On March 6 this year, a videogame trilogy ended, enraging thousands. The final ten minutes of Mass Effect 3 veered suddenly into unexpected territory and delivered a closing segment that left many baffled and disappointed.
Some of those people felt extremely angry and decided that Bioware needed to be held to account for underdelivering on the final 1% of their stomping 100 hour space adventure. Cue the Take Back Mass Effect Facebook campaign (tagline: DEMAND A BETTER ENDING), which has received over 61,000 likes.
They had valid complaints. Mass Effect 3's ending was really weird, but demanding a new ending from Bioware and then writing one for them perhaps went a little too far. "Fans of the Mass Effect trilogy have put far too much time, effort, and money into the game to be abandoned with such a fate," the group insisted.
"Bioware desperately needs to resolve this issue. New DLC (something long) to add a new, more satisfactory ending to the game, or even a full expansion based as an epilogue to the trilogy.
"Some possible ideas include Shepard retiring or settling down with his/her love interest, returning to work as a Council SPECTRE, or traveling the galaxy as an inter-species diplomat."
In addition to that, a poll on the Bioware forums requesting a "brighter" ending gained 68000 positive votes. Some folks even made a happy ending mod to bring the ending more in line with their expectations.
In April, Bioware responded by announcing a free extended cut patch that would add extra cut scenes and clarity to the ending without changing what actually happened. It was released in June, but by then it was all a bit too late.
Still, some good came out of it. A Child's Play protest drive raised £50,000, though as the BBC reported, Child's Play closed down the drive "after it emerged many people thought they were giving money to produce a new ending for Mass Effect 3."
Bioware mentioned that they are working on Mass Effect 4 in October. It will be built in Frostbite 2, it won't feature Shepard, and Bioware haven't quite decided whether it should be a prequel or a sequel.
Diablo 3 - ERROR 37
Diablo 3 proved more popular than Blizzard had really anticipated when it released on May 15. Huge numbers had pre-ordered, many more received a bonus copy as part of the World of Warcraft annual pass deal, and still more bought it on the day. Blizzard later said that 6.3 million people were playing in the first week after launch.
Diablo 3's controversial always-online requirement meant everyone logging in to play would have to successfully connect with Blizzard's servers first. Unfortunately, with a noise like a whoopee cushion in a wind tunnel the server farms melted into a steaming puddle of silicon and couldn't be coaxed into full operation.
Rejected connections were met with the now infamous "Error 37" message. Furious fans vented their frustration on a 19 page forum thread entitled "Epic Fail Blizzard." #error37 became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter
After a few very late nights and some emergency updates, Error 37 messages started to fade, but more controversy lay ahead. After several delays the real money auction house arrived in June. Patches hiked repair costs for high level players and put in the support pillars for a disappointing endgame.
That wasn't all. Players started discovering exploits after major patches, including one that let wizards become immortal and, as Kotaku noted, another that activated god mode for Barbarians.
Then there was the incident involving Diablo co-creator, David Brevik, who spoke out about Diablo 3 in August saying "some of the decision they have made are not the decisions I would make and there have been changes in philosophy and that hasn’t gone over very well. I think in that way I am a little sad." Diablo 3 devs vented their frustration on a less-private-than-expected Facebook thread in which game director Jay Wilson responded with the message "fuck that loser." Wilson later apologised in a lengthy post on the Diablo 3 site
"What I said was expressed out of anger, and in defense of my team and the game. People can say what they want about me, but I don't take lightly when they disparage the commitment and passion of the Diablo III team," he said.
Phew. Buried under all that hoo-ha it's important to note that Diablo 3 is a good game. Very good, actually, if you forgive the post-level 60 grind. Find out why in our Diablo 3 review. Blizzard are currently planning more updates and there should be some proper expansions on the horizon.
The Tomb Raider rape scene that wasn't
By the time E3 rolled around, there was already some concern surrounding Crystal Dynamic's new direction for Lara Croft. The only footage and screenshots released so far had shown her battered, bruised, bleeding in a state of permanent pain, fear or misery.
Then, two and a half minutes into the E3 trailer, amid the falling, impaling, shivering and screaming, an assailant groped Lara. The implied rape threat was clear to many, and a flood of opinion pieces were penned in response. Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself.
The situation wasn't helped by comments executive producer Ron Rosenberg made to Kotaku. "When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character," he said. "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"
Our Tom Francis got to play through the scene to its conclusion, deliberately failing (to his considerable discomfort) the quicktime events that enable her to fight back. In the end, her attacker merely strangles her to death instead. Oh, good.
Global brand director Karl Stewart told us there's “No sexual element. He doesn’t care who you are. He has got you cornered and you are female, so there is an element of ‘oh he’s creepy, and this is slightly intimidating’, but straight out it’s: bite his ear, kick him in the nuts and shoot him in the head.”
