[one_third]Our stealth review of Hitman: Absolution digs beneath the scripted sequences and corridor environments to uncover stealth mechanics that deserve to be experienced.[/one_third]
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Hitman: Absolution found few friends when it arrived bearing modern interpretations of its well-loved systems. As a stealth game, it is easy to critique, for when played on Normal or lower difficulty settings, its design flaws expose themselves: Bland levels, Superheroic abilities, a disingenuous score system, and poorly-implemented disguise elements. In spite of these, under certain conditions and on higher difficulty settings, Absolution can offer fairly enjoyable stealth gameplay.
Expert difficulty removes save points, hints, item highlighting and guard path predictions. It also increases the number of enemies, sharpens their reaction times, and boosts the damage 47 takes. In a strange twist for a Hitman game so focused on modernising itself, the hardest difficulty, Purist, is ideally reserved for those already acquainted with Absolution’s levels and design quirks. Purist removes all but the essential HUD elements, including the suspicion meter. This facilitates a fantastic sense of place and heightens tension; instead of relying on the user interface element to reveal a player’s mistakes, they must tune in to enemy speech and motion cues. But even such awareness of enemy reactions is not enough; the unforgiving nature of Purist pushes Absolution too far into unfair trial-and-error territory, so it’s reserved for those with at least a passing knowledge of level layouts.
As the pace dramatically slows by playing on a harder difficulty, it’s easier to identify the issues with Absolution’s level design. Some levels do tend to funnel players down a narrow, restrictive path, with conveniently-placed traps and distractions offering some of Absolution’s most dull experiences. Dotted amongst these corridors are a few large levels with dynamic guard routes, suites of weapons and tools to play with. The main draw of a Hitman game is studying and learning the ins and outs of each level in order to make the perfect kill. At its best, Absolution delivers these moments. It’s disappointing that there’s so much digging required getting to get there.
Dotted amongst these corridors are a few large levels with dynamic guard routes, suites of weapons and tools to play with
Instead of figuring out how to untangle a mess of moment-to-moment objectives in order to set up the perfect kill, Absolution is far more focused on stealth elements that have you avoiding enemy line of sight while picking off AI that is in your way. It’s the combination of Absolution’s mechanical nuances that make this different approach to the series’ gameplay fairly enjoyable. For example, as long as 47 is carrying some sort of weapon or object, he can kill anyone instantly in melee; though, if this isn’t done from behind to an unaware victim, the attack makes enough noise that, even from a moderate distance, someone will investigate it.
Also new to the series is a system that causes others who have the same attire as 47 to be the ones most likely to single him out. A police officer would theoretically know all the other officers on duty. It’s a twist that takes a bit of getting used to, but as a game mechanic it does serve its purpose well: providing an incentive to use Instinct. On Expert difficulty, the primary function of Instinct is to slightly tilt your head and become, for all intents and purposes, invisible to those with the same uniform as you. Instinct is only replenished by taking out enemies and accomplishing objectives, but even then it’s a scarce resource that will only get 47 through one or two blocked areas during a level.
If you want more, you’ll have to risk taking out guards, which further encourages interaction with the surprisingly deep AI, which does a brilliant job of conveying its thoughts and intentions. The manner in which guards propagate their alert state creates a slow ripple effect throughout their ranks, which is an infinitely more interesting system than a blanket alert phase. This creates situations where, if caught, 47 has opportunities to manage the situation by quickly dispatching those who saw him and became suspicious, or those who were in radio contact with someone who detected him. Some of the most thrilling moments of Absolution arise when you’re undone by your own mistake, yet manage to take out those involved quickly enough that everyone else remains oblivious. It’s not exactly the most professional outcome, but it plays into the Hitman fantasy. In Purist mode, without the aid of the minimap, treading through enemy ranks, avoiding detection and quietly finding and disposing those most suspicious is edge-of-the-seat stealth gameplay.
The manner in which guards propagate their alert state creates a slow ripple effect throughout their ranks
Load up Absolution on the harder difficulties then grit your teeth through the linear levels and you’ll find a competent Hitman experience when the game chooses to be. Absolution doesn’t reveal the perfect way to take out a target, so players still need to observe each level by actively putting themselves at risk amongst enemy ranks. Each target has a “signature” death, and discovering these remains as rewarding as ever, as does experimenting with some innovative AI routines. This may not be the best Hitman game, but there are absolutely some stealth elements here that the series, and genre itself, can learn from.