WHY I LOVE
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, stealthing around ships. We don't know why all the best stealth levels are set on boats, but they are.
Due to the popularity of military shooters, the ship level has become clich . It's the genre's lava level. Inevitably, it has a TV Tropes page.
I don't care. I love them. Specifically, I love them in stealth games, where they act as a setting, rather than a set piece. That bit where you're running through a semi-cinematic disaster movie, an invisible trigger sending the next wave of flooding water crashing through a door? I'm not a fan, thanks Tomb Raider. Scripting robs the setting of that sense of separation from the outside world; the idea of a small, confined, claustrophobic space with no escape and no backup. Not just for me, but for them—the guards.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution's Missing Link DLC opens on a ship, and it's one my favourite sections of the game. There is a very functional design philosophy to a big floating boat that sits at odds with the game's stylised futurism. In the open cities and sprawling office complexes, Deus Ex could lace its environments with high-tech design. The ship is just a ship. The scale is different—narrower, more linear. It's filled with plain, metallic walls. The doors are bulky slabs of mass. It feels solid. Real.
See also: the original Deus Ex, or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. These levels stand apart as standalone vignettes contained with the overall flow of their respective campaigns.
It's pure coincidence that I'm writing this on the week of Alien: Isolation's release, but it's fitting. That is, to all intents and purposes, a stealth game set on a ship. But it occupies a different mental space than what I'm talking about here. In many ways it's the opposite. The film Alien is about a crew trapped in an inescapable place with a unstoppable killer. It is a film about being hunted. But take the opening Tanker chapter of Metal Gear Solid 2—it flips the concept. Your enemies are the ones trapped in an inescapable space, and you are the unstoppable killer.
I was about 17 when the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo came out. It was around the same time I was discovering horror films. The demo—containing the first section of the Tanker prologue—felt like a powerful, cathartic inversion to the stories I was watching. It manifested as a fascination with toying with the guards. First, I'd shoot out their radio, disabling communication with the ship at large. Then, I'd move. Give them a glimpse that something is out there. Finally I'd strike.
I should probably point out that I'm not a psychopathic monster. Games can, to the outsider, be horrifying. My repeated MGS2 playthroughs probably looked like sadistic torture sessions—another young mind corrupted by violence and giant seafaring transport vehicles. That's not the case—if anything, the experience felt more like I was directing a movie. None of it was real, so what story can I tell? How about a story where the monster wins.
In Hitman: Blood Money, the monster is even more insidious. He hides in plain sight.
In Hitman: Blood Money, the monster is even more insidious. He hides in plain sight. Here, 47 is essentially the Thing—another film based on horror in a remote environment. In the Death on the Mississippi level you discover members of different social strata scattered throughout compartments of the ship including workers, revelers, and, of course, your intended victims. With care, you can move through them all, a powerful subversive presence that, if you're playing as intended, passes unseen. I always play stealth games as perfectly as possible, often reloading if the fantasy of hunting through these spaces is broken.
The ultimate example is Coloratura, the winner of last year's Interactive Fiction competition. In it, you're a literal monster—pulled from the deep and tasked with finding your way home. The monster's actions are initially obfuscated by its alien thought patterns, but eventually, as you work out what you're doing, you'll realise the effect that you're having on the ship's human inhabitants. And then you'll keep doing it anyway.
To an extent you can pull this off in any remote setting. But there's something about the sea that makes the concept so irresistible. In every direction is a vast and inhospitable ocean, and I'm the most deadly thing on it.
The Steam Summer Sale is off to a good start this week. After good deals on The Wolf Among Us, Tomb Raider, and Skyrim over the weekend, a few more of our favorite PC games go on sale today.
Don t forget to check out GOG s summer deals, too.
Reminder: if a game isn't a daily deal or a flash sale, it could pop up later in the sale for an even lower price. If you want to be safe, wait until June 30 to pick up a sale-long deal.
