The stealth genre has taken a backseat in the past few years, with games such as the usually stealth-obsessed Splinter Cell series allowing players to go the action route in Splinter Cell Conviction and Metal Gear Solid going all hack and slash with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Don't fret though, because 2012 has already given us the rather excellent Dishonored and, if you still crave more stealth action, make way for Hitman: Absolution.
In Hitman: Absolution, you play as Agent 47, a genetically engineered assassin in the employ of a secret government agency called well... the Agency. Your handler, Diana Burnwood, has gone rogue and has exposed the Agency to the public in the process.
Agent 47 is tasked with eliminating Diana, but before he completes the contract, Diana requests that Agent 47 protect a young girl by the name of Victoria from the Agency. So 47 reluctantly agrees, putting him in direct conflict with Agency.
Hitman Absolution is a stealth-action game and is played like a third person shooter. As a professional assassin, Agent 47 has to eliminate targets without been detected. That can be difficult when you're not only hunted by the Agency, but also by local law enforcement and some gangsters too.
Luckily, 47 has a unique skill-set that involves being a master of disguise, being resourceful enough to hide bodies effectively and, when the need arises, being highly proficient with most firearms and hand-to-hand combat.
His best skill however, is the ability to assassinate targets under the guise of an "accident".
How about killing your target, letting him burn himself to death by replacing the hot sauce with lighter fluid at the local braai? Or killing your drug dealer target by lacing his drugs with poison, letting people believe that he "overdosed" on his own drugs.
You need to get the key-card from the head of security, but it's too dangerous to go in guns blazing? No problem, just put sleeping tablets in his coffee and then wait for him to pass out away from his colleagues. Hitman: Absolution offers lots of possibilities when you need to complete your task. You only need to explore and discover these options for yourself.
It is possible for you to just go in guns blazing and just kill everybody but, not only will this lower your ranking at the end of the level, it will also rob you of all the potential fun you could have. All these options make you feel all powerful and work quite well, except for a few blemishes.
The disguises, for instance, are sometimes illogical. Like when wearing a police uniform in a police station, the other officers get suspicious of you quite easily. This makes sense since you would expect everybody to sort of know each other in a police station.
But what about when you are disguised as a street vendor in the street market? Wouldn't it make sense that street vendors wouldn't really know the other vendors? Not so in Absolution.
Another blemish is the new Instinct ability. This gives 47 the ability to not only see targets in a crowd, but allows 47 to erase any suspicions from nearby onlookers by tilting his head down or covering his face.
The mechanic works quite well, but I can just see long-time Hitman fans hating it as it does make the game easier. Fortunately, Instinct does run out and can only be replenished by performing certain actions, making sure that players can't rely on the ability alone.
If the generous 20 stages of the main story mode are not enough, Absolution also has the online-enabled Contracts mode. This allows players to create their own contracts using any of the 20 stages within the campaign.
Players can choose who the targets from the available NPCs are, what conditions (disguise/no disguise, etc.) and the difficulty. Once these Contracts are created, it can be uploaded to the server for other players to play, with the incentive of earning currency which can be used to purchase other weapons and disguises to use in the Contract creation mode. Mark my words, you will be playing this mode long after the campaign is done. It's really addictive.
At this point I must mention that the game has a game-breaking bug that renders your save file corrupt, forcing you to restart your game from the beginning. The game tends to freeze on occasion which is not an unusual occurrence. It does, however, tend to freeze when the game is in the process of auto-saving, thus rendering your save file corrupt. This happened to me on three occasions, luckily I backed up my save data after the first occurrence so it wasn't so bad. I did lose eight hours of game progress though.
On a positive note, the fact that the game offers many ways to complete missions eased the pain as my subsequent playthroughs were very different.
Hitman: Absolution is all about thinking outside the box. By allowing you to be creative with your kills, the game adds loads of replayability as you have that one-more-go feeling just to see how you could have done a particular mission differently. Hitman is a blast to play and, along with Dishonored, is a return to form for the stealth genre.
With all the replayability the game offers, it certainly is value for money, not to mention all the easter eggs that can be found and the challenges that can be completed. IO Interactive's Glacier 2 engine that powers this game really does amazing things with the crowds of NPCs in the game and renders the rest of the game extremely well.
Decent voice acting is provided by Hollywood B-grade actors like Powers Boothe and Tracy Lords, making for above average cutscenes, with an awesome soundtrack to boot.
This game is for action fans and stealth fans alike, but stealth fans will get the most out of this. It's been six years since Hitman Bloodmoney and, although it has been a long wait, Hitman: Absolution doesn't disappoint. Just remember to back up your saves.
Score: 8 out of 10