The Following content is an opinion
Do not allow it to offend or cause problems, such as flame wars. These opinions are also not the official opinions of Final Fantasy Answers, which can be taken to be a neutral point of view.
I haven't written a blog in a while, so here we go.
I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Hitman series, if any of you even are. But seeing as I bought the 2013 HD collection of the second, third and fourth games last week, it seems like a good time to get this off my chest. Recently, Enix bought the Eidos company and now own games such as Tomb Raider and Hitman, and are putting money into publishing new games in said series. One of these new games was Hitman: Absolution, released last year. The last game before that was the amazing Hitman: Blood Money, released in 2006 as easily one of the best games on the Playstation 2 system. A year later came the butchered Hollywood film "Hitman" which was a catastrophic failure that had very little to do with the games other than reusing the titular Hitman (albeit younger and with a different personality and backstory). And it seemed like that was it for the series.
So naturally you'd imagine I was very excited when Hitman: Absolution was announced. It was next-gen with great graphics, redefined gameplay and all the news on it pointed to an awesome game. Yet it wasn't an awesome game... it was a big disappointment. Well, no, let me rephrase that. It was a decent game, it looked great, and for anyone new to the series it would have been amazing. But for me? It wasn't a Hitman game, for a number of reasons...
I'll give you a rundown on the story. Agent 47 is the world's greatest assassin, working for the ICA (international contract association) to discreetly eliminate high-profile targets for... well, a lot of money. Don't get the wrong idea though; 47 isn't a bad guy. His targets are only ever villains - drug dealers, terrorists, murderers, crime lords etc. The thing that makes 47 such a great assassin is that he's actually a genetically superior clone created from five master pieces of DNA. Thing is, cloning is sort of a touchy topic in the world of Hitman, so as far as records of his existence go, there are none. He was created illegally in secret by your run-of-the-mill disbarred mad scientist, Dr. Ortmeier. Agent 47 was made to lack empathy, emotion, guilt, fear and all those other things that might get in the way of his job. He was also unique in that he was the only clone crated who had a normal lifespan, as opposed to others that died within 18 months.
Anyway, so Ortmeier's plan was to make an army of obedient, superior clones, because who wouldn't want an army of bald supermen who'll do anything you tell them to? But Ortmeier's associates, the ones who's DNA was used to create 47, became suspicious of their old colleague. Using the ICA as a proxy to hide his identity, Ortmeier responded by sending 47 out to assassinate them under false pretences. When Agent 47 found out he was just being used as a tool by Ortmeier, he turned on his former master and creator, killing him and then setting off on his own life. In the sequel, he seeks a life of peace away from the ICA. However, 47 realises that he can't escape his past no matter what as crime lords and terrorists he pissed off due to his actions in the past game set out to kill him. Long story short, Agent 47 becomes the top assassin of the ICA, and somewhat of an urban legend around the world. Generally he kills who he's told to kill for money, because that's really all he was born to do.
The previous games in the series can be described as stealth games, but really there isn't much stealth involved. Levels are all confined sandboxes and you can pretty much go anywhere you want. Gameplay revolves around disguises - in order to access restricted areas and get close to targets without being recognised, you have to incapacitate (or kill) NPCs and use their clothes as a disguise. Let's say you're at a vineyard which is just a front for an international cocaine distribution business. In his civilian clothes, 47 is allowed to walk around the vineyards or go on tours with the tour guide, but if he tries to go into employee and private areas, guards will escort him from the premises (or if you're somewhere you're really not meant be, they'll just kill you). Only problem is that the guy you have to kill is in a restricted area surrounded by armed guards. So what do you do? You knock out a guard, hide his body and take his uniform. Now you can walk into a restricted area and nobody will look twice (assuming you don't do anything stupid like pull out a gun or climb through windows).
Of course things get more difficult in later levels, like less places to hide bodies, more guards, harder-to-get disguises, metal detectors, frisk searches etc. But the point is that it's a stealth game where you don't have to sneak around everywhere. Hell, there are many times in the old games where you can walk up to people and prompt a conversation with them (a great way to learn information). As a hitman, 47 has a variety of ways to kill his targets, some of which can be ruled out as "accidents", and therefore won't attract as much attention from security. Of course you can do things less discreetly - sniping targets, strangling them with fibre-wire or just waltzing in and putting a bullet in them and their guards. But then there are lots of creative ways of dealing with your contracts. A few examples would be dressing up as a chef to poison food before serving it to the target. Dropping chandeliers or lighting rigs is always a nice way to take care of things. A few unique ones include replacing a prop gun with a real gun before rehearsals of an opera, in which of course the "fake" gun is fired at your target. You can rig pyrotechnic displays, push people off ledges and down stairs (or into an open grave, in one instance), shooting a glass-bottom jacuzzi built on a rooftop, rigging the gas where the target is cooking, pillow smothering, locking a guy in a steam room... there are so many different possibilities. Meanwhile things went on in the level without you even being there which always added an extra sense of urgency. Sometimes you could miss the perfect chance to kill and would have to improvise. And that's what made the games great. You were let loose into a small sandbox area and all you had to do was kill your target/s in whatever way you deemed best and get out of there.
