Agent 47 has been out of action since 2006, but it seems like the years have only sharpened his abilities. He can silently skulk around without being seen, but he can also hide in plain sight - borrowing a costume from someone nearby who's been quietly convinced that it's cool to be unconscious.
Stay away from those likely to notice you're a fake, and you can move around freely to close in for the kill. Fiber wire is usually the least messy, and lets you immediately drag the body off to hide it in a cupboard nearby. If everything goes as planned, no-one will have even noticed you were there. If things go south, you've always got options.
All the things we love about Hitman are here, but the new additions are all welcome too. Instinct provides a number of tactical advantages (see Trust Your Instinct, next page), while tweaks to the combat and the mission structure make it possible to enjoy the game in a variety of ways. The world itself is gorgeous, and packed full of stuff that's ruddy-bloody brilliant.
Everything in Absolution looks superb, but it never feels overdone like so many big-budget titles. As unlikely as it sounds of a project this heavily-produced Absolution feels like a game made by people. There's a faint quirkiness running right through its core, manifesting itself in repeated in-jokes like garden gnomes and rubber ducks. It never entirely breaks the fourth wall, but that doesn't stop it from winking at the camera.
Absolution's best locations have an amazing sense of place, but they never feel real - for all the right reasons. Each level is designed to revolve around you, ensuring that you never feel like a tourist. It's a world full of situations engineered to entertain, nudging at the darkest corners of your brain. Two office guards debate the sensibility of using live proximity mines in the lobby's glass cabinets. A useless IT support guy tells someone down the phone to "turn it off and on again" while standing too close to an open window. Homicide has never felt so cathartic.
Despite the regular opportunities for chaos, you're never forced to play the game in a way you don't want to. Purists can work their way through without being seen - making every death look like an unfortunate accident - but there's no sense that this is the 'right' thing to do.
The game constantly offers up a wide range of options, most of which count towards completing a challenge. These usually revolve around killing your target with specific criteria, adding subtle clues to give you direction if you find yourself stuck. The best thing about unlocking challenges is that you don't lose progress when you restart the mission, encouraging you to go off the rails and have a bit of fun when things go pear-shaped. If the stealthy attempt doesn't go as planned, you might as well snag that C4 challenge.
This encouragement to approach things in more than one way is also reflected in the variety of Absolution's pace. Some levels allow you to hide in plain sight while carefully planning an assassination, whereas others see you pushing through a more linear area while trying to remain undetected. Each level is split into lots of small segments, which can then be individually replayed. This, combined with the newly-added checkpoints makes it feel like a less masochistic Hitman game: if things get messy towards the end of a mission, you won't have to replay it from the start.
Each of these segments also resets your score to zero, leaving any prior mistakes behind. Stepping through a locked door and having your slate wiped clean doesn't feel very realistic, but we're willing to overlook that for the freedom it brings. Nippy loading times make it easy to restart whenever things go astray, but this dividing of levels into smaller chunks makes it far more enjoyable to embrace your mistakes. Getting caught in Blood Money was often frustrating, but this time it's just an excuse for a different kind of fun. Our solemn slaphead has always been ice-cool, but he's never felt this powerful before.