There’s a touch of the Bourne movies about Agent 47′s latest as, free of the International Contract Agency, he turns the tides on his former bosses – not least because his former handler, now turned traitor, charges him with looking after the female equivalent of himself, that being a girl chemically adjusted to be a remorseless killer.

Much of the his early ventures see him on quid pro quo missions in which targets must be taken out for an informant by the name of Birdie – no prizes for guessing he’s something of a pigeon fancier – so 47 can call in favours from his well-connected accomplice and find out just exactly who this girl he’s looking out for is.

The first mission of this type finds 47 in Chinatown on the trail of a local crime lord. The first thing to strike you upon opening the gate – and so moving from a quiet alley to a packed market – is the busyness of it all as literally hundreds of people, the ‘Crowd’ as they’re collectively known, go about their business unaware that there’s a Hitman in their midst.

Such hustle and bustle is of course perfect for 47 as he looks to blend in and access his options. His target is hardly hard to find, he’s the one at the heart of the market shouting and screaming about wanting something to ease his ‘sweet tooth’, and so cue his appropriately dressed dealer to appear who, if you’re of the mind, can be followed, overpowered and clothes taken allowing 47 the option to simply walk up to his target unhindered by guards. A good plan of attack, but when it comes to 47’s exit strategy.

Holding down R1 eases our bald protagonist into ‘Instinct’ mode, whereby all objects he’s able to interact with are highlighted, as are nearby guards and even the predicted paths of the patrol they’re currently following. With Instinct mode activated you can quickly discern options and plan your attack. In this market mission for example, your target for example will do his Godfather ‘Don’ routine as he arrogantly takes food from local vendors – with his favourite dish highlighted it’s easy to know where to place some poison (assuming you can find it first).

Similarly his stash can be traced and contaminated, or else his office – complete with handily placed sniper’s rifle – infiltrated, so allowing for a long-distance kill and chance to blend back into the throng of the crowds before anyone knows what’s happened. Indeed there are so many choices that it can be difficult to work out which is your best option.

For the record I took the sniper option, hid until any guards and police had long since given up hope of finding the shooter and promptly legged it to the exit point – not very dramatic but tidy enough.

The game does let you drop back into any mission you’ve completed, so if you’re itching to replay a mission and attain a better score (for every action you perform is measured), it’s entirely possible; indeed it’s obvious this is a feature IO want you to try out given the points total for each stage is cumulative and some objectives are mutually exclusive.

If I’ve a complaint of Hitman as a series it’s the way in which 47 is spotted so easily by guards, even when he’s supposedly disguised. Absolution does go some way to addressing that, the Instinct mode once more coming into play here to allow him to blend in more fully, at least until it runs dry. If cornered the same energy can also be expended on slowing time to allow shots to be lined up in order to instantly take down multiple targets.

Worth the wait? What I’ve played so far suggests that Absolution is the most user-friendly Hitman yet, and one with free rein to cut loose any number of action set pieces – a helicopter chase and a Fugitive-style bit of hide-and-seek from police patrols before daringly leaping on to a train seems enough to suggest that. Whether the game continues to throw such variation at the player for its duration is the question; I await the full game with interest.

Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
When? 20 November 2012