20 August 2013

Hitman: Absolution Review (XBOX 360 Version)

You know, I was originally going to come up with a joke title for this review, like 'Batman: Absolution' or 'Hitmans Creed', but then I remembered that those games were actually good and fun to play... this game, not so much. And if I sound more bitter than usual for this review, that's because I am.

Warning: Mild Spoilers follow:

The Hitman series, at least for me, didn't get really good until the fourth installment 'Hitman: Blood Money' which I consider to be a masterpiece of stealth gaming and a title that I'm proud to have in my collection and replay at least once a year. It's always a drag when I realize a sequel is inferior in just about every way except graphics, naturally.

'Hitman: Absolution' is yet another example of a beloved series being dumbed down in order to reach a wider audience and losing focus on what made the series great to begin with. And this time not only does the gameplay suffer, but the story and the main character, Agent 47 as well. Wonderful.

Let's start with gameplay. In past Hitman games, going in guns blazing usually got you killed pretty quickly or at least raised your notoriety to such a high level that it made the game needlessly difficult, though granted, it was fun to blow off steam sometimes for tough levels that you could try again later when you got it out of your system or just wanted to see how hard the game could get by ending every mission in a bloodbath.

In 'Absolution', gunning down everyone in sight is not only considered a practical option, there's now a point-shooting mechanic where you can mark several targets at once and then sit back and watch 47 murder all of them in cool slo-mo. Except Hitman isn't supposed to be a John Woo film. Or Rambo for that matter. Not to say you don't have the option of being meticulous and stealthy with your kills but with the new shooting mechanics and lack of long-term consequences, it just seems like the game fully expected and in some spots, encouraged the player to lose patience with it and start blasting.

Also, this game has Eagle... sorry, I mean INSTINCT vision which slows down time and lights up your target like a roman candle and makes them easier to spot in a crowd. Now I can understand how some people would prefer this to looking for your target on an interactive map and that the map isn't as necessary because the areas in this game are smaller, but it just felt out of place for me, like Agent 47 had suddenly developed superpowers and yes, I know being able to spot a moving target as a red dot on a map isn't exactly realistic either. Maybe this is just a nitpicky moment for me, but I really didn't care for this kind of mechanic in a Hitman game at all.

Another thing that REALLY annoyed me was respawning enemies. When people died in previous Hitman games, they stayed dead unless you restarted the mission. This one, they come back if you die midway through the mission for NO GOOD REASON and FUCK YOU to whoever came up with that idiotic design decision. As for the multiplayer, I didn't try it so I can't comment on that aspect of the game.

Unlike previous games, 'Absolution' doesn't assign specific missions by your handler, Diana, whom I can't really discuss without going into heavy spoilers, and the entire game has you trying to protect and later rescue a mysterious teenage girl whom two baddies want to exploit to serve their own ends. More on them later.

There's also no newspapers detailing your exploits or raising your notoriety, no weapons or tools to buy, no pre-mission briefings or optional missions to take for personal gain, just you and whatever you can find in the location you're at, which would've been interesting to do for maybe one mission or two, but was it really necessary for the ENTIRE GAME?

Also, the levels in this game are much smaller, each one feeling like you're in a single large room instead of exploring a entire area. Maybe this was necessary in order to maintain the level of graphic quality with a smooth frame rate but it felt more like a big step backwards to me.

Speaking of a step backwards, let's talk about disguises. The effectiveness of disguises in early Hitman games could be twitchy and even if you did nothing wrong, you could be found out. In 'Blood Money' they improved this mechanic by having suspicious people walk up to you and either politely ask or loudly demand for you to explain your presence in a restricted area. If you failed to respond after a few moments, THEN they would pull out their guns, which was a big improvement over them IMMEDIATELY pulling their guns to blow you away if you so much as sniffed your nose the wrong way.

