So here we go, it’s time I finally got this controversial topic out of the way. Many of you are already, right now, while you’re just reading the second sentence, preparing your arguments about why I’m wrong, and how Absolution is the worst game in the series. You’re already set in your ways, you’ve already made a value judgement, and you know that there’s nothing I can do to change your mind. Well, firstly, know this: people change their mind all the time, it’s literally what advertising, reviews, and retrospection are for, so that’s a stupid thing to be thinking. Secondly, I’m not so much going to try to change your minds about Absolution here, but rather, I’m gonna call into question the main reason that the majority of Absolution haters point to as to why they hate it.
Now, there are many other reasons why people don’t like Absolution and will probably continue to do so forever; some didn’t like the gameplay, especially the emphasis on guns and levels that didn’t involve any required assassinations; some didn’t like the story, thinking it was too wild and scifi-ish; some didn’t like the characters, finding too many of them to be too violent and over-the-top. But, the main reason why most of you claim to hate Absolution is primarily some variation of the following:
"It was too linear, and did not provide the sandbox, open-world feel that the Hitman series is known for!"
And this is where I have… trouble. I have trouble reconciling all three aspects of that claim; that it was “too linear” (what does this mean?), that it did not provide a “sandbox, open-world feel” (what does this mean), and that such an experience is what “the Hitman series is known for” (is it really?). I look at Absolution, and then I look at the rest of the series, before HITMAN and HITMAN 2, mind you, and it raises some questions. It not only raises questions, it calls into question the logic surrounding the claim. To begin, let’s take a look at the first three games of the series.
In Codename: 47, every target is located in one particular place, with severely limited options for killing them. While you can more or less wander around the levels where they are found in, this is not particularly helpful, as it rarely yields any material that you could not simply purchase before starting the level that will aid you in completing the contract and leaving. In addition, there are often side missions that have very few means of being approached for completion. On top of all of that, with the exception of the Fuchs brothers level, all of the others have several stages that you must get through first, with one particular destination in mind.
This is hardly an example of a sandbox game with non-linear levels. And while the open-world aspect might be there in some respect, it’s nothing remarkable, and does not really help the game’s case. As an example of what the series is “known for,” I think HC:47 can be set aside, with any reasonable person agreeing that Absolution is superior in virtually every way.
So now let’s look at the original sequel, Silent Assassin. Here’s where we start to see a more familiar form of the series to longtime players. This one here provides a few different exit options in some places, as well as greater emphasis on only killing the targets, and opening the door for leaving people alive when taking their costumes. However, we are still seeing a very limited style of play. While targets can be killed with almost any weapon, and more opportunities are given to do so without witnesses, these are few and far between, with almost no opportunity to do so in some levels, beyond the exact place where the targets always stay. Targets are always found in very specific places and rarely move around, or not very far when they do. The player must navigate to specific points, where the options for assassination are limited to simply shooting/strangling/stabbing a target when no one is around and hoping the body isn’t found. Although the tools used for this have variety, it’s still pretty much just killing someone in a traditional fashion and making a run for it. Still just a lot of starting at point A, making it to point B, then exiting at point C or back at point A. While there are some opportunities for sniping, poisoning and using explosives, these are in very specific levels, and there are even a few levels where there are no actual targets as the player makes their way from one location to another only, in order to progress. The first Russian level, the first Hayamoto level, and the levels with the twins comes to mind. Not exactly open-world or sandbox, but certainly a pretty linear experience.
Following these two very good but still over-romanticized games, we come to Contracts. Here’s where things start to really heat up and get interesting. We begin to get a better glimpse into what a sandbox game could be for this series, and a more open-world experience, for sure. However, again, this is severely limited. Most targets remain confined to particular areas, if not necessarily specific spots where they don’t move from at all, although there are several of those as well. Granted, much of this comes from the fact that three fourths of this game are rehash of HC:47, with a little bit of polish work thrown in. But for the original content… yeah, the only real challenge in most of them, as per usual up to this point, is getting into the specific locations where the targets are found, and while a few roam from room to room, it’s still not much different from the previous two as far as finding what you are looking for. Now, the means of taking out targets has certainly improved. Location-based options for accidents or unique kills can be found in nearly every level, and the means to smuggle weapons in through briefcases or other means, such as hiding a gun inside a roasted chicken, add a variety that was lacking before. It’s a step up, but surely not what gamers are referring to when looking back at the series and making the claim that Absolution did not do what the series was known for.
