Wii mini, I just… don’t…
a) I already have a Wii and it doesn’t really do much that I want.
b) See above.

@Pete. Fair points, I suppose. I wish I could comment on the quality of Pandora’s Tower. RRRRRGH.

Finished Resonance. Not much to say beyond my big screed earlier, apart that I thought it was pretty neat in a solid B+ kinda way and I remain a fan of Wadget Eye.

Wishing there was more in the gaming world right now that was super narrative rich, but I’m on Christmas holiday rations so I won’t be buying anything for myself until after Dec 25. Finished Ep 4 of the Walking Dead, looking forward to its inexorable conclusion next Monday.

My gaming downtime at the moment is being handled by Hitman: Absolution, which I got for free for trading in both Dishonored and Halo 4. Only 4 missions into it and this trade is already proving to be one of the best gaming decisions I’ve made all year.

Haven’t seen any discussion about Absolution here on the boards, so I’ll educate the group.

I’ve been a fan of the Hitman series since the very beginning. Anybody who played the original knows a few things about the series: It’s intelligent, it rewards careful, methodical gameplay. And it used to be BALLS HARD. Further games made the series more ‘accessible’ (Not a fan of that particular euphamism) and took 47 in the direction of more of an Xbox Shooter Kinda Thing with Stealth Elements. IMO this watered down the DNA of the series somewhat, and I’m VERY happy to see Hitman returning to its roots through an injection of a healthy dose of Dark Souls DNA. Seriously.

Absolution scratches the ‘Mastery Itch’ in a way that Dishonored just couldn’t deliver. What’s REALLY remarkable about the game however is that this super punishing option is one of only a SERIES of options available to people who want to play the game.

As I’ve mentioned before, the problem I have with stealth games is how they present violent gameplay options (Dishonored’s Guns, Snares, etc) while simultaneously incentivizing nonviolent gameplay. In my case, this results in a playstyle that mandates that if I want to “have the best run I possibly can” it ususally means also not killing anybody, not being detected, etc. As a result, 75% of my inventory never sees the light of day and I miss out on a lot of what these games have to offer me as a player.

If you played Mark of the Ninja you noticed right away that the game incentivized violence SOME of the time, and stealth SOME of the time through various ingenously clever mechanisms. While you could always get a huge ghost bonus for slipping through a level undetected, you could sometimes get an even BETTER score (XP, mask unlocks, whatever) by fulfilling specifically set objectives like “Kill 5 guys with this weapon” forcing your knife out of the shadows on a regular basis. In my case, I really do need this psychological license from the developers to cut loose before I can be comfortable playing the path of the fist. Once you’re playing, of course it’s fun.

Hitman innovates on this concept in an even more sophisticated way, and I’m delighted to find such a well designed and satisfying difficulty curve and risk-reward system.

There are five different levels of playstyle mastery in this game ranging from the brainless to the super masochistic. These levels of mastery are represented on a sliding scale on the selection screen by the following icons: Two pistols, single pistol, silenced pistol, fibrewire garotte, gloved hand simply adjusting stickpin on tie”. I am playing on “Garotte” icon – 4/5 difficulty. Flavor text for this level indicates that I will not be able to autosave or set my own checkpoints and that I’d better be prepared to retry, retry and retry sections as a result if I want that perfect score. Great. I played Dark Souls. This is my kinda player contract.

Choosing a difficulty level conveys penalties and bonuses.

Penalties: In my case guards are very aware, stealth is hard, health is very limited, certain helpful interface elements are totally absent (!) and most importantly your pool of “instinct” (the magic resource that does everything from highlighting objectives to handling slow-mo, to “getting you out of trouble if people become suspicious” is limited to a finite quantity that will never regenerate unless you fulfil certain mission objectives. On easier difficulties this meter of magic juice constantly refills, meaning that you constantly can get out of problems by holding down the “save me” button. Not so on Professional.

Bonuses: Hitman has a persistent XP system where playing on higher difficulties awards larger percentile bonuses to your cumulative XP total throughout the game. Said in English: Let’s say you manage to slip through a specific level undetected, alerting nobody. This will unlock a “mini achievement” called a Challenge that for the rest of the entire game will confer a permanent +5% bonus to all the XP you recieve for the other 19 missions. If you go back and replay the level, or any other, you will still have that +5% from the challenge.

What is fascinating about this game is that these little Challenges awarded on missions cannot all be accomplished in a single playthrough. Like Mark of the Ninja, the game encourages you to play and replay levels as you master them, accumulating XP that unlocks various level bonuses for 47.

Challenges are regularly mutually exclusive to one another. On every level for example you can unlock permanent perks by doing things like NEVER using a disguise (“suit only”) but also by using EVERY disguise (“chameleon”) and for executing your target in specific marquee ways – 5% forever for poisoning him, 5% for shooting him with the sniper rifle, 5% for pushing him down a hole, etc. etc.

The net effect here is to encourage you to play, and then replay and then REPLAY the mission, attempting different strategies, figuring out different methods for winning. It takes quite a long time to get a “feel” for a mission’s character and individual quirks, but after you understand the lay of the land it becomes very easy to improvise as you go.

My first playthrough of a level often takes between 3 and 4 hours because I feel my way through the level very very gently, discovering all the stealth locations, exploits, tips and tricks as I go. The NEXT playthrough can sometimes be as short as 10 minutes, after I know the lay of the land down pat. I don’t have to worry about re-achieving past accomplishments like stealth goals, so I’ll often do a Disguise Run, then a Ghost Run, then a Violence Run, then some kind of other run to snatch up all the weird silly off-case Challenges (“Capture the one rookie police officer and use him as a human shield at least once!”). My cumulative XP total soars, Agent 47 levels up like a beast. It’s rediculously replayable. Here is the Dark Souls DNA at work: Practice begets familiarity, familiarity begets competence, competence begets mastery. All of these are tangibly rewarded.

Best of all, at last (finally!) the game uses your cumulative mission totals as a sort of scoreboard to rank your performance as a Hitman against your contemporaries. At the end of every mission I get to see both the worldwide performance totals as well as the Canadian totals.

It’s difficult to describe the satisfaction of seeing once and for all your own name up there in lights on the scoarboard with statistics like “Average score for Canada for this level is 3,650 – Your personal score for this level: 165,230. This places you at position [X] on the national rankings.” That’s right, I’m a goddamn hitman.

I’ll never beat those guys who are playing at 5/5 difficulty, but they’re crazy. No interface beyond a single crosshair. NO INTERFACE. Whatever. I’ll take my +100% XP bonus for my 4/5 and say thankya.

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