forced into that waferthin storyline. I literally yelled at my screen when on the third mission, after having sneaked for three sections through a hotel full of guards, I finally get to the room with the target and a cutscene takes over. That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the fact that in the cutscene I fail to kill a target I’m behind, who’s completely unaware of me. Stupid game, the guy has a neck like a bull, don’t use a piano wire on him! Stab him in the ear goddammit!

Of course, all this is just to set you up for a gazillion fucking missions of sneaking around police officers (which means you don’t even have the choice of shooting your way out, as shooting the cops is a surefire way of getting your score down the drain), who somehow think you committed a murder, despite the fact that they didn’t see you do it, the (fake) evidence burned up, and they have no idea who you are. This doesn’t stop them from sending every cop in the tri-state area after you though. Seriously, how the hell do they blanket all of goddamn Chicago all at once? Is everyone in that city employed as a police officer?

Then there are the silly incongruities, like when the idea behind a mission is that you’re escaping from a burning building, but you’re free to take as long as you want, since the building won’t collapse before you’ve passed a certain checkpoint. Developers, let me explain: Either the building is collapsing, or it isn’t. We’re not children, we can deal with a time limit on our missions, don’t worry. It makes it more exciting. (They did this twice, for fucks’ sake. At least they did this right on the rooftop mission in Blackwater).

Other points I disliked:

  • Checkpoints. I know this game is also available on the Playstation, but really? Are savegames for PC users that hard to implement? We had them in, well, all of the previous Hitman games, didn’t we?
  • The lack of maps. Like I mentioned before, I like the fact you no longer have a magic map that shows everyone. But a simple map of the area would be nice. Especially on the larger missions. 47 carries a laptop, maybe install Google Maps on it?
  • Loss of continuity. Whenever you cross a mission boundary, you automagically lose any disguise and collected weapons you had, and are back in your suit, with nothing but a wire and your Silverballers. Except for the mission where you visit your tailor.
  • The fact that some missions can’t be done without taking down or pacifying non-targets. If you give us deduction points for doing so, don’t force us to do it! Either it’s OK to knock guards unconscious, and we don’t get penalized for it, or it’s not OK, and every mission can be done without harming anyone but the target. You got this right on previous games, why fuck it up here?
  • Not a single sniping mission? After they promoted the game with that Sniper challenge thing? Seriously?
  • Other points I did like:

    • The shooting match against the cowgirl was funny, and pretty well executed.
    • The dress up as a Samurai statue option.
    • The fact that you can get bonus points for finishing 3 missions in a bathrobe. Very Arthur Dentish.
    • A lot of the NPC dialogue you can overhear is very good. I especially loved the stripper mentioning “I’m really a dude, do you see the hair on my upper lip?”, There’s also some real gems in the Blackwater rooftop scene: One of Dexter’s guards observes “Two units, one chopper. Am I the only one doing the math here?”, to which the guy taking a leak on the pedestrians below remarks that he’ll at least die with an empty bladder.
    Conclusion:

    If you are a fan of the Hitman games, get this, play it once or twice and try to remember the good parts. I’d advise against the easy mode, by the way, the handholding is a bit too extreme. It’s what other games would call a tutorial. But for the entire game.
    If they took the mechanics and AI from this game, and made a metric shit-ton of good missions, you’d have one pretty awesome game. As it stands, it doesn’t even come close to earlier games, but it looks great, and the few missions that are good, are really good. And the story is pretty decent, all together.

    Except for the Chicago police evasion shit. That’s just idiotic.

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