Hitman: Absolution is the fifth installment in the stealth action series developed by IO Interactive. Breaking from tradition, it follows a single storyline which revolves around Agent 47’s betrayal and quest for vengeance. Whilst the gameplay refinements are a mixed bag, the atmosphere and tension for which the series is known for remain strong.

The game’s new structure is a clear break from the past. Instead of a series of missions, each requiring the killing of a target and/or acquisition of goods, Absolution has a clearly defined storyline which drives the gameplay and diversifies it greatly. On the positive side, this lends the game a great deal of focus and purpose: 47’s personal quest easily trumps the limp flashback setup of Contracts and Blood Money. I felt personally involved in each scenario, which is a big bonus for the third act where the tension is forced through the roof.

However, I am not convinced by the new way of approaching missions. A far more linear approach leads to many situations where the player is forced down one path or another. Whilst this doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy parts of the missions in this layout, it’s such a break from the unique formula which made the series so brilliant. The other four games in the series championed a single, large map with targets needing slaying and inviting you to go about it anyway you like. The few missions in Absolution which fall back on this strategy are easily the strongest: Chicago’s Chinatown, a huge cornfield in Hawaii and a redneck town in South Dakota all feel like classic Hitman.

The overall tone is a masterful balance of deadly serious and darkly comic moments.

Such missions also take advantage of the Glacier engine, sadly showing off another missed opportunity for the rest of the game, whereby huge crowds may be generated and used to the player’s advantage (or disadvantage). The game’s technology as a whole is certainly impressive: better animations, more intuitive controls and impressive AI raise the whole game up. These components together allow for thoroughly satisfying moments, from hiding bodies to wearing disguises, and frequently put a smile on my face.

But the game’s atmosphere is its strongest asset. The colour palette throughout the game is blood-red and gives all of 47’s grim deeds a harsh edge. The score is possibly the most impressive in the series, with crashing orchestral moments to accompany particularly brutal actions. The overall tone is a masterful balance of deadly serious and darkly comic moments. The shocking violence is frequently paired with cruel irony, and the German term ‘schadenfreude’ (gaining pleasure from others’ misfortune) is highly applicable.

Whilst some missteps in terms of gameplay may hamper the experience for series veterans, players are likely to enjoy the dark, dangerous and intoxicating return of Agent 47.

Thomas Welshman

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