Hitman: Absolution is the fifth game in the stealth assassin series starring Agent 47 as the protagonist. The story continues after the events of the previous game, Hitman: Blood Money. Diana Burnwood, Agent 47’s handler with the International Contract Agency, goes rogue and sets up a sabotage operation that risks exposing the entire agency. Benjamin Travis reforms the agency and puts a hit on Burnwood, tasking Agent 47 to kill her and bring back the teenage girl Victoria that is in her care. Early on in the game he tracks down Diana, but hesitates when he has the opportunity to kill her. From there, the story unfolds into a larger conspiracy that puts the girl Victoria in the center. Compared to the previous game, 47 now often has an emotional bond with the victims and he becomes hunted himself as well.
Rather than independent missions, they are now linked together with sections where 47 travels from one location to another. The basic gameplay is still present. He often has to infiltrate locations to take out a specific target and disappear again. Points are scored by completing primary and secondary objectives, along with the chosen method. Choosing a careful approach based on stealth and non-lethal kills is always rewarded more. After missions a ranking is shown and it is compared to players worldwide. In addition there are separate challenges to complete, such as using a certain amount of different weapons or disguises. Points are used to access upgrades that enhance Agent 47’s skills, such as less visibility when hiding, more accuracy when shooting, less time to strangle opponents or faster melee combat. When the operation goes wrong, full out shooting is also possible, but will not lead to the best reward.
The core gameplay is still based around looking for cover, taking out and dragging people out of sight, and some acrobatic maneuvers. Certain parts of the environment can be used to jump or to hang on a ledge, but not everything. A feature called Instinct shows whether a certain part can be used or not. Instinct is gathered through actions in the game. It can also be used to activate Point Shooting. This mechanic allows Agent 47 to stop time, mark the opponents, and then continue to fire and kill quickly in succession. Another Instinct feature is the ability to look through walls to see the location of enemies and their movement pattern. A further use is bluff. When wearing a disguise, certain characters may still recognize him, especially when he gets too close. In those situations a bluff can be made as a last resort that eats up a lot of Instinct. Agent 47 will then make a move that throws them off so they lose their suspicion.
His main weapon is the signature Silverballer pistol with a silencer. Two of them can be equipped and used together. Weapons left behind by enemies can also be picked up and used. In addition there is room for gadgets such as a piano string, but also items found in the environment such as bottles, bricks, hammers, knives etc. They are used to kill or can be thrown to create a distraction. As enemies often patrol in groups, they need to be isolated and their movement needs to be studied. Strangled enemies can either be killed or just be rendered unconscious. To avoid alarms, they always need to be hidden, out of sight.
Next to the main mission, Contracts can be completed as an asynchronous multiplayer mode. These are custom tasks created by the developer or other players. Anyone can mark a specific target in a level and determine how he ought to be killed, based on a certain weapon or disguise for instance. These challenges can then be taken on by other players. Up to three victims can be assigned to a single Contract.