- Developer - IO Interactive
- Publisher - Square Enix
- Platforms - PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Cloud (OnLive)
- Release Date: 20 November
- Price as Reviewed: £32.99
Despite the bald guy wearing a suit on the front cover, Hitman Absolution is not a Hitman game; it's not even close. With its borrowed gameplay mechanics, overwritten plot and dull environments, Hitman Absolution is the antithesis of IO Interactive's original winning formula, swapping imagination for mass appeal.
It's a bland kind of any game, printed out from the cultural Versificator that gave us Dead Space, Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Red Faction: Armageddon. Like 47 himself, Absolution continually changes guises, borrowing its look and feel from Splinter Cell: Conviction and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
There's a patronising "point shooting" mechanic that lets you freeze time to paint targets on bad guys, and a slick cover system, complete with SWAT turns, forward rolls and hanging. That's not all that's new. "Instinct Mode", which lets you see points of interest, and bad guys through walls, has replaced the series' notoriously cumbersome map system.
But finickity though it was, the map really fed into 47's character. It let us see the world like him, from a distance, from the top down, regarding people as mere dots. All of that meaning has gone, now, replaced by slick mechanics and cool takedown moves.
You can hide in vents, too, and blend into crowds like Altair in Assassin's Creed.
That's what Hitman Absolution does - hide and blend. Presumably feeling the pressure of not having released a Hitman game since 2006, IO is trying to fit in, tacking on ideas that are chic right now.
It leaves Hitman Absolution feeling waify and indistinguishable, like a game just pretending to be Hitman. Compared with Blood Money's true 47, Absolution is Agent 17: a lesser clone.
Even the level design, typically stellar in Hitman games, can't pick up the creative slack here. Everybody remembers the Sicilian villa from Silent Assassin; the slaughterhouse bondage party from Contracts; the opera house from Blood Money. Absolution's environments are far less distinctive. A huge portion of the first act is spent hiding from the police in a series of samey looking grey buildings - a level in a strip club is as interesting as Absolution gets.
Even then, it's still bland. The strip club seems like an effort to recreate the sinister environments of old Hitmans, but it has none of the character. Blood Money took normal places and added a twist, like the Heaven and Hell themed nightclub, and the Christmas party at the porn director's mansion.
Absolution just takes normal places - the strip club is seedy, sure, but it's still just a normal strip club; it's unremarkable. Despite the 18 rating, Absolution doesn't have the sand to get really nasty, playing it safe with a sequence of stock "gritty" environments.
The writing, too, is completely neutered, and plays it safe by taking away 47's edge. In the old games, he was steely, quiet and stone cold, a brilliant cutscene in Blood Money where he murders a delivery boy testament to his inhumanity. In Absolution, he's an action hero - he has feelings.
The story revolves around Victoria, an enigmatic young girl whom 47 has sworn to protect. He constantly goes out of his way to rescue and comfort her, whispering things like, "I'll look after you...I know the pain you've been through...you don't have to be scared anymore."
It's just drivel. Absolution's determination to humanise 47 is completely besides the point. His character always worked as a non-human, a clone, an "Other". He was not of this world, hiding in plain sight to observe people from the outside.
"Living, breathing world"
That's why the "living, breathing world" that IO has put together for Absolution doesn't work. It's too bright, too lively, and too organic. The old Hitman games had a wonderful sterility to them; guards and civilians would repeat the same machinations, following their patrol routes and scripted animations to the letter.
It made levels work like complex puzzles; like 47 himself, we regarded the world with a cold kind of pragmatism. It was a mechanical, logical place that we could negotiate without feeling.
Absolution is too loud; everywhere you go you can hear people chatting to each other. Blood Money and Contracts had a wonderful detached silence, with only key bits of dialogue reaching our ears, adding to that sense of ruthless practicality.
But Absolution is - as anyone who's worked on it will tell you - a "living, breathing world" and it's much more boring than the eerie stillness of older Hitman games.
The lack of Jesper Kyd is really felt, too, with Absolution's soundtrack relying heavily on token action-movie brass. Kyd's off-key, stringy trance music gave other Hitmans that wonderful chilling quietness, and was distinctive in its own right.
Streets of Hong Kong, from Hitman: Contracts is brilliant. Absolution's score is meh; it's pah; it barely registers. And compared to how Hitman used to sound, it's a shame.
"Gritty" and scummy environments like the strip club don't work in Absolution because they're too loud and too alive. Blood Money's propensity for silence gave us an aloof, calculating distance; looking at the guard's awkward animations, it was hard to view them as people.
Like 47 who is inhuman, we viewed the people in old Hitman games as another species, their predilections for fetish-wear, torture and paedophilia only compounding our indifference.
Absolution has none of that; it's nowhere near that smart. The whole game is a total bore, completely lacking in new ideas and missing all of the good, old ones.
As cohesive, brave and enjoyable puzzle games, the old Hitmans exemplified the best computer games can offer; as a derivative, badly written franchise cash-in, Absolution represents some of the worst.
Contracts Mode is a naff idea, too - allowing players to enter main campaign missions and pick their own assassination targets, it's a multiplayer mode that Hitman doesn't need and that won't take off.
Say you play the Chinatown level and kill three blokes with a pistol while wearing a cop uniform. You save that Contract, upload it online and let other players try to match you score.
They have to follow your parameters, though, so to get the most points, they have to kill three guys with a pistol while wearing a cop uniform, too.
But they can do it quicker, or without being seen, or without missing any shots to beat your score. Then you can go back in and do all of those things, but while keeping 47's suit on.
There's not much to it. The idea of creating your own targets is kind of interesting, but the silly specifications for how you acquire points - the whole idea of making it about points, in fact - spoils the fun, limiting players to do the Contract YOUR way rather than really mess around with it.
Again, the old Hitman games used to be about exploring, and interloping and probing, looking for neat ways to make your kill look like an accident. In Contracts, you can do that if you want, but the game will tick you off by awarding you fewer points. It's a wasted idea.
But that's more than you can say for the rest of Absolution, which is just a bad idea full-stop. With its stolen mechanics and relentlessly bland looks, Absolution is a very poor game.
Intelligence, cohesion and grey morality were once hallmarks of the Hitman franchise. Now, six years and too many other stealth games later, all that's left is a dumbed down, diluted, nothing of a game that sticks out from the rest of the series like an ice-cream man with a barcode on his head.
- Gameplay: 5/10 - Perfectly functional but utterly bland. Even going Postal won't relieve the boredom
- Graphics: 5/10 - Again, perfectly fine, but Absolution doesn't use visual design to anywhere near the effect of past Hitmans
- Sound: 5/10 - Limp. The soundtrack is plain and the guns sound weak. Powers Boothe and David Bateson give solid performances, but the dialogue is nonsense
- Replay Value: 7/10 - If you can get into Contracts Mode, and get your friends into it, too, there's potential for a lot of experimentation.
- Overall: 5/10 - An unremarkable, derivative clone of a game that's barely a shadow of what Hitman used to be.