Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hitman: Absolution and Why Stealth Never Works

     As much as I wish I was, I am not a stealth gamer. I have always been intrigued by the possibilities of wading through a dense crowd of people in a lively marketplace, quietly eliminating a target and slipping back into the crowd and towards the exit before anyone knows the guy is dead.

When I played through Hitman: Absolution, I started off every mission with every intention of ghosting through an area, completing a mission and ghosting back out, but I was often discovered, ran out of instinct or just didn't have the patience to be careful enough to preserve stealth.

More often than not, I ended up leaving a pile of bodies in the most secluded area each level had to offer, then briskly moving to the exit before a third, fourth or fifth patrol made their way to my location.

I recall completing one mission, very early on, exactly the way I wanted. It involved navigating a market square, killing a target and leaving.

Looking back, I didn't take the time to explore the area enough to get a good enough grasp on all of the possibilities, but I was in love with the option I chose and was hell bent on seeing it through to the end.

There was a building overlooking the square where some two-bit drug dealer is, and he gets a phone call that draws him out of the room, where you can knock him out, take his clothes and then go in the room, after storing his unconscious body somewhere out of sight of course.

It is almost too perfect a setting to be true, but it was an early mission, so I get it.

The room offered a clear view of the entire square, and featured a readily available silenced sniper rifle, as well as a small window to conceal yourself from the crowd below.

It was just so easy to knock out the thug, slip in, take the gun, find the target and whisper a shot into his brain from across the way, then slip out of the building, walk the length of square and out the exit, splitting the police who had gathered near the exit.

Another fairly satisfying mission involved navigating a crowded fight venue, loud noises, dark environment and all the focus is on the cage holding the fighters, one of which is the oversized bodyguard for the main antagonist.

It is pretty easy to find a disguise, access the back areas, get up to the catwalk overlooking the cage and drop the light bank hanging overhead onto the showboating fighter. With everyone distracted, getting out is no problem.

My thinking is that it should be clean or be clean and look like an accident. That's the satisfaction I was looking for in the rest of the game.

Such a perfect execution is everything I had hoped for in the game. It would seem that I love only some part of being a hitman, because this game was quite frustrating, particularly later on, when the stealth aspect wasn't quite so cut and dry.

I love the simple get in, do the job, get out type of missions, but those were scarce in Absolution.

There is something to be said about the patience necessary to complete missions and navigate areas, but it isn't always clear what you should do, what you can do, and who you should be focusing your efforts on.

One mission later in the game features multiple targets, gang members, and too many options.

My goal was to eliminate the targets and make it to the exit with as little collateral damage and chaos as possible, but I ended up having to KO a bystander just so she wouldn't run screaming from the building to raise an alarm.

It isn't a critique of the complexity of the actions necessary to ghost through a single level, let along the entire game, but my apparent lack of patience and capacity to sit, wait and observe the area to find the most efficient way to kill people.

Chalk that up to the self-contained areas the game favors instead of the larger, more sandbox type worlds of previous entries. It challenges the player to be more careful in the more confined spaces, but removes the aspect of creativity and limits the personal stamp a player can put on a kill.

I'll say it is a pretty game, specifically the environments, though the facial animations aren't top notch.

My critique comes in when you take the gameplay and find it at odds with the story.

The game plays out like a search and rescue story with heaping spoonfuls of revenge throughout. Even the calm, cool, collected Agent 47 doesn't seem suited to the task.

Though stealth is the ultimate challenge, some of the areas seem built for running and gunning, or at least tactical assaults.

The story itself is engaging enough. Agent 47 must rescue a young girl who has been bred to be an assassin much like he himself was. He's been betrayed by his former employer, so not only is there the threat of whatever party is interested in the girl, but the people that created her in the first place.

It is sort of the same thing that has happened to John McClane in the Die Hard series.

He starts out as a normal, guy, a cop with problems just like everyone else. He's cynical, sarcastic, and not exactly a people person when it come down to it. Most importantly, he's not some over-the-top hero.

He's a cop who finds himself in some uncommon situations and does distinctly human things to uncover the plot, save the day, etc.

You get a bit of it in Die Hard With a Vengeance, but particularly in the last two entries, he has morphed into an almost absurd caricature of an action hero. The first three movies featured some crazy things, blowing up a jet, surviving a massive explosion, leaping from a bridge to a freighter below and somehow not breaking any bones.

Die Hard 4 saw McClane drive a car into a helicopter as well as leaping onto a fighter jet in mid flight.

John McClane should not be doing these things the same way Agent 47, and the Hitman gameplay, should not favor so much open gunplay and cramped, linear environments, many of which are devoid of ACTUAL assassinations.

When I think of being a hitman, I think of an anonymous collective dishing out assignments across the globe. Eliminate this dictator, silence that senator, quell the uprising in country X. No names exchanged, no relationships.

Take a contract, complete it and get paid.

I do NOT want to control a hitman who has lost his taste for blood, or at least blood he's handsomely paid to spill. I don't want a disillusioned contract killer as my primary protagonist.

Even if you're willing to overlook the average gameplay and so-so story, you can't help but be disappointed in the payoff.

You're out to rescue a scientifically engineered weapon of a girl, and only once do we see all of the hype put on display. To be fair, she positively wrecks a large squad of guards in impressive fashion, but I wanted more.

How can you justify spending an entire game where the primary issue is this girl, what she is capable of, and what she could do in the wrong hands, only to have her show it all of once in a brief cutscene, and just move on to the next chapter of the story?

I had played Hitman 2: Silent Assassin before, and I still have Blood Money to play through, so I know what I expected going into this game.

Absolution is a solid game, but doesn't do anything to show the series is back in force after a six-year hiatus between titles, or show any substantial innovation in the principal mechanics of the series.

I beat it, but I didn't feel completely fulfilled with my experience. Moving on...

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