I adored Hitman: Blood Money. That it took this long to get a follow-up when the series hit so frequently last generation has made the wait almost painful, and the occasionally mismanaged PR campaign that only recently actually, you know, started showing something resembling Hitman, has sometimes twisted the knife.
Now that I’ve finished it, I can say that it’s not a very good Hitman game.
That said, it’s still an excellent game. In a generation when two other previously prolific stealth series, Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, have been frustratingly quiet, this is one of the best examples of that genre in ages.
In response to criticism that Absolution didn’t look like Hitman, IO released demos of two levels: King of Chinatown and Streets of Hope. These raised expectations because they genuinely looked like proper Hitman, and when you play them you’ll see that they are. You have targets, a small area to run around in, and countless ways to improvise murders – the archetypical ‘murder puzzle’ that have enraptured so many fans. They’re brilliant.
However, they also pretty much represent half of the traditional Hitman levels in the whole game. Every other one has you being hunted by police, mercenaries or, yes, sexy nuns. Some don’t involve killing at all unless you’re playing it wrong. One starts off with you having free run of the level and having to find creative ways into a restricted area – so far, so good – after which you’ll have to sneak your way around crowds of corrupt police before mercenaries arrive and you spend the rest of the sequence fighting or avoiding them.
The way certain enemies can see through them leads to ludicrous spells of spinning on the spot to break line of sight from all directions. On one level, enemy mercenaries will see through your armour with a full face mask unless you burn instinct to blend in, but in another you can nick the clothes of the defendant in court and impersonate him, with the police, judge and clerks oblivious to the fact that a guy who they’re evidently familiar with completely changed appearance in the five-minute toilet break. Being kitted out like one of hundreds of mercenaries will be seen through as soon as you run out of instinct, but dressing as a scarecrow and hanging yourself from a cross is an apparently impenetrable ruse. It’s frustratingly inconsistent.
But like I said, it’s a great stealth game, and if that sounds appealing you’ll have a great time. After all, if your objective is to hide from enemies and disguises are reduced to a last resort, it ceases to be much of a problem. IO also deserves credit in this time of £40 six-hour epics for crafting a game with a huge amount of content, with a campaign that took me over 20 hours on hard, a ton of levels, ridiculous quantities of Easter eggs and incidental dialogue that are frequently genuinely funny, and all without even touching the promising Contracts mode. A meaty single-player game without shoehorned-in multiplayer? Whatever next?
I just hope that now that IO has the need to tell this story out of its system, the next one will be content to plonk Agent 47 in an interesting situation and tell him who to kill.