Hitman Absolution is the latest in a long series of games to put you in the shoes of master assassin Agent 47. This time he turns on his old employers, attempting to save a young girl from living a life like his; fortunately, you don’t really need to know anything about the previous titles to get a handle on this one.
The USP of the Hitman series is that each mission is a miniature sandbox, letting you complete it how you want. Killing your targets without detection is the aim, but while you can simply shoot and run away, exploring the areas reveals more creative options: a box of rat poison, a gas cylinder, a loose wire.... These tie into a score system, with the most elaborate and silent kills netting the most points.
The game is capable of excellent fluidity (though we recommend playing with a controller), letting you sneak through multiple routes, moving from cover to cover and taking disguises. However, while the systems do make the game appear open and free, they usually require a lot of planning and irritating repetition to get the high scores. It feels like solving the mechanics of a puzzle, rather than playing as a skillful badass. Your foes do at least make life difficult for you, with improvisation needed for success in the short term, and foresight rewarded if you’re going for high scores. There’s always fun to be had, though — you can play it your way if you simply want to progress through the game’s plot.
It’s a shame, then, that the story is — to put it bluntly — unimaginitive, annoying, and sexist. We particularly balked at a scene where Agent 47 murders his old colleague while she’s in the shower, and then proceeds to have lots of gratuitous flashbacks to her, yes, in the shower. It’s the worst kind of misogynistic titillation. The game carries on through the ‘crap story’ checkboxes, with a sweary villain, a level in a strip club, and every female character existing solely to offer ample chest, and little clothing.
Still, the core of the game isn’t the story, but replaying the levels and going for perfect kills. Variety is added though ‘contracts’ given by other players, in which they can set tasks for you. This produces more unpredictable situations, and with some excellently flexible levels available, it can be tense but great fun. It’s a good-looking game too, with the crowd scenes being particularly impressive.
The bottom line. Hitman Absolution is good, but the overall experience is flawed. While it can make you feel like a true badass, it nevertheless stumbles over its execrable story and some irritating levels.