This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Hitman: Absolution.
Hitman is a series of games about the world’s greatest assassin, which sounds like a lofty title but it’s probably quite easy to become the world’s greatest assassin when you’re trapped in a mysterious parallel universe where everyone on the planet was nursed on lead baby bottles and fails to recognize someone wearing different clothes except when they’re in the middle of murdering someone. Fancy dress parties must be a fucking nightmare in this world. "GOD DAMNIT, none of my friends have shown up and my home has been invaded by various professionals in standard work wear, modified to be sexually enticing for some reason. Oh no wait, that must be Frank over there, garroting that nurse."
Mind you, in his latest outing, Agent 47 isn’t taking home any cleverness prizes either after he decides the best way to stop people noticing the obvious bar code on the back of his head is to put a Band-Aid over it, not big enough to cover it, but big enough to be obvious. Or maybe he’s hoping people will look at him and just see a giant fucking Band-Aid that walks like a man.
Agent 47, the man named after the total number of functioning follicles on his person, covers up his bar code because he’s on the run from his own agency, and it’s not like they’ve circulated a description of his trademark suit or scary face. No, it’s all those bounty hunters wielding supermarket checkout scanners you have to worry about. He goes on the run after he's sent after a former colleague who went rogue but changes his mind the moment after he shoots her; oh damn the inconvenient timing of the human heart. He becomes the guardian of a teenage MacGuffin in a skirt because she was vat-grown to be the perfect killer just like he was, and that just tugs at the little garrote wires he has instead of heart strings, and risks both their lives trying to keep her away from various entities vying to exploit her, and there are little steamy whiffs of bullshit coming off all this. I feel that the whole change of heart thing could have been staggered out a bit better. If I had to murder someone, I wouldn’t stay my hand if I found out he was afraid of theme park mascots just because “Holy shit, I used to be afraid of theme park mascots”, and I’m not even a professional assassin, although I have killed a lot of theme park mascots.
Hitman as a series has always perched coquettishly on the fence between grim and goofy. You create orphans like your cottage cheese fetish creates dry cleaning expenses, but you have the option of doing it while dressed as Big Bird, that sort of thing. But Absolution got knocked off balance by a clumsy magpie and proudly wears that ever-so-hilarious Grindhouse style people seem to like these days where all the villains are fucking cartoon characters. Hence the kung-fu super nuns made famous in the very dumb trailer for this game, who show up for all of one mission and don’t affect the plot in the slightest, so apparently the very dumb trailer was the highlight of their involvement. They don’t even do much for all the buildup. They blow up one building and then say “Alright! Lets spread out and stand around strategically turning our backs on faintly suspicious people. And it’s quite a warm night, so we’d better take off our anti-garrote scarves.” Apparently before 47, the agency’s method of creating super assassins was to put a few random secretaries in fetish outfits and give them one rocket launcher to share. I wonder if any of them excitedly rang their parents to tell them about their new promotion. I wonder if Thanksgiving was awkward that year.
If you're unfamiliar with standard Hitman gameplay, they're basically adventure games for the impatient. Missions take place in open ended environments, and you can either engineer an accidental-seeming death with obscure inventory puzzles, or you can just stove their head in with a brick, 'cause you’ve got shit to do, in which case long time murder fans may be disappointed by the prevalence of shorter, linear maps in the name of storytelling focus, and I think of Hitman games like I think of Colombo; they suffer when they try to be about the character rather than his work. ‘Cause 47 may garrote with the best of him, but he wouldn’t be stimulating conversation if you were sat next to him at a dinner party.
At times, Absolution is even a bit aggressive in trying to turn things into a shootout, such as when it leaves a sniper rifle next to a prime vantage point as one would leave a bottle of Sailor Jerry in a recovering alcoholic’s bathroom cabinet. I’d say there are only a handful of missions that truly brush up against Blood Money levels of quality with a great big living environment full of murder possibilities. But a handful is better than one, and one is better than none, and none is better than a fish skeleton down the cock hole. So I guess what I’m saying is that Absolution is several degrees better than a fish skeleton down the cock hole.
What I dislike about Hitman is that missions tend to have to be replayed over and over again before you can pull them off half-decently, and 47’s many things, but you can’t make him pre-cognizant as well; that’s just not being fair on everyone else. Absolution tackles that with an Instincts mechanic that makes important things glow yellow like the Sniper from TF 2 has just run through the area desperately searching for his incontinence medicine. But it’s still advisable to waste a life or two running about the level, hooting and slapping your bum, leaving a trail of extremely perplexed guards until you’ve figured out where everything is. And the day covert ops academy teaches that particular technique is the day nerve gas from the armoury accidentally seeps into the air conditioning.
And what I could do without Absolution is the score tracker in the top left constantly being deducted when I’m not being absolutely perfect. “Whoops! You had to knock someone out. One hundred points from Gryffindor!” Fuck off Hitman Absolution! You can’t expect perfection on the first fucking attempt. Maybe save the score tracker for the replay, which would at least imply that I’m the kind of lonely jizzhandle who gives two fucks about maximum score. At the end of all that, Hitman Absolution is neither the worst nor the best Hitman. It captures the good now and again, but in the crowded elevator of execution it gets awkwardly caught between the fat greasy redneck buttocks of story focus and the bulging Lucha-Libre wrestler’s nipples of being geared for challenge.
The user-created Contracts mode is an interesting way to smooch our faces nipplewards. You go through one of the existing single player levels, or more practically one of the handful of actually good ones, mark whatever target you like, kill them in an awesome way, then challenge your friends to do it as awesomely as you did. Sound design but kinda limited, especially with the smaller maps. I’m not asking for a full-on level designer, but it would be nice to customize what NPCs there are and how they act in some intuitive way. Like say for example, if I wanted to populate the entire map with people in theme park mascot costumes with a tendency to congregate under large outlets that occasionally disgorge grand pianos. Oh don’t you start telling me I have a problem, I get enough of that from the voices thank-you-very-much!
Took 47 tries to get it right: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw
I wonder if those kung fu super nuns teach domestic science at the girls school during off hours
Ironically garotting doesn’t even involve any physical hitting