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Gaming Review

'Hitman: Absolution' review (Xbox 360): The art of killing

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Released on Sunday, Nov 18 2012

'Hitman: Absolution' contracts mode screenshot

© Square Enix


Release Date: November 20 (worldwide)
Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PC, PS3, OnLive
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Third-person action / stealth

Hitman: Absolution does exactly what you would want from a master assassin game; it turns killing into an art form. Playing as the bald-headed badass Agent 47, you have everything at your fingertips to end someone's life. Want to garrote someone in a bathroom? Go for it. Fancy tomahawking a hapless soul with an axe and then dump the body in a cupboard? Hey, knock yourself out.

The rich, varied and lengthy levels in the game provide the ultimate canvas on which to weave a tapestry of death. You always feel that all the tools are at your disposal for the grisliest of all businesses, but what this game arguably offers over previous Hitman titles is the right balance between stealth and action. Whether you want to lurk in the shows or go all-guns-blazing, the game just lets you get on with it.

Hitman: Absolution is not a perfect package, and devotees of the Hitman oeuvre may also feel that the series has gone into uncharted waters, but overall the breadth and depth of content make it a must-play for fans of action, bald heads and killing.

'Hitman: Absolution' contracts mode screenshot

© Square Enix



Agent 47 is back, and this time it's personal. His former International Contract Agency handler Diana Burnwood has gone seriously off-grid, and the killer is dispatched in the opening tutorial mission with bumping her off. But it is a contract that he "takes no pride in", and soon things go awry, causing Agent 47 himself to become the target as he searches for the truth.

The plot has some twists and turns, but largely just acts as the vessel for what makes Hitman: Absolution tick; for killing, and lots of it. While the game is linear, each level offers a mini-sandbox in which you have multiple options for murder. Most of the time in the solid campaign involves having a set target to eliminate, but it is really up to you how that is done.

For example, a section in a Chinatown area involved taking out a rather odious man who was protected by the crooked local police. We observed from a distance as a friend of his talked to him, and then followed this man until he went down an ally.

After killing him, we stole his clothes and then approached the target, who dutifully followed us on the promise of some 'coke and whores'. Then it was just a matter of leading him to a quiet spot to do the deed.


But this was just one way of killing the man, and there were 11 other approaches available. The game just lets you naturally find the one you want. Indeed, developer IO Interactive has succeeded in ensuring you always know what to do but never feel like you are being led by the nose. Agent 47 is aided in the main campaign by intuition, which is similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum's Detective mode, and flags up targets and items of interest.

Intuition is rationed via a meter in the corner of the screen, and you must keep killing and progressing to ensure it is topped up. Using Intuition, you can survey the scene and plan your strategy.

Bodies can be dragged and hidden in cupboards, but enemies can still become suspicious at missing people, keeping you on your toes. Disguises can be seen through by certain people - for example, other cops will challenge you if you are dressed in a police outfit - but you can fool them temporarily with Intuition.

Alongside a range of guns and Agent 47's trusty garrote string, objects from the environment can also be used for murder. Knives and axes can be thrown into people's heads, and patrolling enemies can be distracted by throwing items. One section involved pushing a dead stripper over a ledge to get a load of cops to move away from where we needed to go. The biggest triumph of Hitman: Absolution, though, is the way it handles action.

'Hitman: Absolution' contracts mode screenshot

© Square Enix



The thing about stealth games is that they can often feel restrictive. But the latest Hitman title allows you just to go all guns blazing if you wish. For example, one section involved attempting to get back Agent 47's 'silverballer'-silenced pistols from a gun shop. You can play a game of skill on a shooting or range to win them back, or just massacre everyone in the shop and then take them. It really is up to you.

Your performance is rated in each level and at the end you are given bonus items and skill upgrades linked to your playing style. Overall, it never feels like the game is restricting your natural approach. If you are a bit trigger-happy, then no worries. If you are a super-patient killer, then that's fine too. Sure, the game never hits the heights of Rocksteady's Batman titles, but it is one of the more impressive stealth action titles we have played.

However, there are some issues that hold Hitman: Absolution back from true excellence. The mini-map is rather confusing, meaning at times you are left baffled as to where you are supposed to be going. The checkpoint system is also antiquated, requiring you to physically activate the checkpoints rather than doing autosave. If you forget and die or switch off the game, there could be frustration awaiting when you return.

'Hitman: Absolution' contracts mode screenshot

© Square Enix



Praise must go to IO Interactive for making Hitman: Absolution a beautiful-looking game. Incredible attention to detail has been lavished on making every environment detailed, while the colour palette is varied and the lighting atmospheric.

One of the more impressive feats, though, is the crowd simulation. These are surely some of the most dynamic crowds ever seen in a video game. A scene on a subway station filled with commuters angry at the cancellation of trains is a particular highlight.

However, Hitman: Absolution also verges on misogyny in parts. Almost every woman in the game is some large-breasted vixen dressed in very little. The inclusion of PVC-clad assassin team The Saints is particularly jarring. Games developers must move beyond this objectification of women as tiny-waisted boob vessels if the medium is to become more respected as an art form.

Most of the characters in Hitman: Absolution have a whiff of stereotype about them, but the motion capture is good and the voice acting and script do a decent job of elevating the narrative. There is also a really great sense of humour that is perfectly judged to temper the seriousness.

We learn probably more about Agent 47 in Hitman: Absolution than we have ever before, but he is still rather an enigma. Do you care whether he succeeds in his personal struggle? Probably not. But then again, it never gets dull playing him as a killer.


Alongside the single-player game, there is an additional mode called Contracts. Rather than being a traditional multiplayer mode, this involves returning to certain campaign levels and setting up a contract. You are free to identify any target from the people in the level, and then must work out the most elaborate way to end their life.

Completing the act and leaving the level is rated and scored by the game, and then you can post this contract online, either to just your friends or the whole world, and invite others to attempt the same method and beat your score. You can either tell people what you did, or hide it and leave them with the cryptic challenge of trying to work out how you did it.

Contracts is an interesting additional challenge that taps into the freedom of assassination as seen in the main game. It feels like the type of mode that some people will absolutely love, but whether it is enough to make up for a lack of multiplayer is debatable. Latter Assassin's Creed games showed that multiplayer can be done in stealth action titles, and so Hitman: Absolution could have maybe done more on this score.

Hitman: Absolution does have a few flaws, but these certainly don't take away from what is a polished and in-depth package that turns killing into a fine art. Hitman purists may decry the latest title, but in our opinion the balance between stealth and action is just right. Most importantly, you feel that you always have the freedom to bring death in any way you choose. The world is your oyster; now go kill in it.


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