Game: Hitman: Absolution
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher/Developer: IO Interactive/Square Enix
Genre: Stealth action-adventure
Describe This Game in Three Words: Dark as hell
Plot Synopsis: Hitman Agent 47 is sent on assignment to track down his former handler, who has gone rogue. When he catches up with her, he is suddenly charged with protecting a mysterious young girl who was being experimented on. Now he is in a race for answers against his own employers in an ever deepening plot.
Up Up: This is my first foray into the Hitman series because I am pathologically averse to being the bad guy in a video game (God of War doesn't count, as anyone who has ever read the Greek myths knows it is actually impossible to be the bad guy when Greek gods are involved). 47's quest for redemption as he tries to protect a young girl seemed like a good time to become acquainted. It has all the earmarks of a good Sin City Marv story, and that's a fine thing to be compared to.
47 is an amazing character to control, ranked second only behind Batman in the Arkham games as far as fluidity and realistic movement are concerned. You scan through areas trying your best to remain undetected while carrying out your usually lethal mission. Just blasting your way through the game won't cut it. Instead, every level is going to require an amazing amount of thought and innovation.
The best kills look like accidents, which means that you're going to have to use Portal-level thinking to find the most logical and brilliant way to take down your targets. The game is actually murderously addictive in this, as the slightest mistake makes you feel like an inept jackass, even if it doesn't actually cost you the mission. Playing as 47 makes you feel like you have to live up to a legendary reputation, while making doing so as hard as it would likely be in real life.
That's to say nothing of the incredible storytelling that is going on in the game. It's been a long time since I felt the need to, you know, actually finish the levels as fast as possible in order to see what happens next. The game has the same brutal pacing of a Sam Peckinpah film, and it makes me wonder why IO didn't just make their own CGI film adaptation instead of letting Xavier Gens completely muck it up.
Down, Down: It's not necessarily a bad thing, but the game is very, very difficult even on the easy setting. The thing you will quickly have to master is patience because it is absolutely the most defining skill. Without patience you will kill early, miss checkpoints, get into firefights, and just in general fail to be all you can be. Patience is not generally a gamer's strongpoint, and overcoming that limitation it is a damn hard lesson to learn. Especially at times when it seems really counterintuitive.
After all, when a gang breaks into the orphanage run by kindly old nuns willing to hide your charge and start massacring everyone, isn't the proper gamer response to just start mowing down these assholes with a submachine gun in each hand? Isn't that what a badass of 47's caliber ought to do? Whether yes or no, the game sends you on a fetch quest for fuses... all while listening to torture and murder.
Which brings me to a final complaint. Have we started going too far in video games? I mean, I know it's a game about contract killers and all, but meandering in and out of the crowds in missions lets you eavesdrop on the most appalling conversations about sadism, racism, and violent sexuality. In addition to making you take on a character who is clearly mentally retarded, and not in the classic video game hulking brutal maniac way. He's just a kid they call Limp-Dick Lenny. I'm starting to wonder if games have jumped the shark on gritty and are landing in a big old pit of puerile.
Left, Right, Left, Right: 47 is capable of just about any action you can imagine, and once you acclimate to the many different things you can do moving him becomes a cinch. The aiming of guns in particular is very, very forgiving, and you're not likely to miss your mark as long as you take it easy.
There is one very annoying trait, though, and that is the fact that picking up weapons and picking up key items uses the same button. Getting the game to recognize that you want to grab the keycard and not the gun on the ground can be extremely frustrating, especially as it seems that the game always leaves a weapon next to the item you're looking for. While you sweat in hiding trying to get 47 to grab anything that is not a gun, enemies still hunt you and that is very stressful for no damned reason.
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B, A: Remember what I said about being pathologically averse to being the bad guy? I'd like to share with you my favorite quote from Gross Pointe Blank, which is about John Cusack being a hitman who decides to go to his ten-year high school reunion.
"Some of these guys need some kind of ethical philosophy to justify it, some guys like 'live free or die,' but that's all bullshit, I know that now, that's all bullshit. You do it because you were trained to do it, because you were encouraged to do it, and because, eventually, you, you know... get to like it."
Hitman is... corrupting. It's like spending too much time looking at Dolan Duck comics. At some point you really get kind of hooked on contract killing.
Start?: Hitman: Absolution is yet another game that has redefined the line between video games and art, especially crime cinema. Every inch of it is absolutely beautiful and kind of mind-boggling to believe you can control. It's also an exercise in pure, logical thought that will crush the casual gamer but elevate the veteran looking for a challenge. That being said...In the end it is putting you behind the eyes of a dangerous killer doing dangerous killing. That's not a comfortable ride, nor should it be. I'll say the same thing about it I said after I saw Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream: I'm very glad I had the experience...but if I never did it again, that would be just fine.