On the Ides of March, 44 BC, a group of men calling themselves the Liberators conspired to kill then Roman leader and dictator Julius Caesar. Walking to the forum, a crowd surrounded Caesar, where Servilius Casca flashed a dagger and together with his conspirators, attacked and stabbed Caesar 23 times before he died. It was one of the most famous assassinations in history and shows just how far back planned and organized murder goes.
Fast forward to modern times and assassination is still all the rage.
With Assassin’s Creed taking over the legacy of silent murder, the Hitman series returns to the gaming world after a 6 year hiatus with Square Enix’s first next gen entry Hitman: Absolution. In Absolution, you play as the barcoded baldy Agent 47, sent by the ICA (his agency) to take out your former handler Diana who has incriminating evidence against your employers. As a final wish, she asks you to protect a young girl named Victoria, who she fears the ICA is planning to commit human experiments on with the intention of turning her into the ultimate weapon. The ICA frowns upon your shenanigans, and as a rogue 47; you’re public enemy #1.
The story follows this weaving narrative of chasing down Victoria and retrieving her to protect her from enemies. After expert cunning, finally, I’ve got the girl! Oh wait, no I don’t. For a man who prides himself on outsmarting his enemies, it’s stunning how easily Agent 47 can be tricked or make boneheaded mistakes that always keep you one step behind the girl and her captors. It’s a frustrating sequence to commit brilliant stealth, but leave a trail so easy a beat cop could find you.
But that’s the story.
The actual murder is a lot more entertaining.
Luckily, you’ll have some help.
A new feature called instinct mode uses Agent 47’s intuition to follow clues, track enemy patterns, and spot items to use against them. Experienced gamers will feel right at home with this familiar feature that resembles Ezio’s eagle vision in the Assassin’s Creed series. With instinct, you can also enter point shooting (bullet time) and tag enemies before executing them with deadly precision. It’s possible to whip out your trademark silver ballers and go full blast through any level without any consequence using this feature, but a gun is too clean for your mortal enemies, right?
The only thing gained from being silent is a sense of pride and satisfaction with not getting caught, because silently choking your enemies with fiber wire or blasting them in the face with a shotgun has no ramifications on the story on any level. There’s no reward other than smug satisfaction.
A smug satisfaction I was happy to take part in.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll follow the protocol of an assassin to giggle with satisfaction as you outsmart bodyguards, infiltrate heavily fortified buildings, and choke out the boss in utter silence. It’s easy to shoot through the level, but Absolution rewards you for being subtle and I constantly restarted checkpoints after being spotted to rack up the bonuses.
You use these points to unlock upgrades allowing 47 to run faster, take more damage, gain more instinct, reload weapons quicker, and various technique based attributes. The best techniques can only be gained by sneaking through the level and killing only the target, earning the silent assassin badge
Which brings me to my favorite feature.
The signature kill bonus for killing your enemy in the most ingenious way. Each level has one, and using only your brain and inner misanthropy, you must lure your target into the most elaborate traps. It can be anything from electrocuting a target to poisoning his drugs. This adds replay value and breaks up the monotony of killing to advance to the next level.
This is the best thing about Absolution.
47 can waltz around undetected in disguises (50, to be exact), blend in with crowds (think Assassin’s Creed), and maneuver around objects to stay hidden. However, the ability to distract is by far the most entertaining. You can interact with the environment to turn on radios, trigger car alarms, activate sprinkler systems, and even throw a bottle in the direction of a guard to slip past while he investigates. It can get repetitive, because anyone in the game can be distracted by a thrown bottle, but it’s done well enough to be believable.
There are some annoyances, because not every mission is a contract. Instead, you’ll have to do my biggest pet peeve in gaming and run to the 4 corners of a giant map to retrieve “fuses” to turn on the power. As a hitman, I can’t help but feel silly as I creep around collecting fuses to open a big door or backtracking the entire level (and sneaking by guards again) to flip a switch or hit a button. This is lazy level design and thankfully only sparingly implemented.
Levels are full of random items, some of which can be used to interact with the environment. Canisters of gasoline can be poured to cause gigantic explosions, fuse boxes can be destroyed to strip power, sleeping pills can be silently dropped into drinks, and poison can be inserted into food, drinks, or drugs.
A cache of weapons is also available, but customization isn’t possible. This isn’t a big issue, as you can breeze through the entire game with nothing more than silver ballers and fiber wire, but it’s disappointing to have no control over my arsenal. I completed the game on normal (in 6 hours *adjusts tie*), and dabbled with hard, but until you get to the expert and purist modes, it doesn’t feel like you’re ever at a disadvantage.
Most levels are huge (and completed in parts), ranging from a huge skyscraper in familiar places like Chicago or a dive bar in remote locales like Hope, South Dakota. Knock off enemies in the beautifully designed orphanage or hide from the cops in a field of marijuana plants. Push your way through a heavily crowded Chinatown or a packed train station and be surprised at how many different characters inhabit the world. Rush through the masses and realize the breadth of your mistake when you bump into an undercover agent that knows who you are.
This is the living and breathing environment Absolution allows you to exist in.
There’s an interesting online only mode called contracts that adds significant post-campaign play time to Absolution. In this mode, you create your own contracts within levels (including weapons and disguises), and your friends online are required to follow the level according the parameters you set up if you want to complete the mission. Fulfilling contracts earns you money in an off-shore account to use for upgrading all of your weaponry.
Despite missing some things that could make it a complete experience, Hitman: Absolution is a lot of fun and will satisfy the bloodlust of any stealth gaming fan. The levels are beautifully detailed, Hitman looks better than it ever has before, and if this is the new direction the series is headed toward, count me in.