It's fun playing the invisible man

AGENT 47: Find your target then eliminate them in a variety of ways.
AGENT 47: Find your target then eliminate them in a variety of ways.

Agent 47 is something of an enigma: nobody really knows what he looks like - apart from the bald head and the barcode tattooed on the back of it - but utter his name and almost everyone knows who he is.

Absolution opens with 47 under instruction from the newly reformed Agency to eliminate Diana Burnwood, his handler from previous Hitman games. He does as he's told but as Burwood lies fatally injured, she implores him to protect a young girl, Victoria, from the clutches of the Agency. In previous Hitman games, 47 was a detached, unemotional assassin but now he will do anything to protect Victoria.

Absolution is a stunning game visually, with the game world intricately detailed, and the opening levels, set in the dark streets of Chicago, have a layer of grime spread thick as 47 skulks about the city's seedy underbelly and its inhabitants in his quest to track down Victoria's whereabouts. Impressive, too, is the mind-bogglingly big crowds that often populate some public spaces, making it easier for 47 to blend in and avoid detection.

Absolution is a game with a dark sense of humour: in one level that takes place in a research facility, 47 overhears two scientists talking about a hair loss prevention formula they're working on. In another he's wearing a blue dressing gown and holding a fruity cocktail before he starts his hunt for a pack of Agency assassins.

Each story chapter is made up of several bite-sized levels, and could have one or more targets for 47 to eliminate or be as simple as guiding the bald-headed chap through a small room to another door, undetected.

Many of the levels have several options to eliminate a target, such as making it look like an accident, so replay value is high. Once a target has been eliminated, you have to find the escape point.

A long-time staple of the Hitman games is 47's ability to disguise himself, and it's here in Absolution - and he still leaves his trademark black suit in a neat pile somewhere, too - and this is how many contracts can be completed creatively: 47 knocks out some poor sap, changes into his clothes (dumping his unconscious body into a dumpster), strolls past the door security then takes out the target. And that's where Absolution shines: when you creatively dispatch a target then walk off into the sunset without anyone noticing. If 47 is spotted by another character dressed the same - such as a police officer - he can use a mechanic called instinct where he covers his face with a hand: it adds realism but you have to suspend belief at how little an entire police force knows when an intruder is in its ranks. Players are scored on their performance and unnecessary kills or discovered bodies will bring a penalty.

It's hard not to judge Absolution against previous games, but I have to, and it has moments of brilliance - like a mission where 47 can dress up as a scarecrow and creep through a cornfield to assassinate two targets - but it's just bogged down by some levels that seem like filler, cliched characters and an emotionally attached 47 that seems at odds with his previous self. The game's Contracts mode, where the player can complete several challenges on their favourite levels from the game, is fantastic fun.

Hitman: Absolution grew on me and I loved the creativity it sometimes offered, but it's just a shame it took so long to gain momentum.

Hitman Absolution
For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Classification: R16
RRP: $109.99

The Press