Regarding Rosenberg's comments, he said this: “Unfortunately someone mis-spoke, rather than was mis-quoted, and said a word that isn’t in our vocabulary and shouldn’t have been said… We’re not trying to create something that causes a stir, what we’re trying to create is something that’s still in a mature world but still feels real.”
On watching the trailer, it's hard to believe that those who cut the trailer together weren't trying to cause a bit of fuss. It's still too early to tell where the developers are taking Lara, and it certainly isn't the first time a marketing campaign has misrepresented a game. It's due out on March 5 next year.
Where to start? Square Enix' promotional efforts have provided some of the most painful "what were they thinking?" moments of the year. The graphic murder of a squad of hypersexualised, rubberised BDSM nun assassins in the May trailer was an impressively misjudged opening gambit that worked on precisely no level.
Game director Tor Blystad later apologised for the trailer, explaining that "there are a lot of movie influences in Hitman Absolution, like Tarantino and Rodriguez." But where Tarantino re-purposes influences from asian cinema and martial arts films to create quirky and spectacular pop-cultural mash-ups, the Hitman nunsassin trailer seems to take its cues from rubbish porn and Rambo. The resultant video was exactly the sort of peurile hyperviolent nonsense that gives videogames a bad rep.
“We’re sorry that we offended people” Blystad said at E3. “That was truly not the intention of the trailer.”
“We’ve been reading as much as we could of the articles and responses” he added. “We were surprised that it turned into such a huge topic. Something similar happened with our Sniper Challenge pre-order bonus. We just wanted to make something cool, it wasn’t the intention to stir up anything.”
IO Interactive subsequently changed the level that featured the nun assassins - a crack squad sent by the Agency to slay Agent 47 - to create more context for their appearance .
It was bad, but a mistake is a mistake, right? Those involved have apologised and will probably be more thoughtful about their marketing schemes in future. As long as they don't do anything else stupid then we can all get past - OH WAIT. Just a few weeks ago a Facebook stunt encouraged players to put "Facebook hits" out on their friends. Those taking part could select insults to throw at each other. You could put out a hit on someone for having small tits, bad hair, an annoying laugh or a small penis.
The campaign was pulled in the wake of a torrent of disapproval. Depressingly, the game proved disappointing, too, ditching many of the traits that made former Hitman games special in favour of a more directed, linear experience. Find out more in our Hitman: Absolution review.
The War Z
At the time of writing, The War Z has been plucked from Steam. Valve's Doug Lombardi told RPS that Valve have removed the game so that Valve can "work with the developer and have confidence in a new build." They're also offering refunds to purchasers who file a support ticket. The problem? This build of The War Z doesn't seem to match up to the promises its developers have been making.
Steam user Shock4ndAwe captured this image showing the original product description on Steam. It promised maps between "100 and 400 square kilometers." It claims you can create "private servers" and "gain experience and spend it to learn dozen of available skills." These features aren't in there yet. What's more, PCGamesN investigated the size of War Z's map and found it to be around 10 sq km large - far smaller than promised.
In an extraordinary interview on GameSpy, executive producer of The War Z, Sergey Titov attempted to defend the Steam listing, saying "I think there's difference between false claims and perception of the text."
When challenged on the "up to 100 players" claim (only 50 players could play simultaneously at the time), he said "let's be frank: when you read "up to 100 players" -- what does it mean to you personally? I mean, for me it doesn't mean that I will play with 99 other players. Really :) And yes game supports 100 players -- heck, it supports actually over 400 players per server as of today. Do we have servers launched with this number of slots? No we don't, because this is not what our players WANT."
The War Z creators, Hammerpoint, have since released a statement that blames players for expecting the features clearly labelled on Steam. “We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread information about game features," they said. The Steam listing has since been altered.
Before The War Z was pulled, Kotaku reported that a patch had upped the respawn time to four hours and added microtransactions that would let players pay to circumvent it. Players took to Reddit to express their anger.
It feels like this story still has a long way to run. In other news, Bohemia Interactive continue to work on a standalone version of Arma 2 mega-mod, Day Z.
Yesterday I was convinced that Hitman Absolution's Deus Ex DLC items would be among the stupidest promotional stuff we'd see for the game. Unfortunately, they weren't. A Facebook campaign that launched today - before being quickly removed after RPS spotted it - encouraged people to send a hit on their friends.
According the campaign's press release, “'Hire Hitman' was created to celebrate the best selling game Hitman: Absolution. The experience is another opportunity for fans of the series to immerse themselves in the Hitman universe.”
Here's the form that celebration took. After selecting the friend they wanted to target, users were asked to pick from a list of insulting “identifying” characteristics.
Female friends got to be called out on “awful make-up,” “annoying laugh,” “strange odour,” “muffin top,” or “small tits,” among others. Male targets, meanwhile, could be chided on their “bad hair,” “big ears,” “hairy back,” “big gut,” or “small penis.”
So that's intimidation, bullying and sexism. Another proud day in games promoting, folks!