As for story, it never really took precedence over the gameplay. Generally there was a villain trying to kill Agent 47 or destroy the ICA for whatever reason (generally because they were in the way of his criminal mastermind plan) and 47's targets were all pawns in the villain's plan, eventually going from the lowest patsy to the bigwigs of the criminal world and lastly killing the villain in a final showdown, often the only mission in the game which required an actual gunfight. Generally killing civilians or security guards is frowned upon and if people find a body they'll raise the alarm. If you knock out a repairman and dress up as him only for a passing cop to find the undressed repairman lying in an alley somewhere, naturally the cops will be looking for a suspicious repairman. The perfect hits are the ones in which only the target dies (made to look like an accident), nobody sees you get in or out of there and no evidence is left behind.
Where it went wrong
First thing's first, Absolution was doomed for failure from day one on account of not having the same development team. The people who made the first four Hitman games didn't return to make the fifth. Also, hate to be that guy, but Enix was involved so naturally things were off to a bad start (for the record, the unannounced Hitman 6 was going to be made by a team of guys who worked on the old games, but Enix said no and demoted them to making crappy mobile phone games). So you got a different team working under a different company trying to make a game that would fit in with the rest of the series. The older Hitman games were both dark but with a sick twist of humour every now and then. Absolution was just fucking retarded. Here's a list of what they got wrong:
The story attempted to overshadow the rest of the game in Absolution. I'm not saying story is bad but... well, it kind of is bad when the story gets in the way of the gameplay. And the story wasn't even that strong anyway. In the older Hitman titles, there were really only three main characters: Agent 47, his unseen boss Diana who sent him missions via 47's laptop, and the villain. Everyone else was sort of a one-time-only character who would play a role in a singular mission and nothing more. 47 would open his laptop, you'd have a briefing screen telling you who your targets were and why you had to kill them, and off you went on another assignment. Absolution took a different approach. They had a regular cast of uninspiring recurring characters whom 47 would get involved with along the course of the game. And the worst part was that at the centre of the entire story was a 14 year old girl named Victoria who was probably the worst written character of them all. She was a genetically engineered "new breed" of killer, far superior to Agent 47, who, of course, didn't want to be a killer (give me a fucking break, if she was created specifically to kill then she should be inclined to like 47 is). Victoria was created by the fat sack-of-shit secondary villain and ICA bigwig Benjamin Travis in secret. Which is dumb, because why keep the creation of a super killer secret from the Agency when they'd probably be all over that shit? Hell, their greatest asset is a modified super killer and they have no issue with him... anyway.
Where was I? Oh yeah, so Benjamin Travis, the corrupt ICA member, created a super-assassin in the form of a mopey teenage girl but kept it secret from his bosses for no apparent reason. Then the fucking moron lost the girl when Diana decided to become all righteous and quit her job at ICA, taking the girl with her. She didn't want the kid to become a killer, which again, is pretty stupid considering ICA would greatly benefit from the girl once she gets old enough. So Travis sends 47 to kill Diana and get the girl back. Agent 47 is the guy who, in the previous game, stated that he would kill ANYONE for the right price, and that he has no friends. Yet he has an issue with killing Diana, so although he infiltrates her guarded mansion, kills the security and comes face to face with her, he doesn't shoot her. Instead he pretends that he killed her and goes on the run from ICA with the girl. It was about that time I thought what the fuck is this shit, because for some reason the cold-blooded killer 47 just gave up on everything he's ever had to save some kid he doesn't know in an entirely out-of-character move which contradicts 47 himself.
