“The original assassin!” boom the Hitman: Absolution trailers. That’s one in the eye for you, Ezio, or Connor, or whichever ancestral ghost Assassin’s Creed is channelling today. New Hitman is less about parkour and more about precision. It’s a more strategic and contemplative take on the murder-genre, one that feels in tune with the series that’s preceded it. I’ve been playing Absolution, and despite being the worst at sneaking, I’ve compiled a list of seven brilliant things about it.
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1. It’s got the best crowds
Remember when Io Interactive struck a deal with Beelzebub during the development of Hitman: Blood Money, and so were able to place as many characters in a scene as they liked with no adverse performance hits? Well Satan’s lease on their souls hasn’t yet expired: Absolution has even more crowded crowds than before. It’s not a set piece that goes underused either.
The first time you encounter Absolution’s people-packs will be in Chicago’s busy Chinatown square. Push through some ornate doors separating the quiet alleyway in which your mission begins and the heaving square beyond, and the sense of noise and bustle hits you like a sonic sledgehammer. Hundreds upon hundreds of individuals clamour around food stalls, shouting their orders and mingling realistically, while street vendors toss flaming teriyaki and gaggle impatiently with their punters. And rather than the usual repetitive aural hubbub of“rhubarb rhubarb”, your ears are bullied by half a dozen individually recorded lines of dialogue: a frustrated woman giving directions on her mobile phone, a security guard talking shop with a colleague, a cook asking a customer for something smaller than a twenty. It sounds convincingly lively, and amongst it all exists your target, a unassuming suit in an ocean of human shields.
2. It’s got the best strip club
Yes. No. Not for the reasons you might think, not at all. Absolution’s come up against some largely deserved flak for crash zooming in on a dead nun’s tits in an E3 trailer, but within the context of the game’s crime-soiled narrative all that sexy nun stuff at least makes a little more sense. There are strip club owners, and there is an orphanage, so there are overlapping themes of sex and nuns. It’s just… themes, you know?
Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with why Absolution’s got an impressive strip club. It once again comes down in part to the engine’s masterful use of crowds. The mission opens in a damp, cold, grimy lane outside the audaciously neon-lit Vixen Club, while the faint thump of a bass track can be heard as bouncers hassle rowdy entry-denied perverts. The moment you push through the club’s double doors however, the bass track lifts and fills your ears with seedy treble and “pumping techno”. The atmosphere becomes heavy, drenched with noise and sweat. Men wave and bawl rudeness at dancing women, bar staff with trained voices shout clearlyabove the din – “pass me those glasses”, “keep your hands to yourself”, all stuff I assume is said in real strip clubs. It’s a seamless, stark shift from outdoors to in. Again, it feels like a real, cloying, sticky location. Upstairs, of course, you learn that the club is a front for something far darker. Suffice to say, there’s a bit where you chuck the corpse of a dead dancer on to some policemen.
Before that, your target in the baris the club’s owner. You can kill him by spinning a disco ball so fast that it falls on his head. To get to that disco ball you’ve got to subdue a member of staff, steal his keycard and uniform and access the disco ball control room. The strip club has a disco ball control room.
That is why it is the best strip club.
3. Your enemies aren’t psychic
But they can be a bit thick. While subduing a member of staff in the Vixen Club, I accidentally dragged his corpse past another staff member chatting up one of the dancers. Naturally, this raised his suspicion level up to ‘Hunting’, meaning he was actively searching for a bald chap in a suit dragging a corpse, with the intention of murdering said man (the sight was enough thathe skipped over his ‘Suspicion’ stage, in which he’d have simply approached and followed me).
I had a good distance on him though, giving me enough time to stash the body in a closet, steal his outfit as a disguise and then duck into the closet myself to hide from the investigating staff member. His alerted state didn’t automatically transmit to every other member of staff in the building, however, rather it spread slowly through the club as he met and informed more and more colleagues about to the situation. With the suited man. And the corpse. Had the building had an alarm system, it would’ve been a different, more challenging story.
As the authorities slowly became more aware of the threat, they began to stalk the club floor with guns raised, alarming the hundreds of densely packed punters, who were voicing their concerns in vague, non-specific phrases like “that’s messed up, man!” The dancers, also worried about death, momentarily stopped spinning around their respective dance poles, their tassles becoming still and pointing guiltilyto sticky, underlit floortiles.
Now dressed as a member of staff, I could actually join them in their hunt, with my raised weapon not causing any additional alarm. Briefly, at least: guards wearing the same outfit as you will be naturally suspicious, requiring you to hold CTRL and use your limited ‘Instinct’ to fully blend in. In doing this Agent 47 will stoop his head and raise a finger to an earpiece surreptitiously (it’s a different animation per disguise), which temporarily convinces guards that you’re legit.
