It’s been a really long time since I played a Hitman game - I had the foresight to avoid Hitman: Absolution; meaning I haven’t seen Agent 47 in action since 2006’s excellent Hitman: Blood Money. Square-Enix have decided to jump on the bandwagon and release Hitman as an episodic game, releasing content over the next year for those with a season pass, although consumers are free to purchase the introduction pack and buy the episodes they wish to play.
The first episode features two tutorial missions and the first portion of the story. The tutorial levels introduce players to the Hitman mechanics, while providing a smaller environment to practise in. The story kicks off in Paris and involves Agent 47 infiltrating the Sanguine Falls Fashion Show. Right from the off, the scale of the world is clear- the mansion as well as the outer grounds are filled with guests, guards, waiters and all other kinds of people. Exploring the areas shows the level of work that has been put into the world creation.
NPCs interact with each other and the environment depending on what their job is within the mansion. I stumbled across some employees talking in the backroom about how rude all of the guests were, then I stuck a waitress disguise on and experienced the rudeness for myself. This consistency makes the fashion show feel like a real location, giving the mission and the narrative a tangible quality.
There are story related interactions called Opportunities that players can follow in each mission, they will often bring Agent 47 close to the target and can lead to some of the more glamourous kills. These are often started by accident, as you will bump into these story relevant characters as you explore. Some are incredibly obvious, whilst other are more subtly hidden, making exploration important. Some of the older Hitman fans might find these interactions a bit too linear, but for those who are new to the series it offers a more guided path. Those that enjoy a more open experience will be happy to know Opportunities can be turned off at any time.
While the story content is lacking right now, there are several other modes to play. Through Contracts Mode, players can download content created by the Hitman community. Using the creation tool, players can choose any NPC within a level as a target. Creators can set specific rules for a hit as well, choosing which weapon must be used, or if the environment must come into play. I feel Contracts Mode is going to come into its own much later in the life of the game, when there is access to more levels and more characters. I had a quick play with the creator, it’s a little bit confusing at first but there is room for creativity.
There are two other modes called Escalation and Elusive Targets; Escalation involves hitting specific goals on a mission which can then be replayed with a harder set of objectives. Escalation is great for learning maps inside out, as players find the loops that fit in with their objective. Elusive Targets is a mode that is currently unavailable, but will see lore rich targets appearing for a limited number of time. Once these character disappear, they are gone for ever. I imagine this will keep the community busy during the downtime between content releasing.
The game handles brilliantly, unlike the previous Hitman games that have often had very weird and stiff controls. The previous games felt unintuitive in their delivery, but a modern approach to this new installment has benefited the gameplay greatly. Agent 47 moves responsively and the controls are easy to learn. Aiming down sights isn’t brilliant, but that’s not what the gameplay is about here; guns should always be a last resort when you are Agent 47.
Hitman looks great, the visuals are crisp and clean. Every area in the game is dense; people, vegetation and decorations fill the screen. The number of NPCs in the game is often staggering, it’s one of the rare occasions in a game where an area looks realistically populated. The game does occasionally stutter from time to time, but the frame rate is mostly stable.
As soon as Square-Enix announced Hitman was going to be episodic, people had their doubts over the amount of content that was going to be available. I was originally a bit skeptical upon booting the game up and only seeing one story mission available, but my opinion was soon swayed. Paris is so filled to the brim with content that every playthrough is going to be vastly different to the last. The replayability of the levels speaks for itself, I’ve been playing it for around 10 hours now, and keep finding new ways to assassinate people. I pushed a speaker down onto someone last night and I childishly cried with excitement.
Hitman is all about choice. Players who enjoy a strict linear narrative are likely to be disappointed, although the Opportunities might be a saving grace for them. For those that enjoy freedom, the number of choices is often overwhelming. So much so that the one level that is currently available will likely keep the hardcore fans going for the next few months. I look forward to seeing the intricate runs players devise in the future. I would really love to see a capture mode implemented, so people could create short movies based on their kills. A system that enabled players to reposition camera’s, creating cinematic sequences.
While the first episode is brilliant, I can’t judge Hitman as a complete product. As the year goes on more content will be released and we will start to see the full picture, but as it stands Square-Enix are off to a brilliant start with Hitman. In an industry that constantly produces games around murder, Hitman is the exception to the rule that tests players intelligence and intuition, whilst also inspiring creativity within it’s rich universe.
*The review score is based on the first episode alone rather than the full release*
HITMAN (2016) (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Square-Enix are off to an excellent start with the first episode of Hitman, the gameplay is challenging while remaining fun and creative. Occasional performance issues do little to spoil the experience, as the level of detail more than makes up for the framerate problems. The game is accessible to both hardcore fans and newcomers alike, allowing players to choose their own play style. Not only is baldy Hitman back, he's back in style.