Users would then choose a reason for elimination, at which point a message would be sent to their friend's wall, with a video that incorporated photos from their profile.
While Square-Enix are in “shut down everything” mode, removing both the site and the video that was promoting it, one YouTuber was quick enough to capture it before it disappeared.
The press release states that the campaign was created by the ad agency Ralph, who were nominated for an EMMY. It doesn't mention if that nomination was for Stupidest Bloody Idea This Week.
Hitman Absolution seems set to become the next game to feel the full force of Square Enix's bizarre obsession with cross-game promotion. After shoehorning practically every one of their franchises into Sleeping Dogs, the company has now released Deus Ex DLC for Agent 47's sort-of-assassination adventure.
The Adam Jensen disguise and handgun microtransactions (purchases sold separately, batteries not included) add a silenced pistol and cyborg costume into Contracts mode. None of which is going to fix the many problems that Tom had when he reviewed the game.
It does make you wonder what's next in SE's tireless campaign to tie all of their games together in increasingly silly ways. I'm hoping that future costumes for 47 include the traditional Lara Croft tanktop, or that they look to one of their Japanese titles and dress him up as a miserable teenager with a giant sword and shit hair. Any better ideas?
The next installment in the Hitman series is being developed by a new studio at Square Enix Montreal. It's a trade-off that Absolution director Tore Blystad likens to the one between Call of Duty's major studios. “It’s like with Treyarch and Infinity Ward,” Blystad told OPM. “You have an IP that has been developed. They will feed off each other, as well as somethings that stand out. I think with these big franchises it takes a long time to develop just one game. If you can, work a little bit in parallel at least and help each other out”.
Blystad implies that there's a trick to allowing a new studio to bring their own flavour to a series, without mangling its signature mechanics. "We’ve been talking about these similarities to some of the big movie franchise like Aliens, where everyone’s doing it their own way," he explained. "Every time someone gets their hands on a franchise they do something different. So rather than doing the same thing again you get another take on the character from a fresh perspective.
“There’s a lot of these problems you encounter with these sort of productions, some of them are really fundamental problems, or they have a big effect on the game – like how you do a mechanic for instance. If you change a mechanic too much then the whole gameplay will be modified”.
IO are staying in touch with Square Enix Montreal to stop the series going too far astray. “There are talks between us and of course it has to be somewhat in sync but it’s the first time you could say Hitman has gone out of the house,” Blystad added. “Luckily it’s with someone we know. Some of the key developers came from IO and have been working on previous games so it’s not like it’s in completely new hands."
It could be said that Hitman has already gone astray with introduction of Absolution, which takes a step away from the big sandbox missions that made the series great. Find out how in our Hitman: Absolution review.
Good news, everyone! Steam, Amazon, Blizzard, and more have kicked off Consumer Season by booby trapping the web with potent spending bait such as 33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 50% off The Walking Dead, and 66% off StarCraft II. We spent the morning stumbling through the minefield to compile a list of some of the best seasonal discounts, but stay vigilant: more surprise server-busters are bound to go live as we approach the spendiest weekend of the year.
Steam: Like the Summer Sale, the Steam Autumn Sale rotates deals daily, with even more fleeting Flash Sales lasting only 10 to 15 hours, so serious shoppers should check in at least twice a day. As a bonus, you get to follow Steam's adorable doodle story: currently, it seems a turkey is being forced to enter a Felix Baumgartner-inspired high diving competition.
But don't just look at the front page: Steam isn't promoting most of its deals, so scan the full list now and then. Here are some of the better discounts at the time of writing:
33% off XCOM: Enemy Unknown - $33.49 / £20.09 50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 / £10.49 25% off Borderlands 2 - $44.99 / £22.49 75% off ARMA II: Combined Operations - $17.99 / £14.99 25% off Dishonored - $44.99 / £22.49 50% off Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - $11.24 / £8.99 33% off The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - $40.19 / £23.44 75% off Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - $2.49 / £1.74 75% off Limbo - $2.49 / £1.74 25% off Torchlight II - $14.99 / £11.24 75% off Cave Story+ - $2.49 / £1.74 More Steam Deals
Amazon: (Some deals are region-specific) Amazon hasn't been quite as liberal as Steam with the big games, but it has conjured a storm of Lightning Deals on desktop PCs, components, and peripherals. The scattershot selection below should give you an idea of what to expect.
17% off iBuyPower AM699 Desktop - $579.99 18% off CyberpowerPC GUA890 Desktop - $499.99 39% off Dell S2330MX 23" Ultra-Slim VGA Monitor - $139.99 40% off Samsung Series S24B30BL 23.6-Inch Screen LCD Monitor - $119.99 33% off Corsair Vengeance C70 Mid Tower Case - $97.45 31% off Logitech Optical Gaming Mouse G400 - $34.49 19% off Logitech G600 MMO Gaming Mouse - $64.62
50% off The Walking Dead - $12.49 (Steam code) 80% off Dungeon Defenders - $2.99 10% off Hitman: Absolution - $44.99 75% off all Assassin's Creed games (excluding Assassin's Creed III) More Amazon Deals
Blizzard: Blizzard has joined the party with Diablo III for $40 / £33 and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for $20 / £17.
