Hitman: Absolution is fun. It’s a simple criteria, but one that so many games overlook. In that sense, despite its morbid subject matter, Absolution at times feels like a throwback to a more innocent time in video games: before companies made a science out of how to keep you playing with free-to-play and microtransactions; before games were brands and franchises; before The Walking Dead or Mass Effect made me break down in tears. Despite its frustrations and flaws, Absolution provided some of the most straightforward, enjoyable and (devilishly) amusing gaming in years.
Absolution’s story is largely forgettable, though enjoyable enough in a sleazy grindhouse sort of way. But it is the environments and the freedom you have to wreak carnage within them which is so entertaining. The game takes you through a range of locales across the USA, borrowing heavily from the flavour of 70s and 80s action films. Most levels are broken up into sections that take only a few minutes to complete, though you can spend a lot longer exploring and trying to set up the perfect kill. It’s a good balance, ensuring that there is tension and reward from trying to get things right, but a minimum of frustration for those who don’t want to spend hours crouching behind the same few boxes or pieces of furniture. If you enjoy that sort of thing you can turn up the difficulty which reduces the number of checkpoints. It’s a simple system and it works well.
The arsenal available to you is mightily impressive and at times quite amusing, and weapons all feel substantial to use and have their place. Special mention to Agent 47’s signature silverballers which are the most satisfying silenced pistols I have used in a game since Goldeneye’s silenced PP7; appropriately enough, they get their own mission. The physics are generally spot on although as ever explosions do sometimes look silly when bodies just go flying everywhere like ragdolls. I suppose when you think about it there isn’t really an alternative.
The game’s pacing is good and the level of pressure and intensity hits a sweet spot that again reminded me of Goldeneye on the N64. You want to do the missions right, but it’s a relief to be able to get yourself out of a jackpot if things go slightly awry. The levels are designed well, and credit to whoever came up with some of the more inventive assassination scenarios: I found myself cackling with glee or disbelief on numerous occasions. There are many different ways to complete most levels. On one level I dropped a lighting rig on my target (a cage fighter) only to get shot down after getting lost making my way out of the rafters. So on the next occasion I threw a remote mine into the cage, and calmly walked towards the exit while setting it off, completing the level. I was alarmed to see my score on the mission complete screen: minus 40,000 points for civilian casualties. Oops. Maybe the lighting rig was a better method after all.
In addition to trying to do the levels perfectly, the game has a certain amount of replayability with various challenge and contracts modes, where players submit contracts on NPCs found in the normal levels of the game. However the lack of multiplayer probably hurt Absolution’s sales. Although it did well, shipping several million units, it still failed to meet Square Enix’s targets of 4-5 million units (rather an inflated figure considering the four previous Hitman games had shipped 8 million units combined). With that in mind, one worries that the new Hitman game shipping in 2016 will lose that purity of purpose, gaining the sorts of add-ons and monetization features that Absolution largely lacked. But that’s for another day. For now I’m just glad to have played Hitman: Absolution, one of the most entertaining games I’ve picked up in recent years.