5 - Surgeon Simulator 2013
75% off: $2.49 / 1.74 - Steam store page
To enjoy Surgeon Simulator, you have to like that the impossibly finicky controls and unpredictable physics game-breaking flaws anywhere else are by design, and that you ll occasionally stab your patient in the eye with a scalpel when you meant to pick up a saw. The jokes that endear us to Surgeon Simulator that QWOP-like surgery is hard, that throwing a heart into an open chest cavity qualifies as a transplant are used up pretty quickly, but there is some joy to mastering all the operations, especially when taking turns and laughing at the failures of your friends.
4 - Risk of Rain
75% off: $2.49 / 1.74 Steam store page Flash sale: Buy it before 8 p.m. EST
Where most roguelikes are slow and methodical, Risk of Rain is fast and frenetic. A constantly ticking clock increases the game difficulty every few minutes, until dozens of weak enemies turn into massive piles of bosses. Risk of Rain is a tough game, but it also strikes a great balance between skill and luck there are 9 playable characters, each with unique attacks and special abilities, and there are dozens of power-ups to memorize. Hunting for that perfect combination for a successful run is what a good roguelike is all about. Bonus: Risk of Rain's devs recently updated their blog to announce that they're moving the game to a new engine, which will fix some of the game's technical issues.
3 - Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
75% off: $4.99 / 4.99 - Steam store page
Dark Souls often gets discounted to $5, but if you haven't picked it up already, you're missing out on one of the best action RPGs of the past five years. It's brutally difficult but rewards the determined with a deeply interconnected world to explore, precise combat to master, and so, so many secrets to find. Dark Souls almost never tells you where to go or what to do, which is so uncommon these days that it's initially daunting. Dig in, and you'll realize how refreshing it is to discover and defeat everything yourself. Just remember to install DSfix, the mod that fixes Dark Souls' terrible locked resolution and other issues.
2 - Arma 3
50% off: $29.99 / 17.99 - Steam store page
The sandboxy war simulator has never dropped below $35, so this is the cheapest Arma 3 has ever been. Bohemia has done some good work augmenting Arma 3 with the free Zeus DLC recently, and over 7,700 mods and custom mission content await in Steam Workshop. Make sure you re close to the recommended spec, but this is absolutely one of the highest-fidelity, open-ended, moddable, and malleable PC games you can own.
1 - Hitman Collection
80% off: $8.99 / 5.99 - Steam store page Flash sale: Buy it before 8 p.m. EST
Hitman: Absolution wasn't exactly our thing, but this collection includes the game that made us disappointed in IO Interactive's latest stab at the series: Blood Money. Blood Money, released in 2007, is where it all came together: the elaborate maps, complex AI, arsenal of deadly weapons, and the incredible varied ways all those pieces can come together. Take Tom Francis' word for it: "Hitman is a murder simulator, and that might be a terrible thing. I don t know. But if you re going to make one, make it as beautiful as Blood Money. Make it a dark and complex work of interactive art, a working model of the mathematics of lies. Six years later, people like me will still be too enthralled with playing it to care." Unfortunately this collection omits 2004's Hitman: Contracts (it's also on sale separately for $1.99 / 0.99) but it does include the first two games, which are a fun nostalgia trip that show how far the series has evolved.
Other great deals today
Remember that games not categorized as Daily Deals or Flash Sales may be reduced further later in the sale.
Castle Crashers (90% off) $1.49 / 0.99
Dungeon Defenders (75% off) $3.74 / 2.49
Saints Row 4 (75% off) $9.99 / 7.49
Rogue Legacy (75% off) $3.74 /
FTL: Advanced Edition (60% off) $3.99 / 2.79
Twice a month Wes guides you through the hacks, tricks, and mods you'll need to run a classic PC game on Windows 7/8. Each Pixel Boost guide comes with a free side of 4K screenshots from the LPC celebrating the graphics of PC gaming's past. This week: our favorite bald assassin's first outing in Hitman: Codename 47.
2012's Hitman: Absolution brought Agent 47 back into the assassination business, though not in the way we hoped. Gone were the sprawling levels that made up Blood Money's brilliantly intricate murder simulator. Six years before IO Interactive perfected the Hitman formula, though, it tapped into that first spark of brilliance with Hitman: Codename 47. The first Hitman introduced the series staples that its sequels would build on: disguises, hiding bodies, observing guard patterns. Codename 47 doesn't love modern Windows, but with a few simple setting changes (thanks OpenGL!) it runs like a champ, even at 4K.