GOG: GOG's current sale nets you five games from a list of 20 for a mere $10 (just over £6). The list is loaded with some great indie adventure and puzzle games, so if you don't already own them, now's a good time to prepare for that "it's cold outside, so I'm going to drink tea (whiskey optional) and not leave my screen for the next forever hours" feeling.
Green Man Gaming: While Green Man doesn't celebrate consumerism with a morbid-sounding Friday, it is offering its usual voucher code. Enter GMG20-1FYLZ-EDG8R when purchasing a PC download for 20% off any game, except those already on sale. At the time of writing, GMG's daily deal (North America only) is Mass Effect 3: N7 Digital Deluxe for $15.99.
Newegg: (US and Puerto Rico only) Newegg has taken this whole "Black Friday" thing awfully far. Not only has it preempted Black Friday with "Black November," it's re-preempting it with a Pre-Black Friday Frenzy sale. How about a 500 GB Western Digital WD Blue hard drive for $50? A Samsung B350 Series LED monitor for $180? Keep in mind that if you visit Newegg from now until December 1st, you should not expect to then purchase other things, like food.
If you find any great deals as the weekend progresses, we'd love it if you shared them in the comments. And if all these sales combined with a poorly-timed lack of funds has you feeling down, remember that buying stuff is only briefly thrilling, while instead you could be continuously thrilled by PlanetSide 2, MechWarrior Online, Tribes: Ascend, or many of the other new free-to-play games we're thankful for this year.
Got Hitman: Absolution, video capturing capability, and the desire to be $1000 richer? You can make use of those strangely-related criteria by heading over to GamrRank, a meta-achievement/playtime tracking social media platform. The service is offering one grand to the best Hitman video involving a dead body and your name spelled on a surface with bullet holes—just like so many of my home movies. The video above explains the finer points.
You have two weeks to get your entry in. Second place nets you $500, and third will take home $250. Some Hitman swag is also available for honorable mentions. If you have a GamrRank account, you can check out this page to accept the challenge.
A note from Tom: At the time I reviewed it for the print edition of PC Gamer, the PC version of Hitman: Absolution suffered from serious performance problems. These have since been fixed, and I've had the chance to verify that on our own machines. Since it's still not out, there doesn't seem much point in dinging it for a problem you won't have. So in this online version, I've amended the bit that was no longer accurate.
To give you an idea, on a 2.8 GHz quad core with a Radeon HD 4800, it now runs at about 30-40 FPS on medium settings. It used to be 15 even on minimum.
The previously awful performance contributed to it feeling like a shonky PC port to me, and I took it into account in the score. Now that it runs decently, the game feels approximately 4% less shonky, and I've adjusted the score accordingly. This is about as scientific as the initial scoring process.
If you’re ever sad about how many games these days are sequels, go back and play Hitman: Blood Money again. The assassin-sim series struggled for three games to understand its own strengths, and Blood Money found them all.
Almost every mission was an absurdly rich playground of deadly possibilities. You were usually free to roam them undisguised, watching patrol routes, tracking targets, studying the environment, and planning the perfect murder. The plot was sidelined in order to avoid interfering with the business of killing, the levels were large, and your tools were versatile and intricately customisable. The fans adored it, and it’s one of my favourite games of all time.
Hitman: Absolution goes... in a different direction.
‘Disaster’ is a strong word, which is good because we need one. Absolution is a disaster. It’s almost the polar opposite of Blood Money: instead of sidelining the story to focus on big, open-ended assassination missions, it sidelines assassination to focus on telling a long, linear, and embarrassingly bad story. In game terms, that means most of its levels task you with reaching and opening a particular door. If it was called Doorman: Absolution, it would be much less disappointing.
There's an old hitman saying: wear a samurai suit and stare at their groin.
That’s not even its biggest problem. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t have a save function, so every screw-up or glitch of game logic costs you a galling amount of pointless repetition. Very rarely there are mid-mission checkpoints, but even if you can find them, they don’t save vital aspects of your progress. Guards that you’ve killed respawn. Bodies vanish. Disguises and items you’ve left disappear. It’s suspiciously as if the developers just never figured out how to store all the relevant information.
The reason this hurts the game so deeply is that two of Hitman’s core appeals are experimentation and perfectionism. It’s still a game with a lot of items and systems to play around with, but doing so is madness when 15 minutes of perfectly stealthy progress are at stake. And when your ghost-like performance is blown at the last minute by the unpredictable rules of the guard’s detection logic, it’s hard to muster the will to repeat the whole level in the hope that it won’t happen again. Particularly when the stealthy approach involves waiting for achingly long conversations to finish before guards go their separate ways.
