March 18, 2016, Author: Matt Parker
They say that practice makes perfect and it’s clear that IO Interactive believe in this saying. They’ve been making Hitman games for decades now, as this is now the sixth ‘main’ Hitman game. IO have also taken this idiom as a starting point for Hitman’s structure. This is a game that expects you to play through each level multiple times, finding the multitude of ways that you can complete each mission.
I say ‘each level’, yet this is a game that currently only has one full level and two tutorial levels to its name. This is because Hitman is now an episodic title with new missions being released every month. This somehow isn’t a problem and might even prove to be a real strength, assuming future levels are as strong as this first offering.For those of you that have missed the previous five Hitman games and for those of you that can’t figure out what a game called Hitman is about, let me explain. You take the role of Agent 47, a mysterious assassin with an unknown past. Well, you would know his history if you played the very first Hitman game, but I don’t recommend that. It’s not aged well.
The story of Hitman (2016) is that you’re simply working through his greatest hits. Forgive the pun. You start off playing through two tutorial missions where you’re trying to become a member of the Kill Club (or whatever the secret agency is called), and from there you’re then doing a mission in Paris where you need to kill a pair of nasty people who disguise themselves as a wannabe fashion designer and an ex-model.
There’s probably going to be some over-arching story that connects all the missions together, but I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s going to be nothing more than conspiracy nonsense and it’s not why you’re playing a Hitman game. You’re playing a Hitman game because you want to be a cool, cold contract killer who loves nothing more than playing dress-up. Are you a white, bald man? You best watch out as Agent 47 is a master of disguise and will steal your threads at best and garrotte you with piano wire at worst.
In previous efforts I’ve been guilty of racing through some levels and being satisfied with messy hits. If a level didn’t grab my attention, I’d brute force my way through it and simply move on to the next. With this Hitman, this isn’t an option; I’ve only got one level to play through and this has been a blessing as it’s forced me to replay and learn the map inside out. Does that sound annoying to you? You’ll probably not like Hitman then. If you think you’re going to boot up a level and in your first go race through it without being seen, you’re mistaken.
This is all part of the fun, though, as replaying the level doesn’t feel repetitive thanks to many ways you can approach and complete your mission. These different routes are hinted at thanks to the game’s challenges, which act like trophies to complete. If a challenge tells you that you need to blow-up both of your targets whilst they hide in their safe room, then you can make a logical leap that there’s a way to get your targets to hide in their safe room. Hitman never spells out what’s possible in the level, but by looking at these challenges, grabbing ‘intel pick-ups’ that are dotted about the stage and stumbling across ‘opportunities’, you’ll soon get a very good idea of what strings you can pull.
‘Intel pickups’ are nothing more than clipboards or other interesting items that help explain the systems at play within the level. For example, if you find a clipboard with the running order the fashion show that’s happening, you can read that your target will take to the stage if the fashion designer is unavailable. So, you figure that if you poison the fashion designer then the target will take to the catwalk instead and whilst he’s up there giving a speech, you can drop two tons of lighting onto his head. A nice, clean kill.
Opportunities work in a similar way, though they’re a little more involved, and often start with overhearing a conversation and require several steps to see through. For example, you’ll hear two make-up artists talk about how one of the star models has just arrived and, hey, did you notice how Agent 47 kind of looks like him? With this overheard, the model’s position is now on your map, so you go to check him out. As you approach the model you see him being photographed and soon overhear him talking about a meeting he’s arranged with one of your targets. Do you see where this is going? It soon ends up with you dressing up as said model, having a sit-down chat with your foe and the garrotting her at the end of the conversation.
Truth be told, you’re not likely to see any of the most interesting routes your first time round. You’ll probably end up shooting a bunch of people and legging it out through the front gate. This is fine though, as upon finishing the level you’re rewarded for completing challenges, finding intel and seeing through opportunities. These all level up your ‘mastery rank’ for the mission and at each rank you unlock something new for your next attempt.
You’ll unlock the ability to start off dressed as a waiter in the kitchen, you’ll unlock weapon drop-off points, meaning that a nice, shiny sniper rifle is waiting for you in the downstairs loo and so on. With these unlocks you start to think of new ways to complete the level and you start to see how you can beat some of the challenges.
