Never mind that you haven't seen or heard from Agent 47 in over five years.
He is a silent assassin, after all. You won't find the International Contract Agency's top killer getting involved with our founding fathers or an ancient prophecy. Instead, IO Interactive looks to 47's up-close-and-personal side to frame their absurd mission parameters and environments. With a new engine in the form of Glacier 2, franchise developers IO Interactive hope to deliver an experience more interactive, free-flowing, and reactive than ever.
That kind of open-approach design abounds in Hitman: Absolution, although it doesn't seem like it at first. Despite getting his hands dirty on more than a few occasions, 47 has to make this one count or see the first of Square Enix's high-profile Western-developed releases bungle its contract. Can Absolution deliver the goods?
47's first assignment in Absolution is the murder of Diana Burnwood, longtime handler and mission-giver. Punctuating everything else in the series and watching things explode from that point will entice series veterans, but for the relative newcomer like myself, the veil will quickly lift to reveal one awkward cutscene after another.
As 47 follows plot threads and exacts revenge on targets throughout Absolution's world, it becomes blatantly apparent that any semblance of narrative has always held Hitman back. Why bother with all of this garbage? Why can't Agent 47 be like Link or Mario or any other video game archetype? A badass with a mission and nothing more? IO Interactive excels in level design, AI behavior, and telling a story through the environment, but the overarching narrative in Absolution betrays all of that.
Luckily, those cutscenes are entirely skippable and players don't have to waste any time getting down to business. You'll be taught how to disguise yourself, use your weaponry, and dispose of bodies quickly, quietly, and efficiently, making the remainder of Absolution feel like a playground.
Pushing this feeling even further is Contracts Mode. While the story will unlock weapons, disguises, and pad your total Agent score, Contracts Mode is everything diehard fans could hope and dream for. Loading up an environment from a set checkpoint allows you to sneak around, watch the AI, and pick interesting targets. Once you've chosen and highlighted one to three targets, you can set a base score for other players to attack. Silently killing, creatively killing, and generally out-styling other players is Absolution's best offering.
Players can complete bonus contracts or discover alternative stories played out between NPCs. The video above, straight from the developers, explains Contracts Mode in plain English, but playing these user-created missions for yourself will result in a sick sort of delight.
You feel such a disturbed joy when you drop a giant batch of fossils on a group of unsuspecting victims or when you crush some asshole's skull with a disco ball in a noisy club. The sheer glee of creatively killing can induce giggles and grins from ear to ear. What's more, IO Interactive has played to Blood Money's strengths, even going so far as to pay homage to their previous game with a target standing conveniently over glass.
While lower difficulty levels can maintain frustratingly observant AI and a stubbornly overpowered Agent 47, Absolution proves entertaining across the board. I frequently found myself exploring a level and playing with the toys within. Killing indiscriminately lowered my score, but ultimately I learned where to complete Hitman Challenges and raise my final total in a second, silent playthrough.
Those Hitman Challenges do a great job of directing players to the corners of Hitman's world where the most action happens. I started one level searching for evidence but quickly stumbled upon an opportunity to take out two targets in stylish fashion. Challenges tease players out of hiding and into action, but never leave the player helpless and defeated, instead providing new opportunities for improvisation.
You can go guns blazing, but doing so defeats the purpose. IO has done a stellar job building characters that open and close interactive opportunities for the player as you progress through each level. Killing them at first chance kind of seals everything off from the outset.
Absolution drapes the player in style and grace, while also presenting them with a dangerous world, capable of defending itself. You can poke the AI, but be prepared for a poke back. That's always been one of Hitman's key foundations, but Absolution opens it up and spells everything out for new comers. This instantly modernizes and advances the franchises first truly next-gen outing.
If you were worried that Instinct (an ability to see through walls and determine enemy walking paths) would disrupt your core-Hitman challenge, you can rest easy as Absolution balances this "super" power with varied difficulty levels and balanced limitations. Playing on a higher difficulty level can result in a total loss of the ability or a significantly reduced Instinct reward for actions.
Don't lean into Hitman: Absolution determined to discover what makes Agent 47 tick or even why the ICA wanted Diana Burnwood dead: It's best to discourage this inquisitive side and embrace the sandbox full of toys. Absolution's story missteps in coherence and presentation, but the game makes up for it in humor, environmental cues, and a wicked AI.
If you're new to the series, there's plenty of warm water here to sink into, but franchise stalwarts need not worry. Agent 47 is as cunning, deadly, and silent as you want him to be; it just so happens that purist players will also be the most rewarded. Regardless your level of experience, Hitman: Absolution scratches a very specific itch, one that involves a butterfly knife or possibly an accidental electrocution.