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Updated: December 5, 2012 20:46 IST

The Next Level — Killer instinct

VIDEEP VIJAY KUMAR
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Hitman: Absolution’s interesting sandbox more than makes up for the lack of narrative refinement

The fifth instalment in the Hitman series also marks Agent 47’s first real entry into the world of hi-def consoles. Back in the day, game reviewers weren’t as generous with review scores as they are now, and as a result, the (rather amazing) previous two games, Contracts and Blood Money received positive, if not glowing reviews. A lot has changed in the world of games since then, however. Has Agent 47 aged gracefully, or are his best days behind him?

At the start of Hitman: Absolution, it is revealed that Diana, Agent 47’s handler has gone rogue. Part of the plan involves exposing all the shady assassinations carried out by the Agency. Needless to say, some people such as agent Benjamin Travis are not particularly in love with the idea. He issues a kill order on Diana, and for obvious reasons, it’s up to Agent 47 to execute it. Despite a promising start, the plot feels a bit loose, indulgent and honestly, unnecessary. Despite some good performances in the voice acting department, lack of substance and consistency does hurt it. Fortunately, the missions themselves are outstanding.

Six years is a long time — particularly in the ever-evolving world of game mechanics. Absolution, too, has changed with the times. There’s a cover system, awkward-but-awesome QTE-based melee combat as well as vent crawling and an instant cheat button that passes off for a game-play mechanic. There’s just one item that might require a little bit of explaining — the cheat button I’m referring to is Absolution’s “instinct” mode, which lets you avoid eye contact with enemies who can effectively see through Agent 47’s disguise. It’s not really cheating since “instinct” is not an infinite resource, but it does make you feel like you did something cowardly to compensate for your lack of stealth skills — and the game does expect the unleashing of your inner ninja most of the time.

The game’s missions are set in reasonably large spaces that offer multiple paths to take out your objective. However, it does an amazing job of making you second-guess yourself with an absurd score system that deducts points when you kill or even subdue any targets that are not your mark. This means constant temptation to reload from checkpoints, which ends up disrupting the game’s flow. Ignore this ticker, and you’re in for an absolute treat. Take some time to explore during each mission, and you’ll discover the seemingly infinite methods of execution at your disposal, including ‘signature’ kills. It’s always fun to go in all guns blazing with 47’s dual ballers or scavenged weaponry that’s just a little bit heavier. Absolution’s online component, ‘contracts’, a set of user-generated missions offers a fantastic distraction that breaks the monotony of the campaign. Occasionally, the contracts can be more interesting than the story missions themselves. You can create your own contracts mark targets during the game’s story and set conditions for other players such as number of targets, method of execution, and disguise pre-requisite. Speaking of disguises, they’re back (obviously), and playing dress-up before doing something really, really bad has never been more fun.

The Glacier 2 engine makes 47 and his surroundings look prettier than in the past. I mentioned previously (in an article on Hitman: Sniper Challenge) that it was capable of rendering large crowds with no visible impact on performance, but it’s not until I experienced one of the game’s immensely populated levels that it was clear how good the engine was at doing it. The game does retain the Hitman aesthetic from games past — it just looks a whole lot better now. The visuals combine well with the sandbox level design, and along with the superb ‘contracts’ mode, make up for the uninspired narrative and silly score system. Hitman: Absolution is available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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