I think you think I care about that guy a lot more than I do.
When I first started playing, three different tutorial tips advised me to press the left mouse button ‘gently’ to aim more accurately, or chided me for ‘squeezing’ it too hard. Those have been corrected in a patch, but aiming is still a needlessly clumsy emulation of a console controller’s analogue input: you have to hold two different aim buttons to be accurate.
It also appears to have been rendered through a Vaseline lens, causing anything as bright as a flesh tone to burn with the bloom of a thousand suns. When it catches the light, your bald head glints so dazzlingly that beams of pink lens flare erupt from it in four directions.
It’s a shame, because beneath that some of the locations are beautiful. They’re just a bit small. Each mission is split into a series of short levels, connected by a single door that you can’t go back through. And you can’t open these doors if any guards on the level are alert. When the objective of some levels is to escape captivity or attackers, being locked in until your opponents stop looking for you starts to feel a little perverse.
You can win a shooting contest to get your guns back. Or: this.
Three-quarters of these levels are purely about traversal: you’re just trying to get from A to B to move the story forwards, and if you’re given anyone to kill at all, it happens in a cutscene or scripted slow-mo event. The other quarter do give you a target to kill, and a choice of how to do so, but that segmentation means you’re operating in a space that isn’t as rich or complex as a typical Hitman: Blood Money mission.
The other thing that really hurts Absolution’s few actual assassinations is the new equipment system. There isn’t one. You give away all of your trademark kit at the start of the game, and start most missions with one bad, loud pistol. You never get to buy or choose your weapons in the campaign, so you’re stuck with whatever you find lying around. The ones you pick up will carry over to the next segment of the mission, but are lost again when you complete it.
Can you snipe this target from afar? Depends if the level designer left a sniper rifle somewhere. If they did, they probably put it in the ideal sniping spot to save you the mental effort of choosing one for yourself. Can you set explosives and detonate them when your target walks by? Depends if the level designer left any inexplicably strewn around, and if you find their illogical location. Even then, you can no longer throw them, put them inside containers, or stick them to surfaces.
Jesus, close your mouth when you're... you.
So much that used to be universal, versatile systems is now left to the level designer’s whim. Hitman’s greatest pleasure was coming up with your own solutions, but even at its best, Absolution makes it feel like you’re choosing between the ones the designers provided for you.
Its most promising addition is a new way of handling disguises. As in real life, you can dress up in the clothes of almost anyone you kill or subdue. And as in previous Hitman games, wearing the right clothes makes it easier to walk into restricted areas undetected. The twist this time is that people wearing the same clothes you’ve dressed up in will find you suspicious, whereas everyone else will leave you alone.
It makes sense – cops might be suspicious of a cop they don’t recognise, but not a janitor. And it could be the basis for an extra layer of strategy: dress as a janitor to get past the police, then take out a cop and put on his uniform to get in everywhere else. But it’s undermined by two things.
The first is, yet again, the level design. You spend the vast, vast majority of every mission trying to get past the same type of guard, and they almost never permit a disguise other than their own. Gangsters shooting up an orphanage full of nuns – an actual thing that happens in this videogame – will open fire on anyone but their gangmates. Cops at a crime scene are similarly strict. So you spend almost all of your time dressed as the people you’re avoiding.
Who's the psycho now? Still... still both of us.
That leads you into the other problem: suspicion is viciously over-reactive, and to all the wrong things. Guards rumble you in a split second if you stray close to them, and in pretty short order even at extremely long range. That changes it from a disguise game to a stealth game: your only challenge is to break line of sight, so you stick to sneak mode, hug cover, and do commando rolls between anything that blocks their vision. This – unlike walking normally – they have absolutely no problem with.
On lower difficulties, you can hold down a key to allay their suspicions by putting your hand over your face. I can’t think of a way to mock this that would make it sound any more absurd than that, so I won’t try. It’s a crutch to mitigate the stifling effect of a bad mechanic. And the fact that it’s useful is actually a bad thing: it uses a resource called Instinct, which you can recharge by killing guards. So there’s now a material reward for the gratuitous murder the series has always tried to gently discourage.
Both suspicion and regular stealth glitch out regularly: I’ve been spotted through two solid walls on several occasions, and at other times supposedly silent actions brought guards running. Irritating in any game, disastrous in one with no save function.
On second thoughts, maybe I don't want this chef's outfit now.
With or without Instinct, the new disguise system removes the single best thing Blood Money brought to the series: the ability to walk freely around almost every level, planning your approach without having to conceal your presence. It reduces Absolution to a more ordinary stealth game – and for me, Hitman was always better than that.
I keep coming back to the failings of the level design, and most of them stem from its determination to tell a story. It’s a tedious farce of pantomime villains, voiced by Hollywood actors utterly wasted on this adolescent, exploitative trash. And I'm fine with that. Every Hitman game has had a terrible story, but until now it has rarely mattered.
