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Hitman Absolution review: Vintage 47, successfully remixed

Not all ideas work, but it's definitely Hitman

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During most (but not all levels) you'll find at least one checkpoint, which you can choose to activate or not. It's risk versus reward - save a checkpoint for later, and there's less repetition if you mess up at the climax of the level - but if you don't save at all, you need to start from scratch if things don't go to plan. That's fair enough.

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However, hitting a checkpoint resets guard patterns and behaviours, which could leave you stranded in a very tricky spot that becomes more difficult than it needs to be. In some cases, it's easier to restart the level. But this a minor annoyance in an otherwise well-paced game.

KILLER INSTINCT

Similarly, the new Instinct system is solid but not quite perfect. Again, players can switch it off at higher difficulties, and this makes the game much more challenging. However, in some situations it simply doesn't work consistently. Hitting R1/RB shows outlines of where your targets (or guards) are, and sometimes it'll show their patrol patterns. But not every time. Instinct also allows you to blend in when you're disguised. Again, holding R1/RB makes 47 dip his head to hide his face, throwing off suspicion. However, on occasions, you'll be rumbled at a distance, seemingly at random, while using Instinct. If there is a narrative or gameplay reasoning behind this, it's never made clear. It's a minor annoyance that gets magnified if you fall foul of it during a tricky hit or at the end of a tough level.

Absolution is less ambitious than Dishonored, but its sneaking is better...

These are petty gripes in a generally brilliant game, though. While Hitman Absolution is unlikely to receive the same gushing reviews as recent stealth outing Dishonored, which is certainly more ambitious in scale, we think you'll actually enjoy stealthing through Absolution a little more. Its levels are richer and more interesting, and the actual sneaking feels less hit-and-miss (pun intended). Plus, Hitman kills with a wink and a grin, not a furrowed brow, like Empress-rescuer Corvo.

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Keen-eyed fans will spot plenty of Easter eggs hidden throughout levels too (including cameo appearances from both Kane and Lynch), and AI characters often deliver fourth-wall-breaking lines that remind you that you're playing a game. Their lines are clever and knowing, not genuinely hilarious: that would spoil the mood.

Another reason to recommend Absolution over Dishonored is Contracts mode, which lets you devise your own missions (discussed in detail below). Here's a quick summary: making your own hits is great fun for a few hours, until you realise that IO have done most of the coolest stuff in their own story levels. It just doesn't feel as gratifying offing Johnny Nobody, the random cop, with a plain old pistol, even if you are dressed as a scarecrow.

Overall though, Absolution delivers on the anticipation of a series that has been lingering menacingly in the shadows for six long years. It does so with creativity, genuine player choice, the odd smile and an unrivalled panache for turning murder into an art form.



MULTIPLAYER TEST

We take 47 online to create our own fiendish hits for friends to fulfil...

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There are minor spoilers ahead, so please read at your own discretion. After finishing the game we decided we wanted to create our first hit in the courthouse level. It involved somehow getting to the judge, unseen, knocking him out, stealing his clothes, and killing the defendant using the judge's gavel. However, to create an online Contract you have to play the hit first, setting the conditions as you go. It's a smart way of ensuring each Contract is actually possible. After several aborted attempts and timing tests, we finished the hit, applied a name and description, and uploaded it.

And for those accepting challenges rather than creating them? Friends can challenge you directly, and their levels load quickly after being accessed with the press of a button. Easy. The process is simple - the difficult part is for those on the creation side to think up a hit fiendish enough to fool their assassination-hungry friends.

See, the devs have already picked the most outrageous kills for the story, so your own hits can feel pedestrian in comparison. A more detailed level editor, allowing you to set more specific non-kill conditions and add your own items to the levels would have improved Contracts significantly.

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The verdict

Feels like 'proper' Hitman, mixed with new ideas of varying quality. Crucially, it's great fun, and you'll want to play Absolution through more than once

  • Brilliant ideas, densely packed
  • Brutal kills married to IO's trademark humour
  • One of this generation's finest stealth games
  • The premise of Contracts mode...
  • ... is slightly better than the execution
  • Smaller, more linear sandboxes
  • Save system
9
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Io Interactive
Publisher
Square Enix
Genre
Action

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