Considering the amount of controversy that IO Interactive and Square Enix faced during development, including accusations of being too easy and not using iconic voice actor David Bateson, it is a very welcome surprise to see that Hitman: Absolution returns to its series' roots with this iteration. While the PC game does provide new ways to make the game a little easier for newcomers, it does fully retain its other hardcore aspects to still provide a significant challenge no matter the skill level of the player. The challenges first become obvious upon starting the game as it asks the player what difficulty he would like to play on. The easiest difficulty eliminates the opportunity to complete additional objectives in the game for a higher score, and the most difficult “purist” setting removes the HUD altogether along with the new Instinct mechanic. Three other options offer different experiences in between these two extremes. Much like the rest of the games in the series, Hitman: Absolution puts players in the role of Agent 47. Immediately, the story points the finger at 47's former handler, Diana, accusing the woman of going rogue from the Agency as 47 is now tasked with assassinating her to keep her from harming the Agency with her in-depth knowledge of its ins and outs. This assignment, which is to be carried out in the very first mission, serves as a tutorial to teach the player the different techniques that 47 can implement in order to complete his objective. In each mission, there are several mini-objectives the player can complete. For example, in the first mission where the player gets complete control over Agent 47, he can increase his score permanently by dressing up in every possible costume available or killing a guard by dropping a piece of modern art directly on his head. The rewards are cumulative, so players can replay previous levels to complete more and more challenges as necessary—and it is necessary as some are impossible to complete at the same time as each other. This theme is prominent in all facets of Hitman: Absolution; it's a game that demands experimentation and multiple runs through each level. Every level offers a rather villainous target that has somehow gotten in the way of Agent 47's primary protection mission. Because of the events at the end of the first mission, 47's journey has him following Diana's footsteps in going rogue as well as making brand new enemies: Dexter, the Saints group of assassins, and even the very Agency that put 47 out there to begin with. Hitman: Absolution offers a grand mixture of everything series veterans have longed for: slow-paced, stealthy hunting, the absence of strange quirks from Blood Money and an easier time quickly putting down enemies with the use of the fiber wire. Perhaps the best example of the freedom that IO permits the player is in the familiar Chinatown level that Square Enix used as its show off level throughout the promotion for Hitman: Absolution. This is one of many levels that gives players the opportunity to decide for themselves what the best course of action is, whether it's poisoning the target's meals, sneaking off to his car and destroying it to lure him away from the pack or even going for the obvious, typical assassination approach in the old building across the way—but don't expect this easy kill to go without consequence. The environment seems to have more of a purpose in Absolution as well. One of the new mechanics in the title is the cover system, which gives 47 the opportunity to better sneak up on his enemies while remaining out of sight. This is one of the glimpses that the community saw and often misinterpreted during the development of Absolution, but it works really well for the series; in fact, it makes one wonder how 47 ever managed to stealthily traverse any terrain without using cover to keep out of sight and without donning a costume. The Instinct mechanic is another one that has been a major source of controversy. With this mode, 47 can see nearby enemies shaded through the walls in a yellow hue. Some members of the community believed it was unrealistic for 47 to suddenly become “psychic” with this ability, but it is more in-depth and believable than many give it credit for. For starters, the mode runs on a separate Instinct bar that depletes and doesn't regenerate, so while 47 could keep it on to wait for approaching enemies, it will eventually run out until he performs a special kind of kill, giving zero advantage for keeping it on continually. The best way to describe this mode is similar to the X-Ray mode in the Batman series but with more limitations; if you enjoyed the stealth sections of either Batman title, you will enjoy Hitman: Absolution's gameplay. One thing that quickly becomes obvious is that other NPCs seem to become suspicious of Agent 47's disguises far more quickly than in previous games, though it's not quite as rapid if the enemy in question is wearing a different outfit than 47. However, it does make sense in context; after all, NPCs wearing the same clothes that 47 just donned makes them suspicious of the new guy that suddenly showed up out of nowhere. Instinct is important for avoiding the rough confrontations of an enemy's guns due to the new social camouflage mechanic. Agent 47 can duck his head low and raise his hand up or perform a similar gesture that corresponds to the disguise he is wearing in an effort to blend into the outfit. In another later level, he's required to use this gimmick to blend into a crowd of innocent people to avoid an army of enemies from finding him. Of course, this isn't possible to use endlessly either—that would be too easy. Using this gimmick depletes the Instinct bar as well. Finally, Instinct also plays a part in the point shooting mechanic, which is just like the slow down enemy marking that the player can perform in Splinter Cell: Conviction. As with the social camouflage and enemy vision mechanics, using the point shooting mechanic will also deplete Instinct. This meter is considerably shorter than one might expect, so it is definitely important not to use all of the new perks at once. Agent 47 can also interact with the environment by picking up certain objects to attack enemies with. Though it's not as subtle an approach, it still gets the job done provided he aims correctly. Hitman: Absolution implements an interesting form of multiplayer as well; however, rather than make it nonsensical and pit players against one another in a free-for-all shooting scheme, IO has created the Contracts system. In this mode, players can create objectives within existing levels and challenge the community to try and complete them to see who is the best assassin in the world. To ensure that players do not simply create impossible objectives, the contract can only be created by actually completing the objectives themselves. Graphically, Hitman: Absolution is leaps and bounds above its predecessor, Blood Money, though this is to be expected as there has been a large gap between releases; however, the cutscenes leave much to be desired. While the gameplay looks perfectly fine, the cutscenes seem like they were made a long time ago—a few years earlier, in fact. Additionally, PC users may face some difficulties when trying to play the game; it is subject to a few performance issues, which include but are not limited to an out of memory error, corrupt game files, flickering, crashing after loading cutscenes, general failure, not starting after clicking Play and others. Note that it will also take a long time to boot the first time because it's unpacking a large number of files, but this shouldn't repeat in the future. Hopefully IO and SquareEnix will be quick with patching, rendering these issues moot in the future. Major fans of the series will want to consider purchasing the Deluxe Professional Edition of Hitman: Absolution, which comes with instant access to the sniper challenge that every pre-order customer will receive at launch, a limited edition hardcover book detailing the fascinating art of Hitman, the Agency Gun Pack DLC, a DVD that shows off the making of the game, a ten-inch vinyl statue of Agent 47 and the game itself. The Agency Gun Pack includes the modern top tier pistol Agency Jagd P22G, the high caliber SMG Agency HX UMP and the semi-automatic shotgun Agency SPS 12. Fans can also purchase the regular Professional Edition, which comes with the same DVD, hardcover art book and Agency Gun Pack but does not feature the statue. It's safe to say that despite all of the confusion that has occurred with Square Enix's presentation of the game and the poor performance issues on some setups, it's still the same challenging Hitman iteration that fans of the series have come to know and love.