Hitman: Absolution review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: IO Interactive
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1
Online: Yes

Hitman: Absolution, the latest in the series from IO Interactive, is going to be a mixed bag for Hitman fans. It starts off strong, kicking off with a Chinatown mission after the prologue that certainly echoes previous Hitman titles, allowing you to don a variety of costumes, silently track your target, and find a number of ways to accomplish your kill. But I feel like that Chinatown missions is largely misleading when it comes to the rest of the experience, which deviates largely from what makes Hitman, well, Hitman.

One of those deviations comes from an overreliance on stealth as opposed to disguises and hiding in plain sight. From the onset of the game, with the initial tutorial, you?re introduced to a touchy, half-baked cover mechanic that allows Agent 47 to stick to waist high cover, and transition from one piece of cover to the next. This cover system, used in just about every single stage, is required mastery for the game, and makes me feel like I?m playing a low rent, knockoff Metal Gear title as opposed to traditional Hitman.

Another mechanic introduced here is Instinct Mode. Instinct is a limited use ability that is one part Detective Mode from Arkham Asylum, and one part Bullet Time from Max Payne. When enabled, your HUD will helpfully locate enemies and targets by highlighting them, along with interactive objects, traps, keycards, vents, and other items. You can enable the ability before targeting foes, slowing down time while you tag each enemy you want to shoot. And it?ll also become absolutely vital if you ever hope to pull off a disguise successfully in a crowded area.

See, previous Hitman titles, including the last game Blood Money, have always placed some sort of emphasis on hiding in plain sight via disguises. Often you?d find a variety of disguises to don, which would allow you to blend in with henchmen and other folks in order to successfully tail your target and plan an effective way of eliminating them. Absolution still has that, but you?ll find that enemies can spot Agent 47 from a near ridiculous distance. There?s a system here that basically penalizes you for wearing an outfit identical to the enemies in the room, stating that they?ll recognize you are not one of them if you get too close. But getting too close apparently constitutes 15 or so feet, a distance that will automatically draw their attention unless you spin around, duck behind cover, or enable Instinct Mode, which allows 47 to cover his face as he walks around.

It?s a really annoying and aggravating system for the disguises, and ends up forcing you to rely on standard stealth more often than not. And since the stealth system isn?t that great, I found that it brought the entire experience down a notch or two. There are still elements here that work, and things that feel like Hitman. Puzzling out kill methods isn?t quite as involved as it has been in the past, but still feels satisfying when you come across a unique method that doesn?t simply involve putting a bullet in someone?s brain.

And the look of the game feels pretty spot on for the series. Agent 47 hasn?t seen any crazy makeover, still donning that trademark black suit, red tie, bald head and menacing demeanor you?ve come to know and love. Visually it feels like a pretty big step up from Blood Money, and while there may not be a lot of interactive things in stages, stages are often packed with detail, making those places come alive and feel like actual, real-world locations. There?s definitely an element of immersion when running through Chinatown, courthouses, small town streets and more.

But, in the end, I didn?t think Absolution was that much fun to play. It gets better if you approach it less as a traditional Hitman experience, and more as a third person action/stealth hybrid. But the shooting and stealth mechanics are hardly what I would consider great. Shooting feels too loose and not precise outside of Instinct Mode, and 47 can?t really contend with a concentrated fire fight due to limited health and vulnerability. And the stealth just doesn?t give you enough options to really be stealthy, and it looks plain awkward to be ducking around corners, hallways, and doors in places like the aforementioned courthouse, Chinatown and so on. If nothing else, you?d think a strange bald guy in a suit would draw more attention slinking about public places than he ever would in an outfit meant to mimic those around him.

I can?t really consider Absolution to be a must buy sort of title, but it?s worth checking out as a curiosity rental at least. There are elements here that I like, and things that do harken back to the traditional Hitman experience, but this is about as far off the rails as the series has managed to get. Hopefully the next entry tries to reign in the foreign concepts a little more, because this hardly feels like the right direction to take the series in.

Grade: C