It’s been six long years since we last saw Agent 47 plying his trade, but interactive entertainment’s favorite contract killer seems to have only sharpened his skills (and his knives) during his extended hiatus. More than ever, “Hitman” is a game that rewards patience and creativity. There is no right or wrong course to reach your target. You can run through, guns-a-blazin’ if you so choose. But with a more deliberate pace, with the selection of a clever disguise, with the subtlety of piano wire rather than the blasting of a firearm, you can perform your assigned execution in a variety of satisfyingly macabre ways and earn the coveted rank of Silent Assassin. Your targets can be shot, stabbed, incinerated, electrocuted, detonated or crushed by the enormous skeleton of a whale. 47’s options are limited only by your own level of inventiveness.
“Absolution” is a gorgeous game — particularly during crowd scenes, when the number of NPCs makes the busy streets of “Assassin’s Creed” look downright deserted by comparison. Agent 47 himself looks far less clunky than he’s seemed in previous installments. The low-key animations of him blending in by dipping his head and obscuring his face are a nice touch and an essential tactic when you’re in the company of those who might otherwise see through your disguise. In terms of gameplay, my only complaint has to do with “Instinct Mode,” which, like “Detective Mode” in “Arkham Asylum” and “Dark Vision” in “Dishonored,” is a tool that borders on clairvoyance and negates any degree of challenge, but disciplined players can simply opt not to use it. After all, the joy of “Hitman” games is in discovering your own stealthy path to your unsuspecting victim, and the infinitely replayable levels in “Absolution” offer a multitude of such paths to discover.
With all the terrific “Batman” and “Transformers” games we’ve had lately, it’s easy to forget that licensed games are typically pretty awful. Here to remind us of that are Stewie and Brian, third-person shooting their way through bland alternate universes — each as arbitrary as “Family Guy”-trademarked non sequiturs (though not remotely as funny). The enemies are repetitive, the gunplay is mediocre, and sound clips from the show are recycled far too frequently. The script’s handful of good jokes (at Meg’s expense, in true “Family Guy” fashion) aren’t worth the effort it takes to reach them.
Rather than merely throwing a few famous Sega faces behind the steering wheel of the umpteenth “Mario Kart” wannabe, “Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed” actually brings some inspired ideas to the kart racing genre. Prime amongst its innovations is your kart’s ability to spontaneously transform into the most appropriate vehicle whether you’re racing on land, sea or air. You’ll typically encounter all three types of terrain in the course of a standard race, on tracks that tend to change dramatically from one lap to the next, ensuring that even if the courses weren’t cleverly designed (and they are), they’d take quite a while to feel old. CV