All of this repetition would be awful if it weren’t for the fact that the mission (there’s only one available at the moment) is so varied. It’s varied in the ways you can complete it and it’s varied in the areas that are contained within. A stroll through the gardens, creeping about in the attic or blending in amongst the fashion industry’s’ finest – it all happens within the same map.
On top of this there’s fun to be had simply watching the level run through its own script. Models throw tantrums, rich sheiks attend secret auctions and fashion bloggers lose their mind as they can’t find a replacement camera lens. There’s a real dark humour to what’s happening in the sizeable world you’re placed in and whilst in some of the exposition you’ll hear tries to make you care about the story, banging on about double-agents and what not, it’s the cynical wit that’s most fun to eavesdrop on.
This structure isn’t perfect and does sometimes fall into the problem of trial and error. For example, I wanted to complete a challenge that required me to blow-up my targets whilst they hid in their ‘safe room’ (Hitman loves irony). This started off well enough as I found intel on how to get my victims to rush to their safe room, though I had no idea where their safe room actually was. I had no option but to raise the alarm and watch as they cowered in a room that I’d never even set foot in before. With that, I had to re-load the level and booby trap it on my next run through. Maybe I missed a piece of intel placed in the level or maybe I could have used some logic to figure it out, but in the end I simply had to trial and error my way to victory.
Overall, Hitman is still an impressive feat, even if there’s only one full level to play at the moment, I’ve been able to play it for hours. There’s so many challenges to complete and on top of this there’s a contracts and escalation mode that ensures that most gets made out of the content available.
Contracts are simply player made missions. Kind of like Mario Maker, you have to complete the challenge yourself before you can save it and upload it as a contract, so you’ll never find a mission that’s impossible to do. You might find some that are boring to do but never impossible.
The Escalation mode is as it sounds, with a basic hit getting more and more complicated after each attempt. An escalation mission will start off with asking you to kill someone, but each subsequent play will throw in a new wrinkle. The next time you play you’ll be asked to break into a safe as well as kill a guy. Then you’ll be asked to kill two guys and break into the safe. Then you’ll be asked to break into the safe, kill the two guys and make sure you hide all bodies within 90 seconds of taking them out. This is a nice idea, though I did run into a slight issue where back to back rounds played out identically for me. Because I always hide my bodies, the extra objective of ‘hide all bodies’ didn’t change my approach at all. Hopefully this won’t be a problem in future escalation missions, but it was a bit of a shame.
It’s a testament to the quality of Hitman that I’m struggling to find issues. The game looks great and it runs well. Sure, there’s some framerate issues when you’re stood in amongst a busy crowd, especially when you pull out a gun and get them to start freaking out. Another issue is that for a game that asks you to replay the same level over and over again, the load times can be a little on the long side. On top of this, the menus seem to be pulling information from the internet meaning that there’s a pause that’s just too long when you want to check the map.
Other than that, what else is there to say? Agent 47 controls well, hugging walls and crouching behind cover in a fluid way. Enemies make their intentions clear, with a ‘?’ popping above their head if they’re searching for something / someone. The HUD makes it clear when you’re trespassing and highlights enemies that will see through your disguise. It’s all well signposted and it never feels cheap when you get spotted, especially when you can use Agent 47’s ‘instinct vision’ to see through walls and highlight any potential threats.
It’s a hit, man…
Hitman is at its best when you give yourself a goal to complete, you plan your hit and then you execute it perfectly. After bumbling my way through the level a couple of times, the feeling I got when I successfully lured my targets into a room and detonated a bomb whilst stood outside in my dinner jacket, watching the chaos ensue as I calmly walked to the front gates, was great. I went from ‘Loud Idiot’ to ‘Silent Assassin’.
So it’s safe to say we’re off to a good start. The plan is for Square Enix to launch a new level every month for the next five months, and there’ll be new contracts appearing and new escalations to play through each week as well. If this is the standard for all of the content that’s to come, I can’t wait. Hitman has really hit the mark with this first offering. It’s a real return to form.