Hitman: Codename 47 is available on GOG for $6 and on Steam for $7. If you want to own the entire catalog of Agent 47's assassination career, the Hitman Collection on Steam is $45. Later games in the series are more polished and more sophisticated, so consider grabbing them after our Hitman 1 history lesson.
Codename 47 shouldn't require any special patches or downloads to run on Windows 7 or Windows 8. Simply install the game, then try running it once to ensure it populates its .ini file. The game tries to run in Direct3D by default. Most likely, it's not going to work for you. Let's switch to OpenGL.
Run it in high resolution
Once Hitman: Codename 47 is installed, navigate to its installation directory and open up Setup.exe. This is a small launcher utility for changing a few game settings--resolution, renderer, and so on. We only need to make a couple changes. First, untick the fullscreen option. We want to run Hitman: Codename 47 in windowed mode, because it tends to crash on launch in fullscreen. We'll set the resolution in a moment, so you can actually run the game at your full monitor resolution, even with fullscreen disabled.
Also in the launcher, change the renderer from Direct3D to OpenGL. Then close the setup utility--we'll set the resolution in Hitman's .ini file. There's a great forum thread on GOG that lays out these tips, which allow the game to be run without messing around with Compatibility mode.
In Hitman's install directory, open up Hitman.ini in Notepad. It's a small file. You should see the following settings.
If you already used the setup utility, DrawDll renderopengl.dll should be the only DrawDll line that doesn't have // in front of it. // means the other renderer options are commented out.
The Window line indicates that the game will run in windowed mode.
Now, change the numbers beside Resolution to the resolution of your display.
f you're running the game on a multi-monitor setup, you may need to add another line to the .ini file to make sure the window appears in the right place. Simply add StartUpperPos 0,0 on a new line.
Save and close the file.
That's it! Time to play Hitman. If you have issues with the game running at unusual speed, check the forum thread linked above. It has a fix.
Unfortunately, there are no noteworthy mods for Hitman: Codename 47. If you find yourself itching for a fresh (or better) Hitman experience, play Blood Money.
Hitman: Codename 47 at 4320x2560 on the LPC
These screenshots were captured by running Hitman across three portrait-oriented monitors on the Large Pixel Collider. For more guides to running classic games on modern Windows and more classic game screenshots, check out Pixel Boost every other week.
The next Hitman game was cancelled. Then it was uncancelled. Now it's being talked about in an open letter on the Hitman website. "Dear Miley," it reads. No, wait, that was the other one. "Dear Hitman fans," it begins, before outlining, in some detail, what Io's next sharply dressed bald assassin simulator will entail.
If Hitman: Absolution converted you from a Hitman fan into a lapsed Hitman fan, there's good news: you can read the letter anyway. Also: I have a feeling the missive is meant for you most of all. I'll quote the highlights, but the highlights are talk of "open, non-linear level design" and "huge, checkpoint-free, sandbox levels". Those were some of things we moaned about it in our review. I don't see any mention of "non-excruciating nun-based trailers", however, so Io may still have a way to go yet.
Io say that "the game concentrates on the core Hitman fantasy of using a wide range of tools to take out a diverse group of targets across expansive, exotic locations around the world. We are building this game on the backbone of the Glacier 2 engine, using the best parts and what we have learnt through Hitman: Absolution and drawing inspiration from past titles like Contracts and Blood Money to fulfil the core Hitman fantasy. That means we re packing in an extreme level of detail on the largest levels we have ever built for a Hitman game. We ve adopted an open, non-linear level design approach to the game, ensuring the game will play out across huge, checkpoint-free, sandbox levels. Our aim is to create living, breathing and believable levels which will allow gamers to play around with the AI to create those unique moments every fan of the Hitman franchise loves."
Promising words. Io have also "removed 47 s magic pockets" and brought Contracts mode back - which is nice. As letters go, it's certainly a lot better than the Council Tax bills and pizza coupons I generally get in the post. Now, Hitman fans - what are you going to write in reply?
Thanks to Blue's News.
