Product Type: Square Enix PS3 games
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The Not-So-Original Assassin
Hitman Absolution (PS3)
Member Name: caseybrady1992
Hitman Absolution (PS3)
Date: 14/12/12, updated on 14/12/12 (57 review reads)
Advantages: Graphics; voice-acting; easter eggs + humour
Disadvantages: A completely different direction; story; gameplay; music
Publishers: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release date: Nov 20 2012
It's been over six years since 'Hitman: Blood Money'; 'Absolution' was released on November 20th 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Much has changed in six years - the gaming world has perhaps seen its biggest and fastest evolution to date. For any non-gamers reading this, the evolution entails a myriad of things, but the most overt aspects include a huge improvement to graphics and a general increase in focus on the cinematics, and also the story; game developers strive to produce the greatest possible 'experience' for players. For me, the 'experience' should be sought elsewhere. With an augmented focus in such areas comes a diminution or alteration in others; namely level of difficulty, general gameplay-style, music and length. In the case of 'Hitman: Absolution', three of those are covered. For those of you who have read my recent 'Hitman: Blood Money' review should bear those things discussed in mind, as they present many points of comparison to the new release.
I suppose we should start with the plot. You are 47 again - the iconic, bald-headed assassin. Since 'Hitman: Blood Money' (HBM), 47's handler Diana has gone rogue against 'The Agency', the...well, agency that 47 has been working for across the last four games. Benjamin Travis, now leading The Agency, orders a hit on Diana for 47 to carry out - this forms your first assignment, which is also a tutorial. Not only are you ordered to kill Diana, but you are required to rescue a girl named Victoria too, who Diana has been caring for. Upon assassinating Diana, 47 learns that he has been tricked, and that Diana knew that this would happen - so she had already warned Victoria. 47 takes Victoria to an orphanage as sanctuary while he investigates The Agency, and the girl herself, and an informant named Birdie aids him in this investigation. He is led to a man named Blake Dexter, and as Dexter gets the better of 47 and eventually manages to kidnap Victoria, 47, honouring Diana's dying wish of protecting Victoria at all costs, must track the man down, save Victoria, and in the case of Blake Dexter, do what he does best: kill.
For anybody who has played the Hitman games before, even in this plot, players should be able to spot some absolute departures from the classic Hitman style. Firstly, such a layered (albeit archetypal) plot is uncharacteristic of previous games, which consisted of a fairly straightforward occurrence that led to a series of missions, often only loosely connected. In the case of 'Hitman: Absolution' (HA), the missions form a stream - the last mission leads to another, but the story itself is separated into three 'parts'. The very fact that you have to assassinate Diana is a classic indicator of really trying to move into a new direction - to kill off a key character is a brave move, especially for a game with such a cult following. Although there have been villains in previous games, they are so understated that they barely make a difference to the game. The lack of story didn't make these games mindless, but it was the story of each mission that drew the player in. The story for HA is trying to feel like a film, punctuated by missions, that themselves feature quite length cutscenes at times. It's the who 'cinematic experience' that the game developers are trying to produce, and the fact that at the end of title sequence it says 'Directed by...' says it all, really.
The surface story itself, as aforementioned, is very been-there-done-that. Looking into the individual scenes, some elements are executed well, others not so much. The script, voice-acting (for the most part), facial expressions and bodily movements (the latter of which is usually god awful in video games) are spot on; however, the story itself is quite lame in parts. It is clear that 'director' Tore Blystad is aiming to create very dramatic moments at points, but I find that these never particularly work when in the thick of gameplay. The transition between playing out a level for the past half an hour to having an 'epic' cutscene is very hard to get right, because the drama is just too much, and unfortunately HA gets it uncomfortably wrong on many an occasion. Out of context, there are some effective moments, but the game presents its fair share of cheesy or awkward moments too.
The gameplay has changed massively, too. While the last three games at least were heavily weighted in the stealth direction (although you could take other approaches), HA tries to cover all grounds, so that one can fluently enjoy a more ruthless approach; because of this, the developers somewhat sacrifice the key element that rewarded it with its cult following: the silent approach. 'Silent Assassin' ratings are still available, but as a 'bonus', as HA focuses greatly on scores, with every action you partake in adjusting this score that sits in the top-left hand corner of the screen. You can still be silent, but you simply can't be stealthy like you were in earlier games - the level design just won't allow it. The 'stealth' approach, instead of entailing working out the best people to neutralise to infiltrate a location to take out your target, calls for you to touch barely anybody, but track NPCs (non-player characters) movements are use objects around you to get to where you need to go. This might be slightly more realistic, but it makes for boring playing, thus deterring the player from taking a 'stealth' approach - the developers' main objective, clearly. Also, rather than the open map one has in earlier games, whereby you could essentially do whatever you liked in, most levels are broken down into averagely three parts, and there is a distinctly linear approach to these sections. While there is scope within these map sub-divisions, each option is blaringly obvious and for the most part, fairly easy to execute. IO Interactive claim to have made 'huge maps', but I stress that that really isn't the case. Rather, the divided levels, with small to medium sized maps, are entirely cut off from the sections before and after it, whereby you cannot revisit them during gameplay, and you can start the level from whichever section you like from the main menu. And when I say 'cut off', I really mean 'cut off'; you can throw somebody out of a window on a hotel floor down to the ground that was accessible in a previous section with no consequences whatsoever. This has all disappointed me so much, as I'd practically been looking forward to this game for six years, only to find that IO Interactive had become, when all is said and done, a 'sell-out'.
