The year’s standout stealth entry
by Nicholas Laborde
©2012 Nicholas Laborde
Last year, Deus Ex: Human Revolution kicked off the fall release season by giving the world an extremely versatile way to play.
You could play it as an action game, mowing down everyone in sight and taking no prisoners.
Or, you could go through the entire game without harming a soul.
This year, the only AAA game with true stealth options we’ve received is Dishonored, which as with Human Revolution is not a dedicated stealth title but can be played that way.
Now, for the first time in years, we have a legitimate AAA stealth title in the form of Hitman: Absolution.
Agent 47 is back, and he’s stealthier than ever.
May the stealth be with you
Absolution seems to have been up to its neck in controversy. First, take into account the revelation that we’d be killing Diana (the main character that’s not Agent 47), and then couple that with those murderous nuns… it’s just been one thing after another.
With all of these ridiculously un-Hitman notions floating around, many have taken this as a perfect pedestal to say that Absolution is what we all have terrible nightmares about: a hardcore stealth title turned Call of Duty-tier action title, “appealing to a broader audience” in the process and destroying its roots.
All of these notions are completely and unequivocally false.
Hitman: Absolution is very much like Blood Money, with its own new features that feel completely natural and that don’t detract from the stealthy nature of the game.
The game starts with, as the initial trailers revealed, Agent 47 going after longtime series character Diana. She participated in a massive betrayal of the Agency, exposing its deepest secrets to the public and leaving it open to attack.
A new manager, Benjamin Travis, takes the reigns and then orders a hit on Diana. Obviously, Agent 47 is put on the job.
At the last moment, 47 has second thoughts and decides not to kill her immediately, which leads him to read a letter Diana wrote about a teenage girl in her care, Victoria.
Diana’s dying wish was that 47 would protect her from the Agency, and that’s exactly what Absolution is about. 47 gets Victoria out safely, and drops her at a Catholic orphanage. Then, the hits begin.
It’s the first Hitman title with a truly engaging story, and while games like it typically focus on the gameplay with the story essentially built around it, Absolution will have you at the edge of your seat trying to discern what’s going to happen next.
Absolution isn’t a game you play for the story, but for a franchise built upon gameplay, it’s a solid entry.
The core mechanics are still in place, and in reality, not that much is different – which is by no means a bad thing. Stealth is the only genre where being conservative is a good thing.
As Agent 47, players have access to a small variety of tools in which to eliminate targets. A big difference between Absolution and previous titles is that we have no armory. 47 starts with his signature fiber wire and silenced Silver Baller pistols, but that’s about it.
Anything else must be procured on site, which is how a stealth game should be.
At any time, players can activate Instinct and see where enemies are, what paths they will take, and who among them is the chief target. While this sounds like sacrilege on paper, it’s actually extremely useful in actuality and feels surprisingly natural.
The biggest trademark feature of Hitman is back, and thanks to Instinct, has a new layer of depth: disguising. When taking out enemies, you can change into their clothes in order to blend in better with the world.
However, if you get too close to enemies, they will become suspicious. This is where Instinct comes in. Simply hold down the Instinct key, and you’ll make some sort of visible effort to blend in. Be wary, though; it has a limited use.
Although you can use the basic concepts of Instinct for however long you wish (seeing where enemies and their paths are, etc.), the blending features are limited and can only be replenished by accomplishing Hitman-esque actions, such as silently taking down targets.
That’s where Absolution truly shines. Sure, you can play it “traditionally” and take out targets non-lethally, choking them and hiding them in a dumpster, but it’ll hurt you. Absolution keeps a running score tally of all of your actions, and non-lethally taking out an enemy causes you to lose 125 points.
On the flip side, you’ll be awarded with many thousands of points if you use the environment to your advantage, such as moving a dangling electrical wire to the spot where some poor bloke is about to relieve himself.
The possibilities truly are endless, and you can play Absolution in whatever way pleases you most.
As previously mentioned, many believe that you can just shoot everyone in sight and have no consequences. This isn’t true. Even on the standard difficulty setting, the player will die in just a few shots, and getting an alert of that magnitude basically compromises your mission.
On the higher settings, you don’t even have Instinct. Any allegations of Absolution being stealth sacrilege are completely false, because this is where you’ll want to do your stalking this holiday season.
In Contracts, players create their own hits and can share them with the world. Think of it as Hitman‘s Forge, but not quite as in-depth.
Essentially, contracts are based on single player segments of the game. No contract is impossible, because the author has to pull it off himself first before it can be made public.
Players then can play the contract and try to get as high a score as possible. You may be assigned a target within a massive crowd, but have to take him out silently, in a disguise, and hide the body.
Or, you may have to shoot your target in the head with your pistol in Agent 47’s suit. The possibilities are endless, and while they are essentially just different takes on the campaign, they’re very enjoyable and have the potential to extend the life of the game exponentially.
While it isn’t a full-scale level editor or anything too deep, it’s just enough to add an enticing amount of replay value to the game.
The best has yet to come
Even though Hitman: Absolution has had some rocky appearances in the media and unfortunately has suffered in the minds of players as a direct result of it, these things do not detract from the quality of the final game.
It’s still about stalking targets and taking them out as quickly, quietly, and efficiently as possible. It’s still about getting in and out without being seen. It’s still about creative takedowns.
More importantly, it’s still Hitman, and you still need to play it.