Agent 47 goes rogue in Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution has you searching for - surprise! - a handler who has gone rogue.

The ruthless Agent 47 turns his back on the Agency in the grittier, more melodramatic Hitman: Absolution. Courtesy Square Enix
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Hitman: Absolution
Square Enix
PS3, Xbox360, PC

This month could go down as the bloodiest in gaming history. With Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, Medal of Honour: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Blcak Ops 2, to name just a few, we've had alien, American Revolutionary War, Al Qaeda-linked jihad movement and future international terrorist slaughter on a scale never seen before.

Just when you thought you'd seen enough on-screen death, in comes Hitman: Absolution, which even newcomers to the franchise are likely to realise isn't a theme park simulation.

Like the month's other major launches, Absolution is the latest addition in a long-running series, the fifth since IO Interactive first introduced the genetically enhanced, folically challenged master of stealth, Agent 47, in 2000 and five years since his last shindig. The story picks up from there, with players assigned by the Agency to eliminate the handler who "went rogue" in the last episode.

Within minutes, you're scouring the outside of a sun-soaked villa in which your target is contained, subduing gardeners, hiding bodies in bins and sneaking past security guards while in disguise. As per previous Hitmans, there's always the urge to break out into all-out gun battles, but the satisfaction - and points - come when you adopt the sneaky-sneaky route; crouching, using your "instinct" and striking at the right moment with the right weapon.

Sadly, the new story into which you're thrust is where the game loses its way. Agent 47's previous role had been that of a ruthless, shadowy figure able to ghost into rooms, do the necessary and disappear. But in Absolution he turns his back on the Agency and is tasked with saving a girl from the clutches of his former employer. It's a narrative that doesn't sit particularly well; it's overwrought and incoherent, and certainly not the cold and calculated style of before.

That said, the game does have its moments of undeniable joy, especially in the larger public areas, with plenty of options available for target disposal. In an early episode set in a bustling Chinatown you're tasked with taking out its "king" and there are several imaginative methods to attempt. There are also numerous "accidental kills" you can try with items such as wobbly disco balls and faulty electricity generators just waiting to be made use of.

The graphics, too, are something to behold. Rain-soaked streets and dingy hotels are brought to life in glorious fashion, as is Agent 47's ever-pressed black suit-and-tie combo, unless you're in disguise.

There are niggles. Enemy suspicions are sometimes raised in unrealistic situations and there are several continuity issues. But should you pull off the perfect stealth kill and sneak out unnoticed, you're unlikely to care. And then there's the outstanding level in which you must take out the all-girl Saints hit-squad, each clad in latex catsuits, knee-high boots and - naturally - nuns' habits.

On the multiplayer side, there's the Contracts mode, in which you create your own mission from the areas in the campaign and upload them online for others to attempt.

Absolution is a noticeable leap from the previous Hitmans, a more pulped-up, Quentin Tarantino-style affair. Its overly melodramatic storyline might enrage fans of the old, bleaker Agent 47. But despite having been handed something of a conscience for the first time, he's still a mean killer at heart.