At this point, I may simply sound like a typical wailing, nostalgic fan, and on some level, that's true, but I'm sure many of you have witnessed something you enjoy or follow quite devotedly move in a disappointing direction - times change, at the end of the day. But I stress that this only forms part of my argument and why I've rated the game quite poorly. To me, it seems that game critics vastly overrate video games (if the term 'overrate' is even permitted, considering the act of 'rating' is such a subjective notion), whereby poor games are absurdly held in similar regards to games that are in fact much better. Don't get me wrong, HA is enjoyable, but throughout it I felt like bashing my head against the wall, due to this change of direction, but also some thoroughly frustrating elements and flaws, quite like the one I outlined in the previous paragraph; there are too many to list on here, though. One of the most intrusive flaws (unless it was purposeful?!) is the checkpoint system; when using a self-activated checkpoint, should you choose to load from it if the mission has gone terribly wrong, everything except your objectives and your current state in the mission are reset. This includes any NPCs you've taken out and any 'traps' (such as rigging a generator to electrocute your target when they next use it) you may have set up. I found that while this was perhaps the most shocking thing for the developers to miss out on, throughout the game I was coming across more and more inadequate elements.
Due to the linear, structured approach HA adopts, there is also a sacrifice of another key building block of the Hitman style: exotic locale. Consecutive levels are often highly similar, and levels are either in Chicago or South Dakota - the smallest global span of locale in any of the Hitman games by 1000s of miles - and there are twenty missions in HA! Yet for anybody who has played the Hitman games, by twenty missions, this does not mean twenty fully-fledged assignments. At least two of the levels will take you about two minutes (although this is an extreme), while others are significantly shorter than the main missions in the game. All in all, despite a higher level count, with the linear gameplay, lesser difficulty and these shorter missions, HA will take you a lot less time to complete than its predecessors.
It's the term 'experience' that many game critics seem to gloss over; ultimately, you're playing a game like you'd watch a film or read a book, and you want it to evoke certain things. In all fairness, however, 'experience' is subjective. As aforementioned, 'experience' is formed, in the case of HA, from visuals, story and the cinematics, both in and out of gameplay. While IO Interactive retain certain elements from earlier Hitman games, their distinctively different approach creates a different game altogether. 'Experience' in these earlier games stemmed from the freedom of the open map, the locale and the music; I've covered two of these already for HA, with an 'open map' being non-existent and the locale being boring for the most part. In the case of music, HA hired composers Thomas Bärtschi, Peter Kyed, Peter Peter and Dynamedion, replacing single composer Jesper Kyd, who wrote the music for all four of the Hitman games prior. Hitman was ultimately Kyd's baby, in that he is one of the most important video game composers ever now, and the Hitman franchise elevated him to this position. One can only presume the reason he didn't get rehired is the franchise he began to compose in 2007, the year after HBM: Assassin's Creed. When 'Assassin's Creed III' was released on October 31st 2012, the franchise had released more games in six years than the Hitman franchise had released in twelve, and due to the donning of the word "Assassin" in the franchise's title, IO Interactive and Hitman's developers and marketing campaign subtly marked it as its enemy with references in videos, photos and the pre-release 'Sniper Challenge', in addition to HA's tagline 'The Original Assassin' saying: "Hey - we're back". While I'm yet to play 'Assassin's Creed III', I can already tell you I know that I will prefer it enormously, simply because the Assassin's Creed games have been so consistent in style. Returning to music, Jesper Kyd is sorely missed. There is not one soundtrack of his that I have listened to and disliked; his music for Assassin's Creed, just to sort that loose nail out in the coffin, is sublime, and frankly, HA's soundtrack is terrible. The 'The Agency' theme is absolutely pathetic, while the American theme is just NOT Hitman, in any shape and form. The sounds used are poor, while the music itself is boring to say the least. The final contributor to the 'experience' only adds to the disarray.
Pros for HA? Visuals, certain cinematic elements, easter eggs (the term used in video-game world for tongue-in-cheek things added by the developers that usually reference something within the franchise or in pop culture - the team are kings in this respect, across the franchise), black humour (as outlined in my HBM review) and despite all my niggles, the gameplay - it isn't completely awful, and like I say is enjoyable at times, I just strongly believe that HA shouldn't have received the positive recognition that it did. If you're a Hitman fan, expect to be hugely disappointed. If you're a fan of modern -day video games, expect to enjoy the game, despite its flaws, but bear in mind that it isn't as good as the games it draws influence from, such as 'Splinter Cell: Conviction' and 'Batman: Arkham Asylum', the former of which presents too many parallels with HA it's unreal, and the latter of which is clearly the most defining game of this generation of gaming. I should state that critics have raved about 'Hitman: Absolution', but as stated earlier, I strongly urge you to not always believe what you read or hear. The Hitman franchise has taken a step in the wrong direction with 'Absolution', a step which - especially considering it has such a large cult following, and the fact that the end (without revealing a thing) clearly sets up for a sequel - I sincerely hope they do not continue with.
Summary: The Hitman's fifth outing isn't a great one.
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