As we draw to a close on the current console's abilities, it's hard to still be impressed these days with new games, as every other game released right now, seems to be a copy of sorts of something else. Sleeping Dogs is very much like GTA. Max Payne 3 is just another decent 3rd person linear shooter. Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is... well.. if you want to be really harsh, just a very elongated expansion pack of Call of Duty 4. ( It is people deal with it ! LOL )
So it was such a suprize and joy to play a game as Hitman Absolution, and use in game mechanic's and ideas that are new and fresh even now; that the only real comparison anywhere close to the gameplay being Splinter Cell Conviction, and even then, it's just a small part of that game.
Having not played the previous Hitman game, "Blood Money", i can't confirm if the story for Absolution, continues that game from 6 years ago. What i can tell you is that as a stand alone game, you get up to speed very simply and very quickly with the excellent opening cinematics of Absolution.
The story is, you play as Agent 47, an ICA Hitman for hire. Your handler in the Agency is a lady called Diana Burnwood, but Diana has just gone rogue and taken a "package" with her that the agency wants back. You start the game by killing Diana, but what she tells you in her deathscene has you searching for your own Absolution.
The story is great to begin with, and it's all presented well with some supurb graphics and awsome soundtrack. What isn't so great is the characters you face along the way are out of place in the world your playing. They would be more at home in a superhero game like Batman than a real world hitman one, but even so they are all voiced and acted extremely well. The narrative does seem to wain a little towards the end of the game, and some levels later, i really wasn't sure why i was there to be honest.
Your journey though from start to finish, will be different to any other persons playing the game, and therein lies the real reason this is such a supurb game with extremely high replay value. This will be YOUR adventure even though level to level you all have the same goals.
As there is no hand to guide you, no large arrow saying move here, shoot this, that so many games use to pull you through like a lemming, it felt quite daunting to start as you weren't sure where to go. So you start to explore. Your instinct mode gives you the hints needed to figure it out, but the grey mass in your head will get a workout playing this game. Each level will be played out differently per player. You have to ready yourself to have to think your way through the game rather than be lead through the nose. You basically have to think and be creative like a Hitman!
Whilst on your first playthrough, you'll find things and objects to interact with you didn't realize you could, so you play the level again to use them. On your second playthrough you'll find even more things to use and wonder how to apply them. In all there is approximately at least 10 or more ways per level, ( and there are a lot of levels in a 20 hour playthrough ) to achieve the end goal, and depending on your mood, which you choose to do is up to you.
The game simply encourages the player to explore and take his time, find alternative routes, plan, perfect, and exeucte. And THEN my dear reader your playing as a true hitman should and when you will get the most from the game. Yes there is a small warehouse full of guns to be able to use each and every level, but to be honest, that is actually the most unsatifying way to complete the game, ie using a firearm. There are times and places where using a firearm is the way to go, and just as satisfying as using stealth, but whenever my cover was blown and i got into a firefight, i paused the game and reloaded the last checkpoint. It's not that you can't gun your way out of a situation, or that it's not fun to do so, just you won't really want to, and your not really supposed to gun your way all the way from A to B per level. Your get a higher score for being the silent, perfect assasin.
The fun is to be had in finding a way to ... for example... electricute a target whilst he's having a pee... or poisoning the chef when he's making dinner, or even turning on a gas stove without being spotted, then shooting the cooker from distance to make it all look like one big accident! THAT's where the game really shines. It's like an elaborated game of chess. How do you get the enemy to move one of his pieces over there out of the way, so i can swoop in for the kill ??
Your supposed to savour each and every segment of the game like a fillet steak dinner, but the game is also clever enough to know, if you sometimes want a quick fast food burger portion, you can still progress by having an old fashioned shootout. Instant gratification yes, but when your done slaughtering everyone you know you should have had something else to eat!
There has been much conjecture about the games AI and the disguise system. There are occasions where it is a bit too random and unrealistic, but nothing that is game breaking or a distraction. I played the game through on Normal difficulty, and frankly found that enough of a challange on it's own! Increasing the difficulty, decreased your abilities.
The controls can be a tad cumbersome, mainly just the execution killing system. RB, X, LT to highlight enemies, RT to pin point them, X to then excute. All seemed a bit too labourious when flustered, but seeing as the game has a very slow pace, this never was too much of an issue. That apart the controls were fine.
Contracts Mode is the games online version, where you don't play live with friends, but you play SP segments, created by users, with scores to better in the style you so wish, or within parameters set by the user. In the opening week alone there were 50,000 online contracts to play, which if you enjoyed the SP campaign will give you years of extra playability. Playing contracts gives you credits to then use to uprgade weapons and abilities, and there are a LOT of both!
Setting up a contract for others to play is simple and fun. You basically just play, and whilst playing set your parameters as you go along. How you make the hit is recorded with a base score for others to beat. The online section is certainly not a throwaway part as there are competitions, messages, and a social aspect to the game. It's very well thought out.
Finally on a practical note, it's refreshing to find a game released with no glitches or issues, it all worked perfectly from the off, all the way through.
As a huge fan of the spy genre, i personally got a HUGE kick out of playing Hitman Absolution. I can't but help feel the story was a bit of a let down and a disappointment though. It starts off in a very Bourne like manner, but it then veers off in a direction i feel didn't suit the introduction to the game, or indeed follow on from the contents of the prequel book, Hitman Damnation.
You CAN have too much of a good thing, as so much empahisis has been put into making each level difficult and slow paced, you can sometimes get frustrated and want to rush things for a bit of variety. There's no on rails sequences, driving, or cinematic quick time events. It's just full on steak steak steak from start to finish. It's hard to critizie the game for a lack of variety when each level actually has a lot of it in it, in the way to make the kill, just you did feel like you needed a change of pace from time to time, rather than the seriousness gruffness, full on from start to finish.
That being said, it's a strangley linear, yet non linear game that will have you coming back for more. I often found myself replaying the same small seqment for hours just to "perfect" the kill in that level, and every time i failed, i wanted to do nothing more than go back and try again to find out the right way to make the hit. The reason was, the satifaction of nailing the perfect annoymous kill, sometimes in a very fun and entertaining way, was hugely rewarding and very addictive. Then when you realize the game is chocked full of many hits like that from start to finish, Hitman will have you sitting at home over dinner, at work in the office, out driving the car.. thinking about how do you make that perfect signature kill ....
That my friend, is up to you to find out.
Silly in game characters, no change of pace, bring down what is an intelligent, graphically sumptuous, difficult, challanging, fun, with HUGE replay value game. This is a sytlish game. Don't rush through it. Take the phone off the hook, sit back and savour this classy experience. It's refreshing beacuse it's so different to anything else you will have played.