Don’t believe the blogs, the PC version of Hitman: Absolution is just fine
The buzz on the street is that the PC version of Hitman: Absolution is terrible, and that buzz is based on a blog post that sourced a magazine review that isn’t yet available. That’s apparently all it takes to get people upset about the quality of a specific port. This is one of those reasons I asked for my review copy to come on the PC; it’s fun to review a version of the game many reviewers skip, or pass on second-hand information about.
I won’t link to the original report, because I don’t think blogging a magazine is something we should reward with hits, but I can say I’ve put a few hours into the PC version of the latest Hitman, and it looks beautiful. It definitely takes some time to get used to the keyboard commands, as Agent 47 has a pretty diverse set of skills, but the opening tutorial gets you up to speed very quickly. This didn’t just happen, as IO Interactive spent time and effort making sure the PC version of the game was up to snuff.
Talking to the Hitmen
I asked game director Tore Blystad how long the PC version had been in production. “It’s been in production since forever!” he said, laughing. The game was, after all, created on PCs before being brought over to the consoles. “The specific focus, improving on the visual quality [for PC] and so on, that happened later in production, probably in the last year or so.”
When you know a game is coming to the PC from the beginning of development, it makes it easier to make sure the assets are high enough quality to stand up to the increased scrutiny of higher resolution. “All the assets, they were from the beginning created for the high-end PC, and then made into console versions,” Blystad explained. “We knew from the beginning that we needed assets that were high quality. We might as well make it in high resolution first and then scale it down [for consoles], it doesn’t really add much to the process.”
They worked with a company called Nixxes to make sure the controls and experience worked well on the PC. I was told that the game’s tech was optimized by IO, but Nixxis made it “very comfortable for PC players.” While the console allows you to steady your aim by holding the analog trigger down halfway, the PC version uses the SHIFT key to steady your aim. All the buttons can be re-mapped as well, although there is also game pad support if you prefer to play that way.
I have a powerful system (I bought the Ars Technica testing rig on my way out) but with everything set to maximum the framerate could chug in places. The game looks beautiful on high-end hardware, and the team aimed high when adding graphical options.“The goal was to create a PC version that could live on. Right now, if you turn on everything to the max, you’d need a pretty powerful PC to run it,” Blystad said. “If you pick it up in a few years it will run a lot better due to the new hardware.” Even while dialing one or two things down the PC version is a large improvement from its console brothers.
Blystad claimed that they didn’t feel hamstrung by the consoles when creating the PC version.“The bigger problem is being multiplatform in the first place,” Blystad explained. “It means that it’s more challenging to develop a game when you have to deliver for multiple platforms. You have to keep it in mind all the time that you cannot do anything that is just taking advantage of one of them when you’re making specific features.”
The PC version, simply put, is beautiful. It runs well on my hardware, although I mapped some of the controls onto my mouse, including the instinct control that allows you to sneak past characters easier and see the paths of your enemies. The game adores bloom and lens flair, to the point I felt like I was playing a very gritty and murder-filled version of the recent Star Trek film, which may annoy some more than others.
Playing a game like Hitman: Absolution on the PC does add to the experience. Sneaking past guards and trying to get off a tricky sniper shot are tense moments, and being close to a screen showing a nice, beautiful image with all the options jacked is much more intimate than what you get on the consoles. I can’t vouch for the story or the later levels yet. I’m still playing, but I’m very happy with the graphical options and performance of the PC version of the game.
While we’re here, let’s clear up a few more things
The game grades each level, and you gain or lose points depending on your actions. Killing any non-target character in the game makes you lose points, so you are always punished for runs that are less than clean. You can still score well after taking out a few people, but keep in mind the really high-scoring runs will be as clean as possible. The game does not reward you for killing anyone who isn’t your target. The fewer people you kill, the higher your score, and the easier it is to unlock abilities. The claim that the game encourages you to kill guards is false, at least up until the points I’ve played.
I’ve only played on my system, but performance was fine, and Blystad told me they tested the game on multiple systems to make sure framerates were acceptable on the game’s minimum listed specifications. The more power you can throw at the game, the better it will look, but I had no problems getting to high framerates with almost all of the options maxed out.
It’s also being reported that the game lacks save points. This is partly true. You won’t be able to save everywhere, but you can find checkpoints and activate them in every mission. The higher the difficulty level, the fewer of these are available, to the point of them being completely turned off when you’re playing in certain modes, but you can save your progress as you play. What the game lacks is quick-saves, which I feel adds to the tension. You may disagree, but saying the game lacks saves is inaccurate.
This is why actually playing something before you read a review and then re-write it is so important. I’m looking forward to playing more of the game, and I’ll soldier on with the PC version. I’ve played the game on a variety of systems at trade shows and in my own home, and so far, in my opinion, the PC version is the best and most enjoyable. Don’t believe third-hand blogs.
The moral of this story? Don’t trust blog posts with no firsthand knowledge of a game to re-write an existing review. Things end badly for everyone.