Square Enix has issued the following statement to clarify today's news about the cancelation of a Hitman game that was being developed at Square Enix Montreal:
"There's a bit of confusion around the Hitman projects currently in development at Square Enix-owned studios and so we wanted to take the time to clarify what each studio is working on to clear up some of this confusion. Io-Interactive is developing a new, AAA Hitman game that will be coming to PC and next-gen consoles and Square Enix Montreal is fully focused on mobile development of games some of which are related to the Hitman franchise," A Square Enix representative said. "We look forward to sharing more details about these titles later this year."
All is not well with agent 47, the eerily hairless protagonist of the Hitman series. The LinkedIn profile of senior game designer Richard Knight indicates that the next-gen installment in the series he was working on at Square Enix Montreal was recently canceled, Videogamer first discovered.
The LinkedIn profiles of other employees at Square Enix Montreal indicate that the game was a re-imagining, and that it would have featured some form of microtransactions.
In late 2012, we first reported that the next-gen Hitman game was being developed by the then newly formed Square Enix Montreal, and not the original Hitman developer, IO Interactive. Hitman: Absolution director Tore Blystad said the franchise would be handled similarly to how Activision handles the Call of Duty games.
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.
The plan was to let IO Interactive begin work on a new franchise while Square Enix Montreal took the lead on a new Hitman. But following a devastating fiscal year for Square Enix, IO halved its workforce and went back to Hitman, which, as far as we know, they re still developing now.
So it s not like we ll not get another Hitman game, it just might take a little longer until we do, and we won t be seeing the one Square Enix Montreal was working on.
We weren t the biggest fans of the most recent Absolution, but the Hitman series has had some amazing moments, especially in Hitman: Blood Money, which we ve recently reinstalled.
Dark clouds may have formed over Square Enix’s financial future months ago, but that doesn’t make the storm of layoffs at IO Interactive any less surprising or disheartening.
In a statement to Develop, Square Enix confirmed that almost half of IO Interactive's staff has been laid off. What makes this news particularly depressing is Hitman Absolution actually saw decent sales, but 3.6 million units sold (and that’s only physical copies) still wasn’t enough to hit Square Enix’s lofty expectations.
So what does this mean for IO? The studio has cut production on all non-Hitman projects while attempting to refocus on the next Hitman game.
"The studio will focus resolutely on the future vision for the Hitman franchise and is in pre-production on a new AAA Hitman project,” Studio Head Hannes Seifert said. “However, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel other studio projects and initiatives at IO and reduce the workforce in this studio, which will impact almost half of the employees currently at IO, as we make internal adjustments to face the challenges of today's market."
Hitman Absolution may not have scratched our homicidal itch, but we still wish everyone affected the best of luck.
Feb 10, 2013
This all started in Chiu Dai park, Hong Kong, twelve years ago. The first mission of the first Hitman game. You’re given a target, a pistol and a disassembled sniper rifle in a briefcase. And something is odd.
You’re just a guy, in a street. No one’s shooting at you. No one’s hunting for you. The challenge isn’t to survive, or to get to the exit, or to solve a puzzle. You can just explore, observe, and understand this space, then decide how to make one man dead.
For the rest of that game, and for two others, the Hitman series kept giving us glimpses of that perfect assassination sim. And it kept screwing it up. The first game had you sprinting through a jungle warzone to steal a sacred tribal statue. Silent Assassin made you trek across fields of snow in Japan. Contracts hounded you with SWAT teams. And last year’s Absolution missed the point more completely than ever: it’s a story driven sneak-’em-up primarily about reaching the door to the next cut scene.
But one time, in 2006, IO Interactive did make a near-perfect assassination sim. And it wasn’t just the best Hitman game, it’s one of the richest, most open-ended and enduringly satisfying games ever. Hitman: Blood Money is the darker twin of Deus Ex.
There’s a short, restrictive tutorial that isn’t very good. And there’s an ending so odd that many players don’t even realise it’s playable, and simply quit. But that’s it: every single one of the 12 main missions is a proper assassination in a space you can explore, with dozens of possible approaches.
