I activated 47's Instinct, and he quickly brought his hand to his hat, covering his face. Too late. The goons on the sofa stood up, yelling at me to stop. The goons at the top of the stairs, alerted, swaggered over. If 47 is spotted doing something obviously dodgy – stashing a body, shooting someone between the eyes, downloading a Robbie Williams song, that kind of thing – then guards will immediately flip to a hostile state, emptying their guns in his general direction. But if he's just being mightily suspicious, as I was, they'll try to force him to surrender. Press Q and you'll pretend to give up, affecting a hands-up stance as your accusers come closer. Once they're within range, the game launches an automatic animation that disarms the closest enemy, takes his gun, and pulls him into a headlock. If you're off in a secluded spot, this is a great way to dispose of a single enemy. If you're standing on top of a set of stairs, being watched by more than ten pairs of eyes, it's less effective.
I tried to activate the lift with my arm around a human shield, his pilfered gun pointing over his shoulder towards his angry friends. They saw my intentions and opened fire as one, killing my shield and turning my vision red with injury. Using a spare second to call the lift, I ducked into cover and waited for it to arrive. Once it did, I hopped in and rode it to a higher floor, the second of the hotel's stages. Fortunately for me, everyone up there hadn't been in contact with their partners-in-goonery downstairs, and seemed happy to let me wander around, provided I didn't stray within intense suspicion range.
Where the Teminus Hotel is broken up into stages, preceding level Chinatown is more open. It consists of a square with a central pagoda, its streets filled with people: crooked cops, drug dealers and innocents. Absolution's story mode visits the location twice, first asking 47 to murder one target – mob boss the King of Chinatown – then sending him back to kill three others later in the day.
I went back a third time in the game's Contracts mode. Contracts is Hitman's take on score attack mode, gifting Agent 47 points for offing targets quickly, in specific ways, using chosen weapons and wearing the proper clothes. Other players create contracts by playing through the game's levels as normal, marking targets along the way for other players to shoot, stab, or smother. Completing a kill as requested awards points that can be compared against your homicidal friends' scores. There's a filter of social integration that sits a bit wonkily with the series, and Hitman's joy has always been madcap freedom in your murder method rather than the chase of obsessive perfection.
But Contracts isn't a bungled job: it gives a fresh eye on levels you've already played. I chose to play one of the missions set up by developers IO themselves, set again in Chinatown. Instead of the storyline's mob boss, I found myself gunning for two targets: one a cop, one a flat-cap wearing gangster. The cop was an easy kill. Veering straight off to the left on entering the level, I found him stood next to a sportscar parked in an alley. I locked eyes with him for a second, before he turned on his heels and pottered down the road to inspect some fascinating boxes, conveniently out of sight of the hundred-plus NPCs in the central square. I dropped into a crouch and followed him. En route, I had options to complicate the kill: I could pound on the car's window, bringing the cop over to peer into the windows and check on the contents. I could pick up some discarded plastic explosives, left by some forgetful bomb-maker, and blow my target up. Or I could take the easy option, ready my garotting wire, and wrap it around his neck at the end of the alley.
First one down, I strolled back through the crowds of people. My next target was visible via 47's Instinct mode: he was standing up in an office overlooking the level's central pagoda. I remembered the office as the one I found a stashed sniper rifle in during my first visit to Chinatown. Another crooked cop was guarding the staircase that led up to said office, but I'd distracted him before by fiddling with the contents of a nearby fusebox. I did the same again, luring the copper from his seat and slipping past him as he cursed the busted electronics. Still crouching, I started to climb the staircase, and shuffled face-first into a descending crotch.
My target had moved, and I wasn't ready for it. I mashed the keyboard and 47 launched into a quicktime event of a fight, punching with letter keys. The cop, returning from fixing the fusebox, was treated to the sight of me slamming another man's head into a wall. He immediately drew his gun, just as I put a bullet through my now-unconscious target's skull, and I sprinted back upstairs and climbed into a cupboard.
It was no good: the cop had a good look at me, and I was stuck without clothes to change into. Languishing in the cupboard was only delaying the inevitable. I cycled through my inventory items, alighting on the remotely detonated plastic explosive I'd picked up earlier. I climbed out of the cupboard and poked my head out of the window, only to be met by a hail of bullets. In return, I lobbed the explosive charge towards the ground and fired a few times to flush backup cops out of cover. I blew the charge as they rearranged themselves, clearing something of a path for myself. Back down the stairs, I aimed a silenced silverballer pistol shot at the fusebox cop, and changed quickly into his clothes. Numbers at the top of the screen were ticking down – I'd lost points for being spotted, the time taken between kills, and the huge amount of people, innocent and otherwise, that I'd eviscerated with my impromptu bombing – but I still had a positive number.
Cops streamed past as I exited the fusebox alley; I covered my face using Instinct and walked purposefully for the exit. It wasn't pretty, but I came out of the contract with my two targets dead: not enough to trouble a high-score table, but a victory in Absolution's book. And in mine. Absolution gave me the option to be robotic or reactionary, chase perfection or make the best of a bad situation. It's a tighter, less freeform experience than Blood Money, but fortunately it still offers the kind of lethal invention that made that game great.