GAME REVIEW: Hitman: Absolution (PS3)
The barcode is back. Agent 47, the stylish assassin capable of blending in almost anywhere - as long as no one notices the barcode tattooed on his noggin (and no one ever does) - returns in the fifth instalment of the hit franchise.
GAME: HITMAN: ABSOLUTION (PS3)
Absolution is a curate's egg of a game. When it's good, it's everything and more that you've come to expect from this franchise; when it's bad you're tempted to hire 47 to eliminate the developers.
The aim, like in previous versions, is to role-play this anonymous hitman, hired by a CIA-like entity, to eliminate targets and to reach the end of each level undetected.
Depending on the level of difficulty selected, you have a number of save checkpoints - none on the hardest setting - to reconsider strategy.
Harder is more fun, but slipping up with the end of the level in sight is soul-destroying.
You can also select the level of finesse with which to dispatch your target: one choice early on in the game is whether to poison your target's noodles at his favourite restaurant, or push him down a manhole.
Stealth is your holy grail. Although you can achieve your objective by gung-ho methods - going in all guns blazing and hightailing it out of there - the best hitman is the one who kills his target without alerting anyone and then nonchalantly walks away.
This is where Absolution fails the franchise. It is very linear, with none of the open-ended gameplay we've come to expect.
The most frustrating part is that occasionally there are moments of such brilliance that just as you were about to give up in disgust, you are reeled back in.
My issues with the title are mainly caused by the levels of difficulty, which are effectively only two extremes. There's easy, where you are quickly alerted that your cover is at risk and eliminating your target is as tricky as painting by numbers. And then there's difficult, which is fiendish but rewarding.
It's a great-looking game as the graphics have been significantly improved. There is greater use of cinematics. When it achieves its optimum balance it really is one of the best games around. Fun, occasionally funny and challenging.
Too much has been dumbed down. Most of the disguises suck. You can't close doors to cover your trail, but there are huge bins indoors to help you stash a body. You can't free-roam as much as you should.