Hitman: Absolution is a bit of a strange beast. This game has a lot of awesome moments, but the overall package isn't exactly what Hitman fans remember loving. Hitman: Absolution is more of a tale of reaction than slow and methodical planning.
You won't spend time picking gear before levels in the campaign, for instance. Or, the first several hours of the game play more on the run than on the hunt. That's a change, as far as I'm concerned, and it's one that removes a lot of power from the player.
Before we get there, let's have a word about both bugs and Contract Mode.
Bugs? My game froze. A lot. In fact, I had to replay a few levels more than once. This was frustrating, and it's actually a massive part of why I didn't finish the campaign. The story can be rather boring, and slogging through the same levels over and over again because the game froze before loading a cutscene is brutally annoying. I played it on the PlayStation 3, so I don't know if this applies to the PC and Xbox 360 platforms.
Contract Mode? This has the potential to be the bread and butter of Hitman: Absolution. Players (or the devs, with featured Contracts) decide who is a target in whatever level they like. And they can choose anyone, from a simple maid to a big honcho. If they exist in the level, they're up for murder. While the story mode and moment-to-moment action is rather hit or miss here, Contracts Mode might be the playground you're looking for.
The inherent problem with the core of Hitman: Absolution's campaign, and I recognize this is a completely subjective thing, is that it is rarely fun. You spend so much time hiding and slinking, and the payoff moments are so minor and remote, that the game can actually be rather boring. When the levels open up and place you in big arenas, things are great. 47 can plan his route and creative investigation pays off. The linear levels, though, flirt with terrible at a constant clip.
The Hitman franchise has, above almost everything else, been about the power of Agent 47 as an almost god-like killer. In previous Hitman games, remaining undetected was never the primary goal. Exploring each level and figuring out the most sophisticated way to kill your target was. In Hitman: Absolution, you'll spend all of your time hiding and changing disguises. When you're almost caught, you'll switch to this bizarre tactic of holding R1 (on the PlayStation 3) and hoping you have enough instinct to duck your head long enough to deceive your hunters' collective gaze.
I get that Hitman: Absolution might scratch that stealthy itch a lot of classic gamers have. There's a fundamental level of frustration, problem solving and patience that makes this game a strong contender at some points. It's just that fans of classic Hitman action might be a little disappointed at how much Agent 47 hides.
Hitman: Absolution is less about contract killing (in fact, a lot of your contract kills don't even come to fruition) and more about sneaking and trial and error than ever before. For some, that's a recipe for success. For gamers like me, it's not. I liked feeling omnipotent and all-powerful in previous Hitman games. I liked focusing solely on the process of figuring out each kill.
This game does have that moment in specific levels, though. That's probably its saving grace as far as I'm concerned. When you're not on the run and you have a clear and concise target, Hitman: Absolution absolutely works. The mechanics and stealth all click together as you stalk one target. Making the kill, after figuring out that your man likes coffee a little too much for instance, feels as fantastic as it always has. Getting to those moments can be brutal, but actually playing them is what keeps this game alive.
Mechanically, though, Hitman: Absolution is probably the smoothest game this franchise has ever seen. Gunfights actually work out when things go south. You can take cover, and you're not a complete dud with a firearm. Subduing targets is never a frustrating point either. Things work as intended here, which is great news for those who remember fidgeting with all the frustrating minor nuances in previous games.
Hitman: Absolution is a mixed bag. Some will like the crazy amount of pressure created by this almost always hiding motif. Some will like the fact that Agent 47's power is stripped down due to plot-driven circumstances. I wanted more of an exploratory playground, so my choice was Contracts Mode.
Flaws and all, Hitman: Absolution brings with it a lot of potential for fun. If pressured stealth mixed with creative killing sounds like your bag, dive in.
We received a review copy of Hitman: Absolution for the PlayStation 3 from Square Enix. We did not complete the campaign, but we spent 15 hours with the game in both the story and Contracts Mode.
Joey Davidson is the Associate Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeyDavidson.