[Opinion] Hitman: Absolution – Too Much Porn, Not Enough Gore

[Opinion] Hitman: Absolution – Too Much Porn, Not Enough Gore

Hitman: Absolution is a textbook example of a game that simply doesn’t take itself seriously enough, and this disservice means that it very tangibly suffers as a result. Of course, Hitman games are known for their interspersing of lightheartedness, absurdity and humor throughout, and these are certainly useful devices to dissipate any overbearing tension, but when they are not used sparingly they severely damage the game’s ability to create any enduring dramatic gravitas. With this latest offering from the franchise, IO Interactive looks to tell a more fleshed out and fully realized story, one that hopes to evoke an emotional response and one that even occasionally belies its frankly optimistic aspirations of genuinely compelling narrative. So, with the game desperately trying to tell a real story whilst also remaining steadfastly unwilling to relinquish its overabundant interjections of humorous moments, the end result is an exercise in being too sheepish to commit fully to one direction, and paying the price by having both areas feel equally underdeveloped and ineffective in their purpose.

The greatest heartbreak in this creative tragedy is that should the developers have endeavored to showcase Hitman: Absolution’s plethora of grim and risque content matter in the soberly dramatic manner which is necessary to really do it justice, it could have made for a truly remarkable experience. The game genuinely displays so much promise in its bravery to tackle many controversial and unpleasant subjects but it just seems too resoundingly tentative to follow through properly and instead often opts to meekly cop-out by rebuffing potentially admirable emotional evocation in favor of less intellectually demanding lighthearted comicality.

The disconcerting conclusion which this design choice seems to present is that, presumably the developers believed that they simply couldn’t trust that the game’s established audience would be mature enough to respond appropriately well to a more serious Hitman game. Unfortunately, in light of this apparent determination that gamers can only serve as shallow and unsophisticated recipients of similarly puerile storytelling, IO Interactive has chosen to release another silly Hitman game, which seems entirely reluctant to further the franchise’s narrative chops with anything besides its prettier graphics. This failing only serves to greatly magnify the game’s other flaws, of which there are, lamentably, many. The cumulative result is that this missed opportunity, which the game is incredibly remiss to have neglected, essentially amounts to Hitman: Absolution representing a superfluous addition to the series – gamers have, in one guise or another, played this game before, many times in fact. Hitman is no longer the innovator, the new kid on the block trying something new, it is now simply the derivative effort which has become too hesitant to recognize that its fanbase has grown up, too delusional to recognize that games have started to invest in engaging narratives and too timid to push the boat out and try to improve its storytelling in some meaningful way.


This problematic identity crisis is only compounded further by one of its other major manifestations in the game; the frequently unbalanced and disproportionate gratuitousness. Unsurprisingly, sex and violence is what it all comes down to in the end for Hitman: Absolution, though not equally so. See, for a game where you play as a ruthless assassin whose mission is to kill people, it’s rather surprising how tame the violence truly is and how unashamedly crass and vulgar the sexual content quickly becomes.

Now, I can very easily appreciate the themes that the game meant to present by featuring both rampant bloodshed and trivialized obscene sexuality. In this game, you appear to play as an uncaring, apathetic hitman, rifling through and often disposing of the underbelly of society –  rotten lowlifes and despicable bottom-feeders who nonchalantly engage in horrific violence and to whom the casual appearance of extremely lewd and explicit sexuality causes nary a fluttered eyelid. A liquor fueled bar-room brawl featuring deadbeat drunks gleefully hitting each other with baseball bats and slashing one another with broken beer bottles. A seedy strip-club featuring women parading half-naked with the grotesquely tragic facade of enthusiasm, a place that unmistakably reeks of abject desperation, flagrant misogyny and disgustingly predatory behavior. This chaos of (ostensibly) disturbing violence and bawdy sex in their various forms is thrown at you, only to serve as poignant juxtaposition for the game’s protagonist – a well-dressed man, who always remains calm and composed, who executes the savage objectives of his missions with the appropriately solemn attitude of a consummate professional killer, but who nonetheless abides by the tenets of his personality morality. It actually ends up being the unexpectedly compelling duality between the hitman with somewhat of a heart of gold and the cruel, vicious, uncaring world which he is blazing a murderous trail through that provides the most startling contrast, and the most intelligent metaphor, of Hitman: Absolution’s single player narrative.

This is all well and good of course, but the real problem arises because shooting people in the game feels so unexciting and so thoroughly sanitized of any semblance of genuinely shocking violence. Now, a seemingly fair opposing argument may be the claim that I, and perhaps this generation of gamers in general, have become so desensitized to violence that the otherwise inherent empathetic reaction to the sight of acts of extreme violence has dulled to the point of negligibility. However, this is not quite the case. The real culprit here is how the game goes to great lengths to feature smutty pseudo-pornography whenever and wherever possible whilst simultaneously presenting violence in a very mechanical and humdrum fashion.

