Also known as ‘The day Patrick Stewart lost it’
Absolution is an attempt to make Hitman more than a game about killing people. Sure the older games had a story (one I rather liked) but essentially the focus of the game was to give you a playground in which you could murder some bad people. For money. Absolution has tried something different, and I applaud it for that.
The story starts with 47 being part of the agency. I’m pretty sure I missed something because I thought he was already betrayed by them, or maybe he betrayed them, but anyway you are back with them. You need to perform a hit on a target that has sentimental value to you, and you get to play this out as the tutorial mission. The ensuing level is glorious and gives you a little taste of all the good things Absolution has to offer. There are some fairly convincing stealth sections where you need to hide in a garden, there are some sections where shooting is in order, and there is an open section where you have to take a keycard off somebody and there are many ways to do it. The tutorial also explains how the new disguise system works whereby you can take anyone’s clothes, but someone from the same workforce will detect you from quite a distance unless you use up some of an energy bar to ‘blend in’. You gain more energy by doing sneaky things but it really does run out rather quickly, making disguises marginally less useful than before.
The story also tries to bring in a more human aspect to 47’s personality, and it doesn’t really work. There are some standout moments, like the one in the desert, but generally it’s hard to understand what he is doing or thinking. They have built him up as a genetically engineered remorseless killer, and now they seem to be trying to give him a heart. It’s not convincing as you are blowing up petrol stations to kill nuns.
This can get annoying, but thankfully the kills are just as satisfying. In the tutorial you are encouraged to throw a knife at a man’s head. You can then pick up that man and throw him off a cliff. I didn’t do this once in the whole rest of the game, but I sure as hell enjoyed it the first time. The graphics are crisp, the animations are convincing, and the knife sticks out where you threw it. This sounds like a small thing but the sadistic part of us likes to see the damage we are inflicting, and nothing says inflicted damage like a kitchen knife sticking out of a skull. Hitman is full of these little murderous highlights, and you often find yourself, after hours of finding the perfect way to get to your victim, with an expansive toolset and the free reign to do basically whatever you want. This is where contracts comes in.
In the main game it doesn’t really matter how you kill people, there is a score but the score is essentially meaningless and I couldn’t even find a scoreboard with which to compare my score against others. But in the contracts mode, you can set up a kill and then encourage others to do the same. In this mode there is a leaderboard, and there are already hundreds if not thousands of innovative contracts out there for you to try. In this mode you can be given whatever weapon or costume the creator wanted, and creating the contracts is as simple as just performing the act yourself.
One of the people from a forum I read regularly set up a contract where you have to kill three people on a small street in very specific ways, while wearing a chicken costume. To achieve this I ended up having to sneak my way up a building to find a bomb, throw the bomb through the window of a donut shop, while I waited for them to calm down I had to drag my first target through a window and strangle him with my bare erm… wings, walk over to a garage and shoot a man in the face, then while I ran for the exit, detonate the explosives thus killing everyone in the donut shop. It was exhilerating, and difficult, but so much fun.
The main game suffers from many flaws such as forced action/stealth sections and a lack of open environments, but the open environments that are there are brilliant, with a wide range of approaches and these all suit themselves to contracts mode. Do you kill through poisoned Sushi, a bomb in the safe room, or sniping her off the building? Do you electrocute someone or sabotage his barbecue, perhaps you just want to let loose with a shotgun and plough every down. It’s entirely up to you. Beyond the score, the game doesn’t even judge you for it. I do miss the newspaper reports from the earlier games, but the freedom is gratifying.
The PC version is currently £24.99 and this is a steal. I put in 14 hours completing the campaign on normal, and I’m planning to put a lot more than the two I already have into contracts.It runs like a dream on my mid-spec machine at 1080p and looks and sounds great. This is an easy game to recommend, I can’t wait to see what they do with the series from now on.