To add to the stupidity, the main villain is a guy named Blake Dexter. Dexter is the owner of a massive multi-billion dollar security corporation, which is so successful that it has its own television program. However, Dexter learns about Victoria and so he goes on a really stupid mission to kidnap her and sell her for a few million dollars. A multi-billionaire RISKS HIS LIFE and his ENTIRE BUSINESS EMPIRE for a few million dollars. I mean, what the fuck? How does that make even remote sense? This man is really, really, really rich yet he takes on the world's most dangerous assassin and the biggest assassin organisation just to make a couple million. And he and his wife both dance around like fucking morons when they find out how much money they could make off Victoria. I dunno, it was just lame. And then there was Birdie, the annoying dumbass informant who I think was meant to be taken more seriously than I did take him on account of the shitty writing and his terrible, terrible voice.
And then you got 47 turning his back on the Agency and trying to be a good man instead of the killer he was born to be, which is character development that he already overcame in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. So basically they reuse an old story arc by giving Agent 47 old issues that he's already overcome long ago, in which he concluded that the life of an assassin was the life he was born with and he can't escape that. Look, long story short the story was bad and Eidos should feel bad.
The gameplay was sort of hit-and-miss. Some of the levels felt like they'd come right out of Blood Money, while others were just poorly designed. You were no longer allowed to choose weapons before missions, limiting you to only your silverballers and whatever else you could pick up along the way. Weapon customisation was severely limited. While before you could add silencers, laser sight, different ammo types, scopes, change grips, switch between fully automatic or otherwise etc. now all you can do is slap a silencer on a gun and that's that. Disguises, the most integral part of the game, are pretty much useless considering anyone who has the same uniform as you will see through the disguise almost instantly. Not to mention a lot of the levels require you to sneak through the entire way without using disguises; these are games that rarely used to require sneaking, now it's fundamental. To add insult to injury, 47 has a special "Instinct" gauge which when filled allows him to go into a sort of cheap version of Assassin Creed's "Eagle Vision" mode. It lets you see where enemies are through walls and shows you their walking path. Even worse you can just use instinct mode to walk straight past an enemy and they won't recognise you as long as you keep instinct mode active the whole time. Forget switching off lights to slip through the shadows and looking through keyholes to scope out a room before entering. Just use instinct.
The way you could kill people was limited, and worse, there was a checklist that told you all the different ways to kill a target so it sort of made it feel narrowed down. Generally every mission had one "correct" way to kill the enemy, and for important antagonists it was accompanied by a cutscene in which 47 killed them which completely stole the satisfaction away from the player (you don't even get to kill Travis in the final mission, it happens for you in a cutscene). When before, 47 was able to knock enemies unconscious in hand-to-hand combat with a simple press of the right trigger button, now every fistfight was a crappy slow-motion quicktime sequence. Worst thing is that other enemies would still be able to shoot you during aforementioned crappy quicktime events. All levels were set in America, and often inside large industrial buildings or factories, so the settings got pretty boring pretty quick in comparison to the international settings of the previous games (which took place literally all over the world).
Worst of all, the levels were broken up into segments. Each level was more or less a linear path instead of a sandbox and once you got to the end of the linear path you'd go through a door and into another linear path. Your target just happened to get in the way of your path so you killed them along the way. That being said not all levels were like this - there are a few levels which follow the old format and these are the most fun. But a lot of levels don't. Furthermore there is little to no information on most targets. All you know is that you have to kill them, which doesn't inspire you in the slightest. It just feel like the developers chose an NPC at random, called them the target and then moved on. Most lack any personality too. Not to mention the sheer number of targets in some levels makes it seem less personal. One mission has you kill about seven different targets at once, all of which look more or less the same and have no independent backgrounds. In the older games you were killing high-profile pedophiles, terrorists who were in the possession of nukes, crime boss sleaze-bags... the kind of people that deserved to be assassinated. Not just Random Joe #1 who was there merely to be assassinated and nothing else.
Guards are fucking morons in this game. As long as you don't stay in their field of vision for too long you can always get away. So basically you can walk right in front of a guy and he'll see you, but if you leave the area quick enough he won't actually see you. I literally rolled past a guard in a highly restricted area once but because I was quick enough to get out of his field of vision he didn't do anything about it. The points system, which was shown in the top right corner of the screen, constantly showed you how well you were doing. At the end of every mission, even in the old games, you get a rating (anywhere from thug or murderer to expert or professional, the best being Silent Assassin). It wasn't until the end of the mission where you were given your stats, ie. kills, number of shots fired, witnesses, amount of stealth and/or violence you used, if your cover was blown etc. so you'd feel compelled to go back and figure out where you went wrong, taking a different approach. But when your rating and stats are constantly in the top-left corner changing with every move you make, you know when you've done something wrong so it's easy to just restart if you want a better score. Worse still, Absolution features checkpoints at certain points of the level.
