My relationship with the newest Hitman game is…strained, to put it mildly.
I bought Absolution shortly after it came out, hoping against hope that it would be a worthy sequel to one of my favorite all-time games, Hitman: Blood Money. I added Absolution it to my favorites list before Steam had even finished downloading it.
According to the Steam counter, I played for a total of 13 hours before I removed it from that list. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of that time was spent doing something else, leaving the game running in the background as I watched videos on Youtube or worked on one of my programming projects.
Two weeks after removing it from my favorites, I uninstalled it. I don’t think I’ll be back.
Hitman: Absolution is not a good game.
What do I mean by this? Several distinct things at once, actually;
I’ll go through these one by one.
At its core, a Hitman game is about freedom. A stage is set, an objective is given, and then the player is released. Through an intricate interweaving of systems, each level feels like a living, breathing world, and for all intents and purposes, it is. It’s the type of game that you never fully understand — you can play for hours and still find something new each time.
Absolution fails spectacularly in this respect. Despite a few standout levels, most of the game involves moving through a linear series of rooms as you progress from one door to another, triggering cinematic cutscenes and events along the way. Often the only choice involved is whether you walk down a hallway or crawl through an air vent to reach the same exact place.
Another of Absolution’s failings is that it tries to deliver the experience of a systemic game without actually being one. Instead of a small set of rules which interact organically, we are given a large set of rules which fail to interact with each other in any way that the developers didn’t explicitly design. Here’s an example:
One scenario in particular sticks in my mind. I could see a car that I could use to cause a distraction, but the only weapon I had was unsilenced. Shooting was out of the question, so I picked up a hammer and tossed it at the car.
Nothing happened. The car wasn’t scripted to react to physics objects. Absolution wants you to believe that you’re an actor in a complex, systemic world, but it’s just an illusion. Without the crucial elements that define the Hitman series, Absolution only manages to be a generic stealth game. This brings me to my next point…
The last few years have seen the release of a number of fantastic stealth titles. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hitman franchise was resurrected in part due to the success of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Unfortunately, Absolution takes the most superficial element of Human Revolution’s cover-based stealth system and leaves everything else behind, resulting in a messy, frustrating stealth experience.
A good stealth game features smooth, fluid movement. When I get caught sneaking around, it should be my fault, not the game’s. I don’t mind being busted due to my lack of skill as a player or an oversight in my planning, but I cannot tolerate a game that fights my efforts to interact with it. Agent 47 controls like a shopping cart, and a shopping cart has no business being an assassin.
A good stealth game is also deterministic, which means that scenarios happen the same way every time. Since planning ahead is such an integral part of stealth gameplay, it’s essential that things happen in a predictable way. In Absolution, nothing ever happens the same way twice. I spent an hour on one single mission just because the window of opportunity I was waiting for depended on two characters having a particular conversation; each time I reloaded the conversation and animations involved would be slightly different, changing the amount of time I was given to slip past.
To top it all off, the save-anywhere feature that the Hitman series has had almost since the beginning has been replaced by a checkpoint system, despite the fact that checkpoints simply are not sufficient for a stealth game. To add insult to injury, when a checkpoint is reloaded all non-target enemies respawn and return to their starting locations, and if you quit the game you’ll have to restart the entire level from the beginning. This is absurd on so many levels, and brings me to my next point.
Out of all the time I spent playing, my most prominent memory is that of crouching against a wall, listening to two police officers discuss the raid they were conducting. It wasn’t that the topic was interesting (it wasn’t), or that the writing was good (far from it); I remember this moment because it occurs right after a checkpoint, and every time I loaded the game I had to listen to it all the way through as I waited for them to leave so I could get past. Simply put, Absolution has things to show you, and you’ll darn well see them whether you like it or not, no matter how much of your precious time it takes.
Assassin’s Creed was an important game for me when I first played it. For one, it was the first M rated game I’d ever played; for another, I could only get it to work on a computer that I had access to roughly once a week. It has a special place in my heart, but I’ve only played through it twice due to its long unskippable cutscenes. If Assassin’s Creed, with its immersive gameplay and interesting story, can’t lure me back, Absolution, which has neither, doesn’t have a chance.
Speaking of story…
I’ll be honest; I didn’t get far enough into the game to experience much of the story. What little I did see, however, was comprised of the worst writing I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to encounter. The antagonists are cartoonishly, mustache-twirlingly evil. Dialogue is littered with “look Ma, I’m mature!” profanity. Random passers-by accosted me with grade-school insults and “your mom” jokes. It was never clear why I was even going after my targets, or why my objectives should matter to me. An entire mission takes place in a strip club.
The clever puzzles from Blood Money are long gone, and in their place are a set of tasks that can’t be described as puzzles at all. Steal a document to make the crooked cop panic and shoot his contact, unhook the gas pump and wait for the target to throw his cigarette away, or wait for a repairman to relieve himself on a sparking generator; these are cheap gags that involve pressing a single button to execute and virtually no exploration to discover. The moments of epiphany that previous games so often delivered are conspicuously absent, and neither the gameplay nor the story is good enough to stand without them.
On the whole, Hitman: Absolution is the most disappointing game I’ve played to date. At best it fails to deliver in every possible way, and at worst it actively insults me as a player. I came into it hoping for the same intelligent, emergent experience that I so fell in love with from the other games, but what I got was mass-market drivel that doesn’t deserve to share a franchise name with its predecessors.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play Blood Money again.