- Publisher: Square-Enix
- Developer: IO Interactive
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Third-Person Shooter
- Pros: Amazing Degree of Authorship, Gorgeous Graphics, Immense Replayability
- Cons: Some Weak A.I., Pretty Horrendous Dialogue
Across a remarkably conceived and executed campaign that runs much longer than most games of this type (it's a variable length based on approach but players who take their time could plug 20 hours into the campaign and still want to go back to play it a completely different way a second time), "Hitman: Absolution" presents a Hollywood-level experience that has that trait that I look for in great games -- a sense of player authorship. We've all played games that pretend to give us choices as to how to get from point A to point B but really just give us a limited set of options dressed up like choice ("Call of Duty: Black Ops II" would be a good example of a game that has options that do little more than change the ending but not the actual story). "Hitman: Absolution" is CONSTANTLY asking you to make decisions. I found myself immersed in each scenario to the degree that I actually started making moral calls which dictated the level of action. For example, I'd be more likely to merely try and subdue the strip club bouncer who spotted me but the thugs who left bodies of dead nuns around an orphanage met the end of my silencer. With its immersive story, incredible mechanics, and remarkable alternate mode, "Hitman: Absolution" is as addictive as anything you'll play this year. Only a few mechanically frustrating elements that could easily be fine-tuned in the next installment hold it back from complete perfection.
You are Agent 47, a killing machine with enhanced instinct abilities that allow a number of special skills from spotting items in the environment to use to your advantage to blending in with a crowd to slow-motion shooting a la "Max Payne 3." The great Sigourney Weaver talks you through the first level as your handler and introduces you to the gameplay. The lengthy story isn't as captivating as one would hope but it offers a wide variety of environments. From broken-down hotel basements filled with guards and construction workers waiting to spot you to crowded strip clubs with dozens of potential innocent casualties to a Chinatown store in which you can turn off the sprinklers and light the fireworks to escape under cover of smoke, "Hitman: Absolution" features an amazing variety of assassin-based missions. It's not just a game about killing. It's about blending in, making decisions, being stealthy, and getting the job done the way you want to and not just the way you feel you have to in order to proceed to the next level.
There are times when you'll be confident that stealth is the right approach. Subdue this guard. Dump him in a dumpster (there are a LOT of dumpsters and casually-placed bottles and knives in the world of "Hitman: Absolution"...don't come to this game looking for realism). Take his uniform. And slowly walk past his fellow guards. Throughout "Absolution," you will take on dozens of disguises and they're built around an interesting mechanic. If you're wearing a cop uniform, citizens won't look twice at you. However, cops will be more suspicious under the theory that they probably would recognize that you're not one of their own. You can use a meter of Instinct for several things, including being able to walk past those wearing the uniform of your chosen disguise. Instinct builds through accomplishments. Doing well on a certain assignment, putting on a police officer uniform, and walking right through the front door has an undeniable thrill.
Thrill is a great word for "Hitman: Absolution." It's going to sound silly, I know, but there were assignments in this game that got my heart racing. As I snuck across ledges trying to escape a hit gone very wrong or unleashed vengeance on the nun-killers, I was as immersed in this game as any I've played all year. There's a different between an action game in which you feel like you're going through prescribed motions -- hit the right button at the right time -- and one in which you feel like you are in complete control of your fate. "Hitman: Absolution" is the latter.
It's not perfect. I wish there was a bit more realism such as in the aforementioned fact that there are bottles to throw to distract people all over the environment or dozens of dumpsters to hide bodies. Even worse, some of the enemy A.I. is ridiculous. At one point, things went very wrong in a strip club and I was being chased by guards. I went to hide at the top of a staircase, assuming the guard would follow and I could take him out when he did. The guard went to the bottom of the stairs, fired several rounds into the third step, and then walked away. That's not just bad A.I., it's practically a glitch. Enemies do stupid things in "Absolution" although this could have been a product of my Normal difficulty decision.
The campaign is so engrossing and replayable that it would warrant purchase of this title on its own but there's a remarkable alternate mode called "Contracts" in which players can design their own missions for others to complete. Different maps, different conditions (for example, knife only), and different targets produce money that can be used to unlock weapons and disguises for future assignments. Every contract that's been created can be voted on and you know that it can be completed since it has to have been so at least once by its creator to be published. It's not complete level design in that many of the conditions are predetermined but it's close and I know it will provide me hours of entertainment long after I've completed the campaign for the second time.