The original assassin is back in Hitman: Absolution, bringing along his familiar tools-of-the-trade: open-ended missions, trial-and-error gameplay and inventive killing methods. The combination of stealth and action is, as always, a bitter-sweet mixture of triumph and frustration that makes the series what it is (that and murdering people). Absolution does sacrifice some of its trademark elements in favor of a more focused story, but the end result is still as fun and as challenging as in any previous Hitman game. So step into the elegant shoes and red tie of Agent 47, and prepare for a brutal yet refined journey as you garrote, electrocute, poison and even harpoon your way through the scum of the earth.

In an unexpected turn of events, Absolution’s story sees Agent 47 trying to literally get the girl – a young, genetically enhanced girl that is supposed to be the next Hitman. 47 must save this girl named Victoria from both his former employer, The Agency, and the vicious industry tycoon Blake Dexter who is after her for his own greedy reasons. Casting 47 as a protector rather than a hunter is a bold move by IO Interactive, and it pays off; not only do we still get to experience 47’s unique line of work, we also get the most story-focused game in the franchise. True, this is not a very complicated plot with many twists and turns, but it is rather gratifying to play each level and mission within a proper context, something almost all previous Hitman games lacked.

On the other hand, being more story-driven than gameplay-driven means Absolution breaks away from the “classic” mission structure of the series. While in previous games each mission took place in one big open level, where the player was free to roam and study each crevice and dark corner, in Absolution the missions are more of a sequence of smaller areas. Some require 47 to simply make his way through them undetected (or merely alive) and some have him complete an objective, like disabling an alarm or killing a target in one of many creative ways. This means the missions are much longer and move through several environments and themes. This makes the game feel a lot more linear, with less freedom for the player to be creative, especially in the later missions that feel like one frustrating stealth sequence after the other.

Hitman: Absolution is first and foremost a stealth game, and for the most part a darn good one. Sneaking around the level, or blending in the massive crowds, is intuitive and performing stealth kills is both satisfying and fun to do. Most enemies will attack on sight, so stealth is a necessity even just to move around a level. If you prefer a more direct approach, 47 can don several disguises to fool his enemies and infiltrate guarded areas; of course, being dressed as a guard won’t fool other guards for very long, so you still need to be careful where you go, even in disguise. It is one of those “more realistic but less fun” mechanics we get in modern video games, and it does offer a bit more challenge (not that there’s any shortage of challenge in Absolution).

It is when you mess up the stealth that the action starts. 47 can kill or otherwise dispose of enemies quietly, quickly and in style using the garrote wire or any other object lying around, but when the excrement hit the fan, he is still an extremely deadly opponent. The combat is mainly based on firearms and explosions – the complete opposite of stealth; be it with his trademark duel pistols, shotguns, rifles or explosives, 47 can lay waste to entire areas with clever use of cover and precise shooting. The gunplay isn’t as polished as the sneaking around, but it can still be fun to snipe enemies off rooftops or clear a room with a few shotgun blasts, especially when you take said enemies by surprise.

To pull off these incredible feats of accuracy, Agent 47 uses his “killer instincts”, another new feature in Absolution. Instinct is pretty much the key to all of the original assassin’s abilities – from spotting potential threats or opportunities through to slowing down time and scoring headshots. It can be a precious resource that saves the player a lot of trouble and bails him out of many sticky situations. Instinct is especially useful in higher difficulties and will only regenerated after a successful stealth-kill or upon completing objectives, so playing like a true assassin becomes crucial if you’d like to make it out (relatively) unscathed.

In his latest and best-looking killing spree, Agent 47 goes through a variety of locations and outfits, leaving nothing but smoking ruins and dead bodies in his wake (unless you’re trying for the “Silent Assassin” rating). These highly-detailed locations all look impressive, from the dusty streets of a little desert town to the fancy interiors of hotels and penthouses. The new Glacier 2 Engine’s capabilities are truly remarkable, with great lighting that really makes the game’s vibrant color scheme pop and the ability to render big crowds of people, filling up entire areas with living, breathing cover. Characters are fun to interact with and even more fun to listen to – Agent 47’s collected voice is still as cold as ice, and the supporting cast does a great job at sucking the player into Absolution’s seedy and dangerous world, with good dialog and better delivery. Another thing worth mentioning is the wonderfully spectacular ways 47 can dispose of some of his targets: earth-shattering explosions, huge objects crushing down in a symphony of destruction and screams or poisons that causes an almost realistic behavior and animations – all add up to create visually believable (and gruesome) scenes of premature and tragic deaths.

When you’re done with the single-player campaign, you might want to try and give the new Contract Mode a try. This mode is a sort the game’s version of multiplayer, challenging players to create a perfect assassination scenario and share it with the world to see who can beat the high score. To do that, all you need is to play through a story mission, choosing up to three targets to kill creatively with any weapon you like. Contract mode is simple and very accessible, but also lacks any real depth or impact. Still, it’s a fun mode to mess around with.

Hitman: Absolution has a challenging and satisfying single-player campaign that offers a balanced mix of stealth and action. Missions are a little more linear than fans of the series are used to, causing the ones toward the end to feel rushed as the story tries to quickly tie everything together. Fortunately, the amazing visuals and creative gameplay more than make up for that. Absolution may not be as good as Blood Money was back in 2006, but it’s probably the one that will get you hooked on 47’s unique brand of revenge, justice and fashion sense, so it has absolutely nothing to repent for.

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