The problem with Absolution is that they actually decided to focus on it this time. In an attempt to paint you as some kind of misunderstood hero, Absolution has you quitting your job to protect a teenage girl. This story frequently requires you to get from A to B, but rarely involves a legitimate reason for you to kill. And when it does, you don’t always get to do it.
Several of the actual kills happen in cutscenes, and sometimes all your hard stealth work in getting to the target is rewarded with a cinematic of your character screwing it up. It’s kind of mindboggling to imagine how anyone could stray so far from the point of a series whose entire concept is right there in the title.
Playing music causes the police to dance and smoke weed. This is a puzzle solution.
I guess the new Contracts mode is meant to be the antidote to this, and it is a nice idea. You can load up any level from the main game, choose your weapons (at last!) and mark up to three people as targets. The way you choose to kill them, and how stealthily you do so, become the objectives of a contract. Other players can then take on your contract and try to kill the same people, with the same weapons, just as stealthily. They get a score for all those things, and a bonus if they do it faster than you.
Creating these contracts is a little aimless: civilians and guards are pretty much interchangeable, so I don’t have any burning desire to pick out three particular targets who need to die. But playing other people’s contracts is fun: some are very straightforward, but already people are adding entertaining twists. The last one I played insisted that I run into a town dressed in full samurai armour and kill a particular cop with a sledgehammer. Players will probably come up with sillier contract concepts once the game is out.
It’s no substitute for the kind of freedom Hitman used to give you, though. When creating a contract, you have too much – it doesn’t matter who you kill, so who cares? And when playing one, you have too little: the contract specifies what to wear and which weapon to use, so you’re basically just following orders.
And guess what? DRM! Despite the fact that the contracts themselves must be tiny amounts of data, you can’t play any of them – even your own – offline. You have to be connected and logged in, and if their servers are down, you’re shut out. They've really done an impressive job of racking up all the different ways you can irritate PC gamers.
These are all the reasons I found Absolution crushingly disappointing. These are the reasons it’s a terrible Hitman game, and it’s worth saying that in the strongest possible terms, because Hitman is an important and brilliant series of games. But despite all of that, it isn’t a terrible game, and it doesn’t deserve a terrible score.
It's like, that man is the Hitman series, 47 is videogames, and the ocean symbolises misapplied metaphors.
Called something else (I’m still rooting for Doorman: Absolution), it’d be a decent sneak-em-up with some welcome Hitman influences. Creeping past people is inherently fun, even if you’re gaming some weird suspicion mechanic while you do it. So is knife-throwing. I will never be able to forgive the shitty checkpointing, but it’s certainly less of a problem once you get good. And on the rare occasion that you find a disguise that lets you roam freely, some of the levels have lots of different routes to try.
There’s one mission, right near the end, that’s genuinely very good. There’s one target, a decent sized area, a particular disguise that lets you roam anywhere, and three different ways to make the death look accidental. It’s still smaller and less interesting than any of Blood Money’s main missions, but it’s one I actually wanted to replay. Any game that can capture part of that thrill is worth playing.
Currently, though, Absolution is not worth buying. If they can somehow patch in a save function, and if players do interesting things with Contracts, it will be. Until then, I’d wait for a preposterous Steam sale.
That’s something I never thought I’d have to say about a Hitman game. I desperately hope the reaction to it is strong enough to convince the developers to change direction, because I couldn’t stand to watch the series die like this.
OK, so we're a bit late with this one - but then I was crouched behind a bin waiting for the perfect moment to knock out a PCG writer so I could use his uniform to gain access to the building. Now, dressed in an old pair of jeans and an XL Bus Simulator T-shirt, I'm finally ready to post about Hitman: Absolution and its latest trailer, which shows off the game's "living, breathing world".
Look at it there, all living and breathing. Really, there are three things to take away from this trailer: that the background chatter of security guards and civilians might be a wee bit more interesting than "Shall we gather for whiskey and cigars tonight?", that (if this is all in-game footage at least) we can probably expect some veeery impressive crowd scenes, and that... disco-dancing cops. I'm pretty sure Reg never did that on The Bill.
With the game due in only two-and-a-bit weeks (November 20th), we thankfully won't have to wait long for answers. In the meantime, click to two minutes in to see 47 drop some beats for the cast of Holby Blue.
Selecting a soundtrack for life isn't easy. You need music for riding the bus, shopping for groceries, or sitting around listening to other music. Hitman: Absolution's Agent 47 lives a life of luxury in that regard, as his handlers over at IO Interactive already selected numerous moody pieces and Inception horn-blasts to accompany him as he jay-walks away from explosions or descends a single step. The trailer shown here shows off Absolution's range of dynamic triggers for aural interactivity, including the buttery-smooth cut of David Bateson's voice. I hope he'll moonlight as an airline pilot sometime soon.
This article originally appeared in issue 246 of PC Gamer UK.
