I played Hitman: Absolution as a third-person action shooter. I do not recommend that. Play it like I did and you might just miss truly enjoying and appreciating one of the best games of the year.

This was my first Hitman game ever and while it was quite easy to follow the storyline of this particular game, I have to imagine I missed a lot of the subtle callbacks to previous games as well as truly felt the emotional resonance of some of the character relationships between main character Agent 47 and everyone else in the game.

For instance, it’s no surprise if you’ve seen the trailers or read any of the previews (if you haven’t and want to remain unspoiled, skip this paragraph) that the first mission is to kill your former handler at the International Contract Agency, Diana Burnwood. As a rookie, it served as a great tutorial mission. For fans—it was probably an insane way to start the new game.

The first mission, however, is quite unlike most other missions in the game. Throughout, you’ll learn the basics like how to disguise yourself and hide in plain sight and how to use Instinct to detect enemy movements as well as continue to hide your disguise. You’ll learn how to hide bodies. And if you’re caught, you’ll learn how to fake surrender or take a human shield.

Instinct is a meter on the bottom right part of the screen and can be filled by completing objectives, activating distractions (like throwing a brick or something else) or taking out enemies using stealth. Alternatively, you can set the game on easy and watch that Instinct meter refill quite easily. (Guilty as charged here for doing that.)

But more than anything else, that first mission is a fairly linear stealth mission. The rest of the game for the most part, is definitely not like that.

There are, however, a few fun diversions in the twenty missions that are quite short but still enjoyable—one involves what to do with a captured enemy in the desert and another involves your tailor.

Instead, the majority of the missions in the game are all about causing kills that look like accidents. In the PR materials included with the game, Tore Bylstad, Game Director, says, “To make a hit look like an accident is the highest goal of a silent assassin and as a result, accidents have become a central feature for Hitman: Absolution.”

The game developers fill the vast world with plenty of ways to cause accidents. Sure, you could be lazy like me and just go in guns blazing and kill everyone—not just your marked targets. But the more clever and strategic you are, the more points you will earn which are shown with on-screen prompts in the top left. Those points, tallied at the end of each mission, allow you to unlock certain special skills and abilities.

So if you’re not impatient like me – which we learned in my Dishonored review – you’ll see a way to drop a disco ball on your target without anyone noticing that you did so. Or you know… a giant whale skeleton.

Is the game over the top? Sure. But a game that lets you run amuck inside a weapons factory where mines are being produced and tested can still be insanely fun.

You might roll your eyes at the very idea of nun assassins – and no fault if you do – but the cleverness and the attention to detail that went into the mission where you hunt them down is so thought-out and executed so well, that you probably won’t mind.

The voice over work is fairly tremendous, except for perhaps David Bateson as Agent 47. He seemed a bit too robotic and didn’t convey the complex emotions in his voice that I would have expected for someone having dealt with a lot of challenges in this game. (Again, rookie here. Agent 47 might have always been like that in other games.)

Keith Carradine as Blake Dexter, the main antagonist, however is amazing and could easily have veered off in to over the top theatrics. But his performance is mostly grounded and he’s character pops whenever he’s on screen.

It’s an assassin’s playground in Hitman: Absolution and the fact that you can kill your targets any way you can—or even that you can play the game any way you want—makes it one of the best games of the year hands down. There’s a lot of incentive for replayability so you can see the other ways to take out your targets. And there’s a Contracts mode where you can challenge other players to perform a kill the way you did.

(Given the hectic schedule of game review season, we only looked at the single player campaign in this review. We’ll try and revisit the multiplayer in a future review.)

Play Hitman: Absolution the way you want it. I would just recommend taking a lot more time with it than I could afford. (And try to be more patient than me.)

Either way—just play it.

Hitman: Absolution is out this Tuesday for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and OnLive.

* Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. *