The lights are on
As a point of reference, I've owned every Hitman installment since "Silent Assassin" on the original Xbox. I consider myself a stalwart fan of the series, and have grown to love its unique blend of social stealth and sandbox level design. The style of previous Hitman titles is unmistakable, and little details like the butchered girl and underwear-clad Sturrock swooning to Pauk Anka in 'The Meat King's Party', or the glass hot tub in 'You Better Watch Out...', continue to leave an indelible mark on my consciousness as a gamer.
Enter "Absolution", the long awaited continuance of Agent 47's legacy. In the latest Hitman, 47 is a much more lethal assassin in terms of controllability and agility with which he traverses the environment. His moves are far more fluid, and the gunplay is finely tuned unlike in previous efforts. Graphically, IO Interactive takes another big step forward with prettier environments and character models than what was par for the series. As far as presentation is concerned, Hitman has made it as a bona fide AAA title.
While there's no doubt that "Absolution" has freshened up on the graphical side of things, unfortunately, IO has not been so successful in translating these improvements to the tried and true formula that has garnered the Hitman series a cult following.
The first, and potentially most impactful loss for the future of the series, is the absence of composer Jesper Kyd. Kyd's soundtracks were so unmistakably his, a brilliant amalgamation of classical and punk, and so important to the thematic atmosphere of the series. Now that defining musical element is lost, and I think it'd be simply tragic were he never to compose another score for a Hitman game.
Another fatal flaw in "Absolution" is in level design. Instead of offering open sandbox type stages where assassination targets are placed in the middle of a system of guards and obstacles, and several possible paths are available to the player, "Absolution" favors a checkpoint system with smaller zones and a far more linear path towards most objectives. These smaller segmented zones counteract the feeling of freedom you had in previous games by basically cutting a whole mission into slices that can only be consumed one at a time.
The maps induce feelings of claustrophobia at times, and the focus has seemingly shifted into a game where 47 is a mouse trying to navigate a maze to get the cheese. The gameplay feels more like a poor man's Splinter Cell as 47 moves from cover to cover avoiding preset guard paths. The ability to assume identities has been effectively nerfed, so now it's about timing guard movements and hiding from patrols in any of the vast amount of dumpsters or closets littered awkwardly throughout the map. IO has chosen to limit the social stealth element and replace it with a one dimensional stealth cover system which is an absolute shame.
Additionally, I can't forget to mention just how gag-reflex-inducingly-bad the dialogue in this game is. It seems they've found a film school flunkie to write the ambient character conversations (several instances of NPCs around 47 referring to movie scripts they've written or are in the process of doing so, which can only be self-referential), and the dialogue is so contrived and so amateurishly chases comedic relief that it degrades the overall mood of the game completely. The serious tone and dark humor of the series is lost on "Absolution", and this coupled with Jesper Kyd's absence has thrown a wet blanket over the adult themes that should be expressed in a Hitman game.
IO Interactive can count success at having made Hitman look like a AAA title. They've also stumbled onto something that promises to bring the series so much more wealth in content with Contracts Mode. (A simplified system of user created contracts that allows you to change the assassination targets or alter parameters of any mission in the game.)
However, in the end "Absolution" feels more like a stealth/action clone (pun intended) than the slower paced open-world experience of its predecessors. It's a departure from a formula that Hitman purists almost certainly will not accept with open hearts, and although I personally enjoy the game, I feel as though I've been cheated in some fashion out of what the series really means to me. It's as though a beloved indie title has been usurped and homogenized for mainstream appeal. I only hope that "Absolution" was a victim of the awkward phase of transition to the next-gen, and that we may revel in all of 47's villainous glory once more when the new systems are released.
I just purchased Absolution a few days ago and needed an outlet for my grief. Your review was more than spot on. I didn't realize that the composer was different. However, now that I think of it that was another element that didn't draw me deeper into the game. The score of Hitman 2 and so on sucked me into the environment and the ambiance of the game. Which this one was lacking. Now let me discuss the story line. The series focused on the contracts and the contract's direct story line. Then after that it delved into 47's story. It created an atmosphere for the player to be brought into. Absolution....It just made it about 47 and his vendetta. It didn't create depth of the character or the characters surrounding 47 at all. Now the gameplay. I was saddened by the linear quality of the game. So many times I felt the issue of 'go from point A to point B in a straight line'. That's not hitman, that didn't allow me to consume the details of the environment nor its details of every knock and cranny. That's what their old sadbox was about. You would hear a vague argument about something being unlocked or flammable equipment being left out...not in this one. It left very little options of the assassin the player wanted to be. Those were just some of my grievances. I've also became a hitman fan over time. If you'd like to discuss I've always got time for a franchise I've enjoyed.