Hitman Absolution is a tease. Its first level guides the player through a well-defended compound toward Agent 47’s assigned target, his ex-handler Diana. I snuck past guards, bundled others into convenient bins after applying pressure to their unsuspecting throats. I edged along ledges over jagged cliffs. I hid when I was meant to hide, moved when I was meant to move. And then, as I opened the door to my victim, the game took over, lurching me into a cutscene that ended the level.
It’s a trick Absolution pulls a few times in its opening chapter. 47’s next job takes him to the Terminus Hotel, and a target holed up in Room 899 on the eighth floor. Creeping through an air vent at the end of the level, I overheard my potential victim, his Texas drawl muffled through the metal. I crawled towards the sound, wiggling 47’s suit-clad body around in the vent and planning my murder method. Halfway along, my screen faded to black and I was forced through another cutscene that not only saw my target escape, conspicuously un-murdered, but suffered 47 getting bonked on the head without any opportunity for player-led retaliation.
The five levels I’ve played are huge – much bigger than any of Hitman: Blood Money’s lethal playgrounds. But where Blood Money plopped the player at a doorway, gave them a target, and let them have the run of the area, Absolution breaks its levels up into distinct stages. In making my way up to Room 899 in the Terminus Hotel, I had to sneak past a set of guards sat in the lobby by knocking out one of their outlying number and nabbing his threads. The elevator that carried me up to the target’s floor marked the end of the section I was playing, with no way to descend back to the floor I’d just been creeping around on. After being framed for an innocent’s murder and left in a burning building, I had to sneak my way across three wide-open rooms, avoiding a roving police squad. Once navigated successfully, the game gave me a check-up on my score – awarded for silent takedowns, hiding bodies, and clothes-napping, among other things – and locked the door behind me, pushing me into the next vignette.
This makes Hitman Absolution feel smaller in scope than Blood Money. It’s also more manageable. There’s no danger of being paralysed by choice when your only aim is to reach an anointed door, or escape a patrolling death squad. It also means mistakes you’ve made twenty minutes ago will be less likely to haunt you.
I took the direct route in the Terminus Hotel. Scoping out the edifice from the damp street the game deposits Agent 47 on, I spotted an entrance to the basement. I decided against using it, preferring to waltz in the front door – it’s a hotel, right? They must be expecting guests. Apparently not. Through the door, I was treated to a triggered animation, a goon in a stetson telling one of the hotel’s paying guests he wasn’t allowed upstairs. More goons sat on the sofas in the lobby, scanning their eyes around the room. Yet more goons stood on the stairs, flanking the lift that the game had helpfully picked out.
The abundance of goonery made getting to my intended exit difficult, but Absolution has upgraded Agent 47, turning him from Blood Money’s hulking, clumsy marionette man to a lithe assassin. Pressing Space flipped 47 into cover, his back to a cleaning trolley as one of the goons peeled off. Pressing Ctrl behind my hiding spot, I turned on 47’s Instinct mode. Instinct turns the world black and grey, highlighting interesting areas – weapons to pocket, radios to turn on, light fittings to drop on unsuspecting heads – and potentially dangerous people. Activate Instinct while wearing a disguise, and 47 will cover his face surreptitiously as people wearing the same costume try to work out if they know you. Activate it as a goon walks past as I did and you’ll be able to see their patrol path, picked out in a line of flame along the floor.
This goon was going to the bathroom. Disengaging myself from the trolley by pressing Space again, I followed him in, ducked in a crouch that kept me out of the vision of his empty-bladdered pals. A quick arm around the throat, while tapping A to apply pressure to his windpipe, and he was unconscious. Another tap, and I was wearing his clothes. One more tap and a quick drag, and his now underwear-clad body was jammed into a laundry bin in the bathroom. This process is quick in Absolution, quicker than it was in Blood Money. 47’s new sleeper-hold ability knocks targets out, and unlike Blood Money’s sedative syringe, can be used as many times as you fancy in a level.
Most weapons can be thrown, forcing enemies in earshot to walk over and investigate the sound. Careful assassins can put entire floors to sleep, clearing a path towards their target. I am not a careful assassin. Coming out of the bathroom, I decided to try out my new threads on the similarly dressed goons blocking the staircase. Evening, gents, I’m your pal who just went for a piss. Yes, I’m now bald. That bathroom changed me.
They immediately saw through my ruse. Suspicion in Absolution is denoted by a circle in the centre of the screen. When someone spots you doing something weird, the circle rises to a peak in their direction. Sauntering through the lobby, my screen showed five distinct spikes: five goons who’d spotted I wasn’t one of their number. Must’ve been the shiny head that gave it away. I should’ve brought a wig.