Now, in the interest of logic (something most critics of Absolution are very uncomfortable with), we’re gonna skip around a small bit here, and move directly to Absolution itself. Here is a game that has given so much to the Hitman formula that the success of the most recent two games owes half of itself to this one. In terms of gameplay alone, the expansion is stunning. The ability to crouch and jump over walls or hang from ledges, whereas before climbing a pipe or jumping across a gap was the most we could do for such movement. Being able to pick up almost any object and throw it as a distraction, and in the case of sharp objects as a lethal weapon. The gun combat was astounding and the newest games truly lost out on something great by removing point shooting, even when playing the traditional Silent Assassin route. And let us not forget being able to strangle a person, both fatally and non-fatally, with an arm thrown around their neck. Even the simple act of breaking a neck on an unconscious person was a great addition that still gets mileage.
But, the gameplay is rarely the problem for those who scoff at Absolution. No, let’s take a look at the main claim to its lack of fame. First point, that it is too linear. But is it? What is “too” linear? There is a specific entrance and once an objective is reached, you must exit in a particular spot? How is this different than many or even most of the levels in the previous games? How about there being levels where you are not required to kill anyone at all? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe the first two games had just such levels. Or, what about how you had several points in each level where, once you passed through them, you could not go back? Ok, I’ll give you that one. That is certainly something that had not been done before or since. But, was it really an issue? Did you need to go back through those areas? Did you want to? If you had forgotten to collect something or unlock some achievement, well, you could always just restart, or select that portion in the level select menu. How is that any different than reloading with the current games and picking up where you left off? The main areas you want to be in is where the targets are, right? Now, in the case of the missions where you deal with a major character of the story, such as Diana, Wade, Skurky, Dexter and Travis, it is true that you have pretty much just one place to go in order to kill them, and your options of how are limited, true. However, in the case of Wade and Dexter at least, you have options on how you can kill them, rather than them being cinematic events. It’s really no different than most targets in H2: SA in those two cases.
Now, let’s look at the sandbox, open-world claim. Once you enter an area in this game, as with any other Hitman game, you can go anywhere you want within that area providing you have the correct disguise and stay far away from people who can spot you through them. You can pick up almost any weapon you want, and can discover new and different pathways to your targets in many areas, such as the streets of Hope, and the Terminus Hotel. So the sandbox aspect is well and truly covered.
But what about open-world? Well, it’s certainly not to the degree of the latest games, but you definitely have room to move around. You can tackle your assassinations from various different angles, and are able to set up accidents or other chains of events to get to your targets. Most of the targets themselves roam around the map in their assigned areas, many of them doing so with far greater reach than targets in previous games, giving more opportunities to kill them in more places and in more ways than in the games previously mentioned. Certainly, the King of China Town, the Streets of Hope, and Blackwater Park provided a much more open-world environment for assassination and setup than any level in the first three games. Sure, the Rotterdam port area, especially in the first game, may have had a greater area, but there was less to discover, less to use. This game still had more to give as a sandbox experience and an open-world experience, even if some of the levels had smaller overall boundaries. Absolution is objectively superior to the first three games of the series in every way when considering all aspects of what sandbox and open-world gameplay mean. And it’s linear style of play is pretty much on par with the first three games, also when taking all aspects of how that affects the gaming experience into account. Some levels it’s more restrictive, in others it’s less, in others still it’s about the same. So it is certainly not any worse than what has already been mentioned.