Let me provide an example which epitomizes this phenomenon. You’ve spent five minutes tracking their patrol routine before you finally creep behind your target, unholster your silenced pistols, painstakingly line up the perfect headshot, and pull the trigger… you see a little stream, a fleeting mist of blood spray and then they slump lifelessly (READ: awkwardly ragdoll) to the floor. What should have earned you a satisfyingly visceral and brutal kill ends up being irksomely disappointing because instead of being a revoltingly graphic act of murder, it is actually a thoroughly sterile and dull event. Killing people isn’t clean and viewing such a thing as it truly is shouldn’t be even remotely palatable without recoiling in horror and disgust.


Besides, from a pure gameplay point of view this approach doesn’t fit with the way the game is designed. Hitman: Absolution isn’t a Call of Duty game where you’re mowing down hundreds of enemies at a time, dispatching each one with a quick burst of gunfire and moving on to the next. This is a stealth game where you have to ensure that you take your time to properly plan out each kill because each enemy feels like they present a challenge in themself, and as such each time you manage to execute your strategy and take down an enemy it should give you a small but very palpable sense of accomplishment. Now though the gameplay’s sense of weightiness in this way does serve to psychologically reward the player for each individual kill, it has to really fight to overcome the underwhelmingly mild depiction of violence which accompanies it. The gameplay does well to reinforce the idea that each kill has to be earned and as such can be savored as an impressive achievement in itself, but the graphical representation of it does exactly the opposite, and this mixed messaging is unbelievably jarring.

Oh, and on top of this, there are also the moments where the game’s kills half-heartedly drift towards comic violence. A particular instance sticks out in my mind as one where the game tries and fails dramatically to allow you to interject humor into killing a target. In one mission, you can choose to crush a target by causing a large lighting rig to fall on top of them, which on the face of it sounds rather grisly, but the game clearly wants this scene to play out like some twisted vaudevillian comedy skit where a dangling piano comically falls on the unaware dupe standing below. The problem is that what actually graphically presents itself in the game is just a large object falling on someone who then unceremoniously crumples to the ground. Comedically, there is no sound effect, nothing visually amusing in the way the target dies, really no indication at all that the imagery of what just happened was supposed to be humorous in some way. In terms of the violence, there isn’t blood spray, or exposed viscera, or a satisfying death animation. It astoundingly manages to fail on both fronts, and so it is for the rest of the game’s comic kills, they are empty momentary thrills which promise a big pay-off with their elaborate setup and requirements, but ultimately only provide a thoroughly underwhelming and confusing result.

Oppositely, whereas the violence is unmistakably subdued, the smut that the game routinely thrusts in your face goes way over the top in so many ways purely in order to get some sort of reaction out of you. The epitome of this is the now notorious in-game troupe known as the Saints, who, if you’ve somehow missed the maelstrom of controversy which the trailer that originally showcased them aroused, are a group of, let’s say curvaceous, women wearing tight, skimpy nuns outfits. Yes, there’s really very little subtlety in Hitman: Absolution when it comes to sexploitation, the developers really want to hammer home the already hard to miss smuttiness.


Amazingly though, for one brief shining moment, the narrative touches on the back story of these scantily clad women, referencing the entirely sobering subject of sexual abuse, apparently at the hands of members of the priesthood. However, as quickly as this fleeting attempt at intriguing character development is presented, it vanishes, replaced by suggestive poses and innuendo and latex covered breasts. Such is the diminutive lot which IO Interactive have lumbered Hitman: Absolution with – as soon as the game’s story starts to broach intelligent, challenging subjects, the designers evidently grew enormously timid in response and instead decided to play it safe and just return to appeasing the lowest denominator with cheap lewdness. Now while this may titillate the throngs of juvenile teenage boys playing the game, that’s a fairly easy target considering that the word ‘titillate’ itself is equally able to titillate horny teenage boys. Older, more mature gamers need something more substantial, something more intellectually stimulating.

The violence is limp and unimpressive. The smut feels tawdry, incongruent and so dreadfully forced. The game has no problem utilizing jiggle physics to capitalize on the trivialization of sexuality and the objectification of women in order to create controversy and sell more copies, but when it comes to appropriately portraying the act of killing someone in the stupefyingly gruesome way that such a thing demands, the game would bizarrely rather keep the violence tame and sanitized of any of the horrific repugnancy which the sexual content sometimes dares to confront.

All of this adds up to create a game that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. Serious or silly? Sexy or violent? No, it tries to be a jack of trades but ends up being a master of none. Hitman: Absolution only serves to show that the series simply refuses to catch up with what games rightfully aspire to be now, and just feels so very long in the tooth. With the Hitman franchise changing developers for the next game in the franchise, maybe fresh perspectives can breath some life into a series whose latest game should perhaps have been mercifully killed off before it was released.

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