HitmaAbsolutionR

So I finished this last week, but I didn’t want to write about it straight away. I had some strong negative feelings about how it felt compared to previous Hitman games and I wanted time to put it all in perspective. So, now I’ve mulled it over here’s what I thought.

Firstly I’m a fan of the older Hitman games, I picked up the franchise from the second installment and have bought and assassinated my way through all of them ever since, multiple times, stealthily, violently and the “whatever works” method. They were a lot of fun and the ability to play them in different ways was interesting rather than particularly challenging.

So enter this new version, it’s still by IO Interactive but after all this time It doesn’t feel like the same people who worked on previous versions worked on this. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes, not so much. Visually it looks fine, it still captures the same darkly violent atmosphere and slightly perverse undercurrent of previous games. It’s also added a slightly Tarantino esque feel to it, over the top villains feel just a smidge more silly. I’m not hugely against that, unlike some I really don’t have a problem with killer nuns or a giant steroid muscle dude. Previous games had such lovely people as the gelatinous meat king or the assassin lovers in bird costumes so it’s not far beyond that in scope.

Hitman as a character is a little too human though, it seems he’s grown a conscience and suddenly isn’t the cold killer who has no real emotions for anyone friend or enemy, you’re either a target or you aren’t. In previous games this made him very sinister, beyond his actions now it feels too much like a Hollywood version, now his job is just to kill “bad people who have it coming” while rescuing a little girl. In the ending to the previous game there is a conversation between Diana, his agency contact explaining how the agency is being targeted and her life is in danger. This is the female voice Hitman has been talking to forever and his response is “I’m sorry to hear that, has my money been transferred? ” It’s emotionless, it apes human concern without empathy, because he is beyond that human weakness. In this game, it seems to have missed that element.

The levels are very up and down in quality, some of them provide some interesting scenarios and some options for alternative play, however with the choice to divide up many levels into smaller scripted sequences they have detracted from the original games and their one level, one seamless map approach. I’m not sure why this was decided, I presume it’s a console flaw in memory limitations. It doesn’t improve the missions at all to go in guns blazing and then go through a door and everyone loaded in the new area of the same mission is oblivious to what happened in the other area. There are mini levels within the missions, where your scope of options are incredibly narrow and scripted to the point you’re stuck waiting for a conversation to initiate when you get close enough and then wait for it to end before you can carry on. If you pass just once it’s ok, if you end up having to do it a few times it becomes annoying that the game needs you to be there for the event to begin.

This brings another gripe, checkpoint saving, what a horribly poor design that is, again, no doubt done for consoles. The problem isn’t so much that you are limited by them, although that is a little annoying. The problem is that it saves your progress but not the guards you have already killed/taken out behind you. This means in some reloaded checkpoints you can end up having to deal with enemies you already dealt with, but the checkpoint didn’t bother to remember. Checkpoints only last until you exit the game anyway so why they couldn’t also remember which guards were downed is beyond me.

The whole experience feels more corridor orientated, with an excess of body boxes everywhere, in previous games there were occasionally places you could hide a body, in this game it’s like the levels were designed so you could hide EVERY body. Then, because they made it so easy to hide bodies they decided they need to increase the number of enemies per level, and then have them call in reinforcements if you get in a fire fight. In some scenarios this is ok but what messes it up is that if you then hide, those reinforcements eventually go off and fill the patrol routes of enemies you’ve already taken out. It sort of makes sense, except I ended up taking out 7 different guards who dutifully kept appearing and standing in the same spot one by one because the previous guard mysteriously went missing and so they just sent another over….seven times? really?

If it is realistic to replace guards that vanish surely it would also be realistic to consider maybe sending additional guards after the first two or three disappear and maybe it would also be realistic to consider not having such an endless supply of replacements that make the game look bad when it’s trying so hard to be “realistic”.

The weapon selection has regressed from previous games too, this is partly in attempt to push their dlc so you have to buy more interesting weapons to play with, but it’s also a limitation of the levels, that you can’t choose your weapons from previous levels that you left with. There is a story to why you lose your trademark silver ballers and that’s fine, but there seems no obvious reason why if you finished a mission with a machinegun and a hatchet, you are back to your fiber wire and “rubbish” pistol with about 12 rounds in the next mission. You have the option to choose your weapons in contracts mission mode for online play so it’s a deliberate decision to omit most of the strategy of what weapons you carry. Such a far cry from Hitman: Blood Money and contracts.

Gameplay has also taken some negative choices, now disguises, one of the major facilitating aspects of all hitman games have been brutalized  Now it’s actually harder to use a disguise than it is to just stealthily sneak around the map. You have to hold your hand up to your face using the games “instinct” feature to even last more than three seconds in a disguise. Otherwise everyone wearing the same clothing automatically knows you are not right at any distance. So since disguises are mostly a waste of time you’re stuck with killing everyone in frustration, leading to the respawning guards issue or you attempt to wall hug and sneak around everywhere. I don’t remember wall hugging being a big thing in a Hitman game, it’s pretty much the only way to play now.

The music isn’t particularly memorable either, Jesper Kydd did some pretty amazing music for the previous games, both sinister, tense and appropriately enigmatic as you played and assassinated your way through those games. Sadly he hasn’t returned for this one, while the music in this game isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have the same impact or any impact for that matter.

The online contracts mode should have been a great idea, you pick a level you have already completed and then you can pick up to three targets from any of the characters in the level and select them as targets for a contract. Or you can accept a contract somebody else has created and then try to copy or improve upon their play through  You then select your clothing and weapon options and stipulate the limitations for success. You have to play the mission in order to set the requirements so in theory this should prevent any exploiting or creation of impossible contracts. In practice it creates contracts people have made that are really just frustrating and game the system at every opportunity.

Contracts players have created tend to fit into the “too easy” or “so hard it’s not fun” category and at least when I checked the PC version there was very little beyond that and only a few of those to choose from. I played a couple but I really couldn’t get into it enough to care about progressing my weapons. I feel they cannibalized the weapon customization from single player in an attempt to make the multiplayer more substantial, in turn they just damaged the single player experience. I can’t help feeling Contracts should have been a great addition but left in the hands of elitist players it will die out quickly.

There was also another niggle, exclusive to the PC version, in past games the amount of buttons you needed to use to drag bodies, change disguises, select weapons and move about were context sensitive and seemed smooth and comfortable. Now there is a dedicated key for dragging bodies, a dedicated key for changing disguise, it goes on and on and it just makes the controls feel a little bloated and ugly. How could an older game get it right and a newer game not see how wrong they made it?

Why do they need dedicated keys for things you can only do one of at a time anyway? Why are there two keys I have to hold down to aim? There’s a button for aiming and then another button for “aiming properly” that’s just stupid and cumbersome. Don’t even get me started on the complete trash quicktime event for hand to hand fighting, whoever thought it was a good idea to have the button prompts jerking about the screen with the target so you can’t even focus on them for the half second they are visible needs to be slapped.

I could go on, there are several other issues I see as a lover of the past Hitman games, but I suppose if you’ve never played a Hitman game before, none of these things will affect you and you may well enjoy the game for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. For me, it’s a frustrating mix of greatness and horrid lumped together into something that looks like a great Hitman game but plays like a bad one. The best news about this game is that Square Enix are going to invest more into this IP, setting up a second studio to work in conjunction alongside IO Interactive, it leaves hope for refinement in future games.

If you’ve never played a Hitman game, you might enjoy this, if you have, I recommend sticking to Blood Money and Contracts for now.

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