I’ve always gravitated toward Agent 47 in a world where Altair and Ezio (and now Conner) are revered for their skills as assassins. I prefer a much steelier contract killer. It’s fantasy, after all. Why not shoot for a fantasy killer? The man is back in the latest assignment, Hitman: Absolution. Some time has passed since the previous Hitman game, and the series has been resurrected to see another day. Blood Money was a bizarre departure on its own, nowhere near as fantastic as its predecessor Contracts, but it showcased a collection of deliciously deviant assignments that felt uniquely satisfying and cold, like the killer himself.
In stark contract, Hitman: Absolution has issues with oversimplification and handholding, making the latest assignment for 47 a melodramatic slog that suffers from many of the same issues plaguing modern video games.
Though 47 is generally getting on well with his handlers, no sooner than the introductory sequence of the game he’s out to assassinate his previous handler after a mission gone awry. This opening mission serves as a tutorial level, narrated and simple to carry out, teaching new players the art of staying undetected and establishing the conventions of the new Hitman.
After becoming entangled with the fate of a young girl who’s being groomed to become more like him (another killer) he sets out to do good by his former handler and carry out her last wishes: to keep her safe. While it all sounds like a vastly different Hitman scenario, and as though 47 has finally “gone soft,” that’s not the case at all. The detachment, the unaffected mask, and the chilling killing methods are all still there. But this time around, they all feel less impressive or fun to play.
Contributing to this is the rampant handholding that never felt so intrusive in the previous games. Yes, it’s clear the devs knew current audiences likely consist of ten-year-olds hopped up on Red Bull and Dorito dust and needed to impart valuable how-to-play information by way of overtly detailed tutorial missions and a disembodied voice running down the options for each kill: how to take them out, where to hide, and what happens if you’re detected. Obviously that means a shootout and eventual death, but not if you play like me and hoard weapons, find a good vantage point, and pump everything you see full of holes. But that’s beside the point.
Granted, this isn’t all required, but the feeling permeates the game in a manner that becomes irritating. While assassinations are varied just like the previous games, allowing for different solutions and approaches to their puzzle-like configurations, they’re just so dull it feels much more entertaining to hide in plain sight, take out enemies, and go back one by one to grab them all until your target presents himself. Of course, you’ll attract far more enemies than necessary, but it’s doable, especially with the strange “instinct” mode ripped straight from Batman: Arkham Asylum, whih shows you targets and key points through walls.
Luckily, on most difficulties, AI characters are dumber than rocks. A cop watched me strangle a fellow policeman, then rid myself of the body in a nearby dumpster. I hopped into another dumpster to take cover, and while it tipped off the surrounding enemies something was amiss, the very same cop walked right over to me, looking me in the eye while I laid in wait in my happy little dumpster. Willing suspension of disbelief, I get it, but the sliver of vision I had when looking out from that dumpster should have been more than enough to give my pursuer a hint that a human being was waiting inside. Moments like that are peppered throughout the game, making an otherwise realistic third-person stealth game feel like a silly distraction. Between that and the very unimaginative missions, Hitman: Absolution quickly became a slog, which is never something I found myself wanting to label a Hitman game.