Hitman Absolution Performance and IQ Review

Hitman: Absolution is one of a few games this winter to support completely implemented DX11 features. Tessellation, global illumination, and ambient occlusion are all utilized using the new Glacier 2 game engine. We see how a variety of video cards perform in Hitman: Absolution, and what is needed to get the most out of the game.


Hitman: Absolution is the fifth game in the Hitman series. It is a third person, action-adventure and stealth game that follows the story of Agent 47, and continues his story where the previous game left off. We follow him across the United States and England as he carries out his most dangerous contract yet. Players will have the freedom of choice to decide whether to creep through the shadows or rush shooting everything up. The games AI will react accordingly. Players will also have a huge variety of disguises that can be used to impersonate others or blend in with your surroundings. Hitman: Absolution has both single player and multiplayer gameplay.

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The Glacier 2 game engine was designed from the ground up in Hitman: Absolution, and allows players to enable DX11 graphics options like ambient occlusion, tessellation, and global illumination. We are hoping to see that this game will push our hardware, perhaps even harder than we think. The video card industry needs a reason to advance and improve it's hardware, and this may be the game that delivers that reason. Hitman: Absolution is developed by IO Interactive and Nixxes Software and published by Square-Enix. The game was released on November 20th, 2012.

Graphics Settings

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MSAA : This setting can be enabled at 2X, 4X, and 8X MSAA. The higher the level that anti-aliasing is set to, the less aliasing will be noticeable on objects. This setting has the single largest performance cost, especially when going from 4X MSAA to 8X MSAA.

SSAO : This setting can be enabled at high, normal, or it can be disabled. This will determine the quality of ambient occlusion lighting shadows on all objects in game. The higher the level of SSAO, the darker and more realistic shadows you will have in game. This setting has a large impact on performance.

Bloom : This setting can be enabled at normal and low, or it can be disabled. This setting determines the amount of light that is reflected off of objects. Higher levels will produce more light reflection, while lower settings remove the "glowing" effect.

Depth of Field : This setting can be enabled at low, medium, high, or it can be disabled. This setting determines how far in to the distance we are able to see. The setting is misleading in the menu however, which is why we are mentioning it here. Selecting "off" provides the best image with the farthest view possible. Both low and medium add a slight blur to the background, while the blur from high makes objects unrecognizable.

DX11 Graphics Options

Hitman: Absolution also features several DX11 graphics options, with more information below coming from the "AMD Hitman: Absolution Benchmark Guide." These are the graphics settings we will be focusing on, which have the greatest impact on image quality and performance.

MSAA and FXAA support

Most games that use a deferred rendering engine only support shader based antialiasing techniques like FXAA. While screen space techniques are fast and do a good job when it comes to smoothing the edges of large objects a lot of information about the scene geometry is already lost at that point of the render pipeline. The advantage of MSAA is that it generates sub pixel information, and enables better even anti-aliasing of artifacts caused by small, thin or distant objects.

Real-time Global Illumination

In addition to the complex lighting already implemented in the Console versions, IO Interactive and Nixxes have gone one step further and added support for Real-time Global Illumination in the PC version. To achieve this, the engine renders a Reflective Shadow Map (RSM) of the scene, taken from the point of view of the Sun containing Position, Normal and Diffuse Color. The engine then injects this data into a volume texture where the lighting information is being propagated to simulate the light being bounced from between the objects in the scene. Finally this volume is used in a separate lighting pass to illuminate the scene with indirect lighting. The result of this is much smoother and more realistic lighting and a stunning improvement in visual quality.

Direct Compute accelerated Bokeh Depth of Field

On top of Hitman Absolution implementing depth of field, the PC version features a much more realistic and visually interesting depth of field by using direct compute to simulate the effect caused by inter-lens reflection of very bright out-of focus objects.

Direct Compute Accelerated Ambient Occlusion

When objects are located close to each other, the amount of light that can reach the surface of an object is reduced. While many games have been simulating this effect by applying algorithms like AMDs HDAO, Nixxes decided to take it a step further and create a proprietary direct compute based algorithm which combines the ideas behind the most widely used ambient occlusion algorithms to one proprietary high quality, high performance technique.

Tessellation for smooth character silhouettes

Hitman Absolution uses hardware tessellation on Characters to generate a perfectly smooth silhouette and achieve a much more natural and realistic look.

Testing Hitman: Absolution

To test Hitman: Absolution we first played through the entire game. We looked for scenes, levels, or areas which produced lower framerates than others. Our run-through takes place on the mission "Run for Your Life." The main reason we chose this level is because it incorporates all DX11 features, as well as demanding environment features like fire, rain, and wind. The mission starts off inside of a burning hotel. We have to get out of the room and shimmy along the side of a skyscraper in the rain with helicopters chasing us. We then scale our way to the top of the building while debris from the buildings large sign is falling to pieces. At the top of the building we take out a few guards and proceed through the library on the top floor. After taking out several police we continue to the exit. When we leave the building a helicopter shows up that we have to avoid by using cover to hide from it. When we escape the helicopter we stop our testing procedure. The entire run through takes between 5 and 6 minutes to complete. Our ideal framerate that delivers smooth and enjoyable gameplay in Hitman: Absolution is 40 FPS.