Alternatively, had I been quick enough, I could’ve garroted the only witness to my original crime and prevented the entire club becoming alerted to my presence. And if somebody had witnessed that…
4. Failing to be stealthy can still be fun
You’ll spend at least some of the first part of the game on the run from the police, which is sort of at odds with everything that makes Hitman brilliant. There’s one sequence in which you’re trapped in a pigeon coop while a police helicopter rains down machine gun fire all around you, killing not just innocent pigeons but all of the suave, tie-straightening composure that makes 47 such a wonderfully stoic and endearing protagonist. At times he’s more Sam Fisher, more Solid Snake than the simple, stoney-faced surgeon of efficient murdering you really want him to be.
But those moments pass. Things quieten down, helicopters retreat and the silent strangling returns to the fore. In previous games, failing to be stealthy would often prompt a mission restart. Getting caught up in a firefight would feel likelosing.In Absolution, the gunplay and action-blasting can carry an entire misson. It feels like a more viable way to play.More so than in any other Hitman game too, it seems, this is a story about 47 and his relationships with the scant few acquaintances he has. There are still some classically silly missions later on though; I spotted a gopher suit in the costume collection. So don’t worry too much about Absolution’s variable pace.
5. You can create your own hits
Arguably the best part of any Hitman game has been in the replaying, rather than the playing. Once you’d carved an unsatisfyingly scrappypath through a particular mission, there was a special kind of joy to be had in discovering increasingly obtuse or ruthlessly efficientmeans of assassinating a target. Absolution’s Contracts mode is a nod to this player-led creativity, an in-built mission creator that allows you to create a target of most of the NPCs in most of the game’s levels.
The way you create these contracts is clever. You play through the level as normal, controlling 47 as he sneaks and garrotes and shimmies, except now each NPC has an option above their heads – an option to mark them out as one of up to three targets. You then have to successfully assassinate your chosen targets (which has the welcome side-effect of preventing the creation of impossible contracts), while the game monitors the weapon used and the disguise worn. If you’re successful, you can stipulate that weapon and disguise as bonus conditions for your contract, before naming it, describing it and publishing it. You can further tweak your contract by adding extra conditions such as not wasting shots, only killing the target or not being spotted. You can create speedrun challenges, or puzzles.
These contracts can be bundled as challenges for your friends. They can be voted up by other players. They can become featured contracts online. Somebody at Io Interactive might play your contract and give you a job and a pile of money. It’s all rather exciting.
6. So it never ends
The flipside of Contracts mode is that, of course, you’ll have a vast repository of player created missions to explore. In the preview code, game director Tore Blystad has posted a contract called “Crowd Control”, which featured two targets in Chicago’s Chinatown square. The first was a policeman, James D. Monroe (all NPCs are given unique names, interestingly enough) while the other was drug dealer Mickey Capps. Neither are required targets in the single player campaign.
Monroe remains static, lurking by a sports car. Mickey Capps’ route through the level can be described thusly: he begins in his apartment overlooking the square before receiving a call from the local crimelord (your actual target in the game proper). He then meets the crimelord in the square before wandering down a dark, secluded alley to retrieve some drugs. That’s where you’re expected to kill him, but that’s not how you become the top ranked player in the world at the Crowd Control contract.
This is how. There’s a special spot, about three feet of pavementnear Monroe. Close enough to himthat he’ll protest your proximity to the sports car he’s guarding and take a number of steps towards you. Time this just right, and Capps will be standing by his apartment window, chatting on the phone, giving you line of sight with both of their heads. That’s all you really need to assassinate a target when you’re armed with dual Ballers. Instinct allows you to freeze time, mark multiple enemies, unfreeze time and have 47 automatically carry out the shots you’d lined up (pretty much an identical system to Splinter Cell: Conviction’s classyexecutions). Whether or not such an insta-kill feature is your bag, it does look stylish as heckins, with 47 coolly turning in super-slow-mo to face each target in turn, his red tie frozen and suspended as he squeezes off fatal rounds.
Blystad’s contract doesn’t specify that 47 must not be spotted, and by quickly darting into the crowd, staying just ahead of the wave of commotion you’d caused, you can find the exit in short time. The score is tallied, the contract is completed in 21 seconds, and I’d had more fun than anything the single player campaign had yet thrown at me. Contracts is something surprisinglyspecial indeed — you’ll understand why it gets as much a billing as the single player campaign on Absolution’s main menu.
7. Rubber ducks
The game has a ‘thing’ for rubber ducks. They’re everywhere. And wherever they aren’t, you’ll find posters asking where all the rubber ducks have gone. It is strange and beautiful.
DEAL ALERT:Sponsored link:Green Man Gaming is offering a 35% discount on Hitman: Absolution PC download. They’re alreadyhave a 10% discount on Hitman but they’re also offering a 35% discount codethat works until 1200 GMT on Friday, November 23. In the UK, the code works on both the Standard and the Professional edition of the game. In the US the code only applies to the Professionaledition. You can check out the difference between GMG’s prices for these versions byfollowing this link– then applying discount code GMG35-FGR37-COY0B.