Then there's the fact that you can't interact with literally anyone at all unless it's explicitly part of your mission to do so, making the environment feel very detached. Last, but not least, is that almost every single location is entirely restricted. In other games there were public areas where you could roam freely without being suspicious and then there were restricted areas. Usually you could find a way to sneak into the restricted area be it with a disguise or by crawling under/over/through somewhere. But in most missions of Absolution, 47 went from being a disguised assassin to a ninja who wasn't allowed to be seen by anyone, who could rarely be allowed to wear disguises, and who had to follow the same boring formula to get past guard patrols - pick up an object, throw it to the other side of the room as a distraction, sneak past the guard. Rinse and repeat. The common sneaking-only restricted area levels were my biggest issue with the game.
Generally stupid shit
I think some stuff was added to the game because 50% of the writers were horny teenage boys and the other 50% were just crap writers who had never played a Hitman game. Here are a few things that were just dumb:
- Victoria, supposedly the greatest living weapon ever created, needed to wear a necklace with a special isotope around her neck which activated her powers. Otherwise she was useless. The minute she puts on the necklace she can do fucking karate moves like it's nobody's business, but she takes it off and she gets all mopey and weak again.
- Benjamin Travis has a robot hand for unexplained reasons. Ummm... what?
- There's a super elite group of assassins working for the ICA called the Saints. They're basically a group of seven busty young women wearing revealing latex fetish nun outfits. Travis sends them to kill 47 after the latter goes rogue. Apparently they're "covert" and extremely professional, yet in order to kill 47 they all rock up to the apartment he's staying at (in their slutty nun outfits) and fire a rocket launcher at his room. Worse still, the leader of the Saints makes it even more cringeworthy when she says "Go with God, motherfucker!" just before firing the rocket launcher. Which, might I add, doesn't kill Agent 47. They then wander off into a cornfield across the road for some reason, not bothering to check if they killed 47, and of course he comes back to assassinate them all.
- The ICA sends a heavily armoured private military company into the town of Hope in search of 47. I don't know why an assassin agency has a heavily armoured private army complete with helicopters and tanks, or why they so blatantly sent them into a town and told them to start shooting everyone when all the Agency wanted was to find 47. It also sort of defeats the purpose of being a secret organisation when you have your logo blatantly emblazoned on the heavily armoured soldiers that you send into town to shoot civilians.
- There's a dude named Sanchez who's a giant 7 foot 6 Mexican weighing 440lbs, a result of an experiment to create a super soldier. Agent 47 fights him while dressed as a masked wrestler in an illegal underground fight club. It's all really... just really dumb.
- For some reason, 47 is friends with a monastery of nuns who let him hide out with them. I mean, sure, in the second game 47 lived at a church in Italy while he tried to escape his past, but why is he now friends with a bunch of nuns in America who don't seem to mind that he's a professional killer? Also what the fuck is up with Tommy, the blind old man who 47 goes to near the end of the game to get a new suit? There were a few times where they nailed 47's character (forcing Lenny to dig his own grave was a good example) but then there were other times where it just wasn't right...
- Not exactly the writer's fault, but the music in the other games composed by Jesper Kyd was much better. It set the mood perfectly and could really send a shiver up your spine.
Absolution has a lot of issues. It's an alright attempt, and at least the new team tried to keep in line with the rest of the series, but there were a lot of parts that didn't add up. It was easily the weakest game in the series. For anyone interested in the Hitman games, I recommend Blood Money. It's literally a masterpiece and well worth playing. Contracts, the third game in the series, is also really great and has an awesome dark atmosphere (the Meat King's Party is an especially disturbing mission even by Hitman standards). It might take a while to get used to the gameplay, and there's definitely a lot of trial and error. But they're great games.
Would I recommend Absolution? Yes, actually, I would. For anyone who hasn't played a Hitman game before, it actually offers a really fun and interesting stealth game. The graphics are great, the gameplay is smooth and different to anything you've likely played before, and honestly even in Absolution, Agent 47 is a badass. But if you wanted my opinion I'd obviously say play Blood Money first. It's amazing and you can go back replaying the levels many times to try all the different methods and routes.
I look forward to Hitman 6, I just hope they'll do a better job this time. It's a great series, and would be a shame if it descends into another generic sneaking game tagged onto a boring story with bastardised characters.
Well, that's all from me for now. Thanks for reading.