I activated 47’s Instinct, and he quickly brought his hand to his hat, covering his face. Too late. The goons on the sofa stood up, yelling at me to stop. The goons at the top of the stairs, alerted, swaggered over. If 47 is spotted doing something obviously dodgy – stashing a body, shooting someone between the eyes, downloading a Robbie Williams song, that kind of thing – then guards will immediately flip to a hostile state, emptying their guns in his general direction. But if he’s just being mightily suspicious, as I was, they’ll try to force him to surrender. Press Q and you’ll pretend to give up, affecting a hands-up stance as your accusers come closer. Once they’re within range, the game launches an automatic animation that disarms the closest enemy, takes his gun, and pulls him into a headlock. If you’re off in a secluded spot, this is a great way to dispose of a single enemy. If you’re standing on top of a set of stairs, being watched by more than ten pairs of eyes, it’s less effective.
I tried to activate the lift with my arm around a human shield, his pilfered gun pointing over his shoulder towards his angry friends. They saw my intentions and opened fire as one, killing my shield and turning my vision red with injury. Using a spare second to call the lift, I ducked into cover and waited for it to arrive. Once it did, I hopped in and rode it to a higher floor, the second of the hotel’s stages. Fortunately for me, everyone up there hadn’t been in contact with their partners-in-goonery downstairs, and seemed happy to let me wander around, provided I didn’t stray within intense suspicion range.
Where the Teminus Hotel is broken up into stages, preceding level Chinatown is more open. It consists of a square with a central pagoda, its streets filled with people: crooked cops, drug dealers and innocents. Absolution’s story mode visits the location twice, first asking 47 to murder one target – mob boss the King of Chinatown – then sending him back to kill three others later in the day.
I went back a third time in the game’s Contracts mode. Contracts is Hitman’s take on score attack mode, gifting Agent 47 points for offing targets quickly, in specific ways, using chosen weapons and wearing the proper clothes. Other players create contracts by playing through the game’s levels as normal, marking targets along the way for other players to shoot, stab, or smother. Completing a kill as requested awards points that can be compared against your homicidal friends’ scores. There’s a filter of social integration that sits a bit wonkily with the series, and Hitman’s joy has always been madcap freedom in your murder method rather than the chase of obsessive perfection.
But Contracts isn’t a bungled job: it gives a fresh eye on levels you’ve already played. I chose to play one of the missions set up by developers IO themselves, set again in Chinatown. Instead of the storyline’s mob boss, I found myself gunning for two targets: one a cop, one a flat-cap wearing gangster. The cop was an easy kill. Veering straight off to the left on entering the level, I found him stood next to a sportscar parked in an alley. I locked eyes with him for a second, before he turned on his heels and pottered down the road to inspect some fascinating boxes, conveniently out of sight of the hundred-plus NPCs in the central square. I dropped into a crouch and followed him. En route, I had options to complicate the kill: I could pound on the car’s window, bringing the cop over to peer into the windows and check on the contents. I could pick up some discarded plastic explosives, left by some forgetful bomb-maker, and blow my target up. Or I could take the easy option, ready my garotting wire, and wrap it around his neck at the end of the alley.
First one down, I strolled back through the crowds of people. My next target was visible via 47’s Instinct mode: he was standing up in an office overlooking the level’s central pagoda. I remembered the office as the one I found a stashed sniper rifle in during my first visit to Chinatown. Another crooked cop was guarding the staircase that led up to said office, but I’d distracted him before by fiddling with the contents of a nearby fusebox. I did the same again, luring the copper from his seat and slipping past him as he cursed the busted electronics. Still crouching, I started to climb the staircase, and shuffled face-first into a descending crotch.
My target had moved, and I wasn’t ready for it. I mashed the keyboard and 47 launched into a quicktime event of a fight, punching with letter keys. The cop, returning from fixing the fusebox, was treated to the sight of me slamming another man’s head into a wall. He immediately drew his gun, just as I put a bullet through my now-unconscious target’s skull, and I sprinted back upstairs and climbed into a cupboard.
It was no good: the cop had a good look at me, and I was stuck without clothes to change into. Languishing in the cupboard was only delaying the inevitable. I cycled through my inventory items, alighting on the remotely detonated plastic explosive I’d picked up earlier. I climbed out of the cupboard and poked my head out of the window, only to be met by a hail of bullets. In return, I lobbed the explosive charge towards the ground and fired a few times to flush backup cops out of cover. I blew the charge as they rearranged themselves, clearing something of a path for myself. Back down the stairs, I aimed a silenced silverballer pistol shot at the fusebox cop, and changed quickly into his clothes. Numbers at the top of the screen were ticking down – I’d lost points for being spotted, the time taken between kills, and the huge amount of people, innocent and otherwise, that I’d eviscerated with my impromptu bombing – but I still had a positive number.
Cops streamed past as I exited the fusebox alley; I covered my face using Instinct and walked purposefully for the exit. It wasn’t pretty, but I came out of the contract with my two targets dead: not enough to trouble a high-score table, but a victory in Absolution’s book. And in mine. Absolution gave me the option to be robotic or reactionary, chase perfection or make the best of a bad situation. It’s a tighter, less freeform experience than Blood Money, but fortunately it still offers the kind of lethal invention that made that game great.