Six years is a lifetime in gaming, and when we last whipped out Agent 47’s fibre wire Uncharted was but a glint in Sony’s eye. So while Hitman: Absolution hopes to revive fond memories by putting us back in the shoes of the chrome-domed master assassin, it also tries to move with the times – adding more story, more gunfights and a wee dose of x-ray vision. The question is, can the series keep up with the Joneses without sacrificing its stealthy appeal?

Hitman: Absolution – story

Story plays a bigger role in Hitman: Absolution than in Agent 47’s previous adventures. This time he’s gone rogue to protect a young girl from countless lowlifes who want to hand her over to his shadowy former employers. But while the tale gives impetus to the action, it also means that some of the key assassinations are turned into cut scenes, robbing players of the climatic moment when their creeping around finally pays off. The story also strikes an uncomfortable balance between silly and serious, lurching psychotically from slapstick to straight-faced in the blink of an eye.

Hitman: Absolution – setting

The game looks fantastic throughout and its locations are packed with awesome, tiny details. But this quality comes at a price: the stages are rather on the compact side and while the less open environments keep the action focused, it does restrict your room for manoeuvre. In some instances it seems impossible to do anything but let rip with your guns, which seems out of keeping with the series’ spirit. The choice of locations can be unimaginative too, offering trips to Chinatown and a strip club – gaming locations more clichéd than Bruce Forsyth’s patter on Strictly Come Dancing.

Hitman: Absolution – gameplay

Hitman still rewards the stealthy player who skilfully sneaks past enemies before executing a kill and vanishing like a ghost, and it’s in these shadowy experiences that the game is most enjoyable. But it’s no slouch when it comes to guns either. While purists might feel cheated at sections that push players towards gunfights, there’s no denying that Hitman handles the action very well. Agent 47 cuts an intimidating, almost Terminator-like figure when he’s stalking down corridors, guns at the ready, picking off goons as they appear. The instinct feature that lets you freeze time and then tag targets before unleashing a volley of death is also fiendishly satisfying.

Hitman: Absolution – tricks of the trade

While the levels are compact and the guns more important, Hitman: Absolution usually doesn’t forget to give you plenty of tools to spice things up. Most levels feature plenty of objects to throw as distractions, everyday objects that turn into weapons and opportunities for nifty takedowns, such as dropping a large ceiling light onto the heads of some unsuspecting enemies to cause a distraction while you make a quick exit. It’s stuff like this that makes Hitman: Absolution compelling despite its niggling flaws, as figuring out and successfully executing a cunning plan is immensely rewarding.

Hitman: Absolution – Contracts

Since you’re a lone assassin, Hitman: Absolution doesn’t do multiplayer. Instead there’s Contracts, which is essentially a mission-creation tool. This mode lets players set up their own contracts in a selection of pre-fabricated environments by picking out the targets, how the kill is to be done and the role of non-target characters.  Once created the mission can be uploaded so that players all over the world can experience your assassination mission. It’s straightforward to use and seems flexible enough to imagine that, if players embrace it, Contracts could well be the killer app for Hitman: Absolution.

Hitman: Absolution – verdict

Hitman: Absolution is a flawed gem. It plays and looks great but the increased attention to guns won’t please everyone. The compact stages, indecisive story and watch-but-don’t-play assassinations also do the game no favours. But with a promising mission creation tool and the puzzle-solving pleasure of pulling off a masterful hit on offer, there’s plenty of fun to be found here.

Tested on Xbox 360

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Hitman: Absolution review

Pocket-sized stages and cut-scene killings aside, Hitman: Absolution’s stealthy joys are still cunning enough to keep things compelling