A Hitman mission – a good one – is a clockwork dollhouse of interacting elements. Guards walk their patrols on one timer, a short one, and it’s easy to learn and predict them. Workers have more elaborate routines: the dustman comes to collect the trash, the courier delivers the diamonds, the janitor uses the bathroom. And the centrepieces, the targets, all move differently. One performs a whole opera rehearsal before retiring to his dressing room. One takes a long soak in a glass bottomed jacuzzi. One performs a pyrotechnics show.
You can weave between these moving parts to put the tiniest spanner in the works, and watch it all fall apart. Replace a prop pistol with a real one. Crack the glass jacuzzi with a silent shot. Rig a flamethrower to catch the performer mid-act. Each orchestrated accident is the solution to an elaborate puzzle, whose clues are everywhere if you look hard enough.
But minimal intervention is just one extremity of a huge possibility space, one that includes a world of other stylistic philosophies to kill by.
I’ve tried killing everyone with a kitchen knife. I’ve tried never changing out of my suit. I’ve tried using only an unconcealable shotgun. And I've tried the Silent Assassin code: no witnesses, no evidence, and no kills except your target.
My current favourite is similar, but stricter still: every target has to be shot with my custom sniper rifle. It’s a long range and silent weapon, but because it’s so big I have to unpack it from a briefcase and assemble it before each shot. On missions with three targets, that means unpacking and repacking the weapon three times, in line of sight of each target, without being spotted. It’s hard, which is why I’m doing it. But it’s possible, which is crazy.
Every time I think it can't be done, Blood Money’s mission design surprises me again. There’s no way to get an angle on Manuel Delgado while he’s out in the open, but it turns out there’s a row of barrels in his wine cellar that can hide my set-up and pack-away rituals. There’s no way to assemble my gun in a gang boss’s office before he turns around, but it turns out there’s a drainpipe across the street I can climb for a perfect angle on his balcony. And there’s no way to take my briefcase with me into a rehab clinic, but I can toss it over the wall, wait for the guards to confiscate it, then steal it back from their security office once I’m inside.
In fact, if you’ve ever wondered what’s so special about Blood Money’s level of simulation, throw a briefcase into it and watch what happens. You’ll find them on most missions – full of money, diamonds, DNA samples, or just hotel guests’ luggage – and they open up an extraordinary set of deceptive schemes.
Luggage is not suspicious when you’re carrying it, which means you can sneak bombs or guns into it to get past a full body search. But unattended luggage is odd, and will be picked up by the nearest guard. If there’s a bomb in it, you’ve just given yourself a way to remotely and instantly kill everyone in the security office at any time. If there’s a gun in it, as in my sniper rifle example, you can steal it back once you’re past security yourself.
But Blood Money lets you be trickier still. What if there’s nothing in the briefcase? It’s still an odd thing to find lying around, and a guard will still pick it up and take it away. But now the endgame is not what you’re interested in – it doesn't matter where the briefcase ends up, but it matters that one of the guards has to take it there. Particularly when there are only two patrolling the objective.
As one walks off with the briefcase, his partner can be silently strangled, his uniform taken, and his body hidden before anyone else even knows you’re there. And when the other guard gets to the security office, he sets down the empty case and turns to see a colleague he doesn’t recognise. The colleague’s gun has a silencer on it. And that’s the last line of code that passes through his digital brain.
Hitman is a murder simulator, and that might be a terrible thing. I don’t know. But if you’re going to make one, make it as beautiful as Blood Money. Make it a dark and complex work of interactive art, a working model of the mathematics of lies. Six years later, people like me will still be too enthralled with playing it to care.
This article originally appeared in issue 249 of PC Gamer UK.
Remember that 2007 Hitman movie that copped a lashing from critics, but people went out in droves to see anyway? (to the tune of $100 million?!) Well, Hollywood is preparing for another Hitman inning in the form of Agent 47 - a new film set in the Hitman universe. Fox International Productions is behind the reboot, and Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker is confirmed to play the lead role in Timothy Olyphant's place.
According to a report on Deadline, the film will be directed by Aleksander Bach, and written by Michael Finch and Skip Woods. You may remember Woods' name from the last Hitman filmic effort, as he also wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film. Filming will commence in Berlin and Singapore this Summer (Winter in the Southern Hemisphere).
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.
Nov 18, 2012
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.