Well, apparently the developers of 'Absolution' decided that people should see through your disguises quicker despite what you do, forcing you to either constantly change clothes during the mission or kill the person currently annoying you. The fact that the game now allows you to stuff two bodies in a bin, instead of one as in previous Hitman games suggests to me they expected you to choose the latter option. ^_^;

Now I'll try my best to summarize the story for this game: YEE-HAW! Well, that was easy. Seriously though, it's like the developers of the previous game were replaced with good old boys and they looked at the Mississippi missions from 'Blood Money' and said "Hot Damn! We should make the whole game like that!" Maybe they should have called this game 'Hitman: Deliverance'. ^_^;

The game's... secondary villain? Primary villain? I dunno, there were a few of them and not one of them seemed all that more important than the others... is some stereotypical redneck that we're supposed to believe heads a R&D facility when the character isn't qualified to run a pie eating contest. The other villain is a typical bland American bad guy who also seems woefully unqualified as the new head of the ICA. Also notable is that both of these baddies have hot female assistants that are clearly more intelligent than either of them but they add virtually nothing to the story.

Speaking of adding nothing, let's talk about the Saints for a moment. And I don't mean the Saints of 'Saints Row' although Johnny Gat Vs. Agent 47 would be an interesting fight. I personally had no problems with the sexy killer nuns trailer that got so many people upset, because I figured those characters and their bizarre choice of costume would be explained in greater detail in the game.

Well, unless their role was drastically reduced because of all the negative publicity, the Saints had practically no presence or impact in the game at all. They were just another hit squad that appears in one level that were ridiculously easy to pick off one by one. No backstory, no explanation why they dressed like fetish nuns, NOTHING. And I don't care if the novels (which I haven't read) or the Hitman Wiki explains them in more detail, the game gave us nothing to go on and the whole exercise was in my mind completely pointless unless it was simply to generate controversy to sell the game, in which case, mission fucking accomplished but IMHO, the execution (no pun intended) stunk.

Now I'd like to discuss the main character, Agent 47 for a moment. For those new to the series, his basic backstory is that he is a clone that was trained as an assassin. He killed his creator and briefly attempted to live a normal life but found it to be impossible. He accepted this truth and what he was and became the perfect Hitman. And while he is not completely without emotion or empathy, he never lets it interfere with his job. He is also NOT a fool who takes on situations beyond his abilities to handle or acts like an idiot unless the player decides to play him that way during a mission.

In 'Absolution', Agent 47 commits several acts out of the player's control which can only be described as FUCKING STUPID. Chief among them, he gives up his famous silenced baller pistols to an informant in exchange for information, which he would NEVER do in a million years. Did the game have so little confidence in its enemy AI that it felt the need to make Agent 47 as vulnerable as possible? Or maybe they did it so they would have a weak excuse to explain away a later scene where the Redneck's main henchman, who's basically Bane from 'Batman' without the mask, knocks Agent 47 out when he attempts to GAROTTE him. REALLY?

I'm sorry, but I simply can't summon the suspension of disbelief necessary to buy that the world's greatest hitman is so stupid that he thinks he can strangle to death a man several times his own size when a bullet would do the job far more safely and efficiently. But no, the game needed to have Agent 47 unconscious and vulnerable and this was the only way the developers could think of to do it. ^_^;

Let's see, what else did I miss... Yeah, the graphics look nice, I guess. But the scope of the game felt reduced with the smaller rooms so it didn't really impress me. The music was crap, but then that's no surprise since Jesper Kyd wasn't involved in scoring this game and personally, I'm kinda glad he wasn't involved with this shit. Oh yeah, there was also a sequence late in the game where a big deal is made of Agent 47 getting his famous trademark silk suit back... which he then promptly leaves behind getting into disguise to infiltrate a building. Unless, of course, you go in guns blazing. 9_9

So yeah, I pretty much despised this game. I only played through it once and I have honestly no desire whatsoever to do so again. If you've never played a Hitman game before, I strongly urge you to pick up 'Hitman: Blood Money' for the 360 or PC instead as it is SO much better, IMHO.

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