- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2012

Agent 47 returns with a bloodied chip on his shoulder and a big gun in his hand in the ballet of brutality referred to as Hitman: Absolution (Square Enix and IO Interactive, rated Most Mature, $59.99).

The latest game to the popular third-person franchise, not seen since 2006, allows a player to take control of one of the world’s deadliest assassins, although I’m sure Desmond Miles‘ stealthy ancestors would argue the point.

Well-dressed in his black suit and quietly methodical in his executions, the stern-looking, bald-headed brute mixes a facial physique of Lex Luthor with a Clint Eastwood brow and, correct me if I am wrong here, just a pinch of Steven Stifler from the “American Pie” movie series.

Our killer, now sporting a chronically-oozing wound on the back of his head (from a recently-removed bar code covered with a bandage), is out to save a young girl named Victoria while on a rampage of revenge against his former employees, the International Contract Agency, now also out to kill him.

Through a 20-chapter, heavily-broken-up story, loaded with plenty of deadly contracts to complete, Agent 47 has access to firearms, improvised weapons and dozens of unlockable assassin techniques.

However, killing can, and is, rewarded as an art form throughout. A stylish endeavor at every outing, it can be defined by stealth, misdirection, disguises, hiding bodies, hiding Agent 47’s body, chronic crouching (I can’t imagine the back pain issues this guy has) and blending in with crowds.

Assistance comes from many useable objects (bottles to toss are plentiful) or, most importantly, the Agent’s use of Instinct mode. With a meter that drains during its use (and fills up again for executing skills), it allow the player to see an infrared layover of a situation to predict the path of an enemy while undercover, fool characters, see the obvious hostiles and identify hidden objects and targets.

Disguises also help his stealth attacks and are as simple as knocking out a victim and holding a controller button to change into his clothes.

Unfortunately, nearby enemies are no dummies and pretty quickly catch on to the ruse, but the outrageous options eventually include a masked wrestler, Samurai, factory guard and hot-sauce factory chef.

Now let’s remove the occasional strangulation, neck-snapping and layers of blood, and players get a pretty slick puzzle game made more challenging as the controllable difficulty level gets ramped up. Be forewarned, the Purist level can make hardcore gamers’ eyes water.

A player moves through a maze of environmental obstacles and adversaries to complete contracts and escape danger to earn high point totals for the cleverest kills with the least amount of victims.

This is where the game will frustrate and exhaust the meticulous and retentive assassins. I found myself restarting at checkpoints over and over again, gritting my teeth, to find the right combination of strategies to kill and exit routes to get the highest point totals.

Of course, the Hitman can also simply take the rabid Punisher approach. Load up silencers, snub-nosed handguns, semi-automatic shotguns and unload with no prejudice upon anyone in the Agent’s path.

The denouement to that slaughter technique is engaging the Instinct meter while tapping into the Point Shooting option. It temporarily slows down time for the player to target headshots of multiple foes in view and restart the action to watch the grisly result.

Of course, existing in this world of murder-for-hire pushes the limits of R-rated action.

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