So then, what are the naysayers referring to when they say that Absolution’s greater focus on linear gameplay and the amount of sandbox, open-world gameplay it has does not live up to expectations? If it’s “what the Hitman series is known for,” but I just showed how that’s not the case, what are they talking about? Exactly what are they comparing it to?
Well, it’s now time to talk about the one we haven’t talked about, the real reason why people who dislike Absolution justify it by using this bogus excuse of it not matching up with the rest of the series. Because, you see, they are not really comparing Absolution to the rest of the series, not really. No, no, they are, without realizing it mind you, comparing it only to the game that came before it: Blood Money.
This is where the argument comes from, and this is why it is wrong. Before the most recent two games came out, there is no question that Blood Money was the absolute best in the series. No question at all. I’ll defend Absolution into the grave, but even I will never say that it was better than Blood Money. If I’m in a really good mood, I might say that I like both games equally, but that’s as far as I’d go. Blood Money had it all, almost. Other than being able to pick up almost any object and strangle people with your arm, it had almost everything else covered. Massive amounts of discovery (for the time, Absolution exceeded it in quantity but it was a later generation, so that’s a given), numerous opportunities for accidents to be set up, sniping opportunities, greater range with poisonings, better options to sneak in weapons, targets who wandered across greater expanses of the maps (in most cases), and an increased number of targets in cases where they didn’t. Huge levels where, even when the targets didn’t move much, you could come at them from almost any direction and in many different ways, with the level almost revolving around them at the center. This is the game that established what is now thought of as the “Hitman formula” among the fandom.
Unfortunately, it did this so well, so seamlessly, and maintained dominance over the series for seven years, that when Absolution came along and ended up different than how they remembered Blood Money, the fandom had a collective shit fit and declared it different from the series as a whole. But, as I’ve already pointed out, it’s not. Absolution was very different from Blood Money in terms of sandbox and open-world gaming and non-linear style of play, but that was not because it was different from the series. Blood Money is the game that was different from the rest of the series, until the most recent games came out. It was Blood Money, not Absolution, that broke from the tradition of the rest of the series and introduced the level of freedom that players retroactively associated with the entire franchise. When Absolution came out and did not match up with Blood Money’s freedom, people unknowingly used their experiences with Blood Money as their memory of their experience with the series as a whole. And even then, Absolution still gave players that same kind of freedom, with kill zones revolving around the target at the center with room to maneuver, as the King of China Town and Blackwater Park alone can demonstrate. But because that wasn’t almost every level like Blood Money, it wasn’t good enough. It is this game and this game only, that people compared Absolution to when it came out, without even being aware that they were doing it.
Now, the latest games are basically the mechanics of Absolution with the sheer freedom and scope of Blood Money, and that’s why they are so successful. The formula Blood Money established is what is now used as the template for how Hitman games are played, but it was not the norm at the time of BM’s release. BM was the new way of making a Hitman game, while Absolution was one final journey through how a Hitman game used to be played, but with far greater polish; it was in between what the first three games had and what BM had. And now, the two latest games along with BM are the norm of the series for a total of three games, whereas the very aspects that people despise Absolution for are found all over the first three games. This puts Absolution smack in the middle, superior to one half of the rest of the series, inferior to the other half, and taking the middle, average spot.
So if you hate Absolution, fine, but please, be certain why you hate it. If you don’t like the story, the gunplay, the characters, fine. To each their own. But, if you hate Absolution because you think it’s “not what a Hitman game is,” that it did not live up to “what the Hitman series is known for,” I ask you to think very carefully. Because in reality, it’s not that different from literally 75% of the series that came before it, not when you get right down to it. What you are thinking of is that one awesome game that came before it and Absolution did not take what that one established and expand on it, which is what you were hoping for. It expanded on what the first three did, but not the one you wanted, and that’s not the same as being different from what the series itself is supposed to be like. If you think Absolution is not Hitman, just please make sure, for just a moment, that the issue is not really that Absolution is not enough like Blood Money.
You may now present your evidence that you did not pay proper attention to anything you just read and provide your angry, subjective responses on how I’m wrong and Absolution sucks.