If you could personify a franchise, I’d say Hitman was like the Foo Fighters. It’s lived the rock star lifestyle for the past 16 years. It’s had its own film spinoffs, HD remasters, several successful sequels spanning generations of consoles and is now finally tapping into the hugely successful episodic release DLC format. When you’ve seen as much as Agent 47 has it becomes great to diversify – and what better time to diversify than right here, right now, in 2016.
Game Name: Hitman
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Developer(s): IO Interactive
Release Date: 11/3/2016
Price: $14.99/£11.99 (subsequent episodes will be $9.99/£7.99)
I can’t lie, when publishers Square Enix trademarked Hitman’s tagline “Enter a World of Assassination” last year I was expecting the franchise to take the huge leap into becoming an MMORPG. I was preparing for a Matrix Online/Elder Scrolls Online style of adventure – a logistical nightmare but as far as concepts go, absolutely golden. Alas, the episodic release format isn’t as bold as I’d anticipated but you can’t deny that it’s an inspired choice. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time with Life is Strange (a huge success story of a game with the same release structure to that of Hitman) I came into this one very open minded. One question lingered in my mind, though: would it hold a candle to my favorite Hitman title of all, Blood Money?
Hitman (let’s call it ‘Episode 1’) takes the series back to its golden roots, entrusting gamers with a huge map to explore and several non-linear paths to take to achieve the ultimate goal of assassination. Unlike the linear structure of Absolution (a game I actually didn’t mind), here IO Interactive opt for the high stakes of the small-sandbox. You’re rewarded for playing through levels again and again, accessing different areas and delivering your kill in as many stylistic or stealthy ways as possible. Where repetition like this gets old quick in recent releases, such as Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Hitman styles it out with huge set pieces that once experienced a few times can be sidelined in favor of exploring the thrilling behind-the-scenes action. If anyone has ever been to a Secret Cinema event in London or the States, you’ll know what I mean by this. The main event (with hundreds of participants) can be taking place in one room while you’re down a secret pathway talking to someone completely unrelated, getting an inside scoop that’ll influence your later decision.
The plot revolves around Agent 47 receiving his full agent status, so consider this something of an origins tale. Once that’s briefly established it’s off to Paris where our barcode-bearing protagonist is tasked with assassinating fashion moguls Viktor Novikov and Dahlia Morgolis. I know what you’re thinking – where’s the Malaysian Prime Minister and Zoolander cameo…
Aside from a few fairly uninteresting tutorial missions (which serve less like a tutorial and more like a ‘throw you in the deep end, good luck’ manual) you’re predominantly given one large Parisian map to explore with hundreds of NPC characters to interact with in that space. While this lack of content sounds fairly stringent to the average gamer, the modest episode price reflects that extremely well (£11.99). You’ll get a good 8 hours of exciting gameplay out of that investment before the repetition takes its toll.
The stealth mechanics are all handled solidly and generally resemble those of a modernized Blood Money. The AI is generally quite dumb but it needs to be – achieving success playing by the games rules would be impossible without the occasional convenient guard stood completely out of sight to everyone else, primed for a snapped neck. You can use an array of weaponry (rat poison is, for the less creative minds, always a good bet) although the more stealthy the approach the better – with your arsenal of goodies increasing over time through repeat playthroughs. Crowded areas can be a bit of a nightmare as rubbing shoulders with someone in a similar uniform will spark them into questioning who exactly you are, yet an intricate ‘blend in’ option serves a key purpose in being able to stand back and observe the unfolding events with 100% certainty that you won’t be spotted by anyone.
If I had to levy one key criticism of Hitman, it would be that it doesn’t feel strong enough to compete with other A-grade titles out there at the moment. Sure, the sandbox environments can handle a lot of CPU’s at any one time but Agent 47 still walks with the same rigidity displayed by my girlfriend the morning after every Valentine’s Day ever. While I appreciate he’s characteristically soulless I can’t help but feeling his animation doesn’t have to be; walking like a robot around beautiful environments feels light years behind the fluidity and organic presentation of something like Assassin’s Creed. The mechanics in the game world dictate to some degree just how ‘creative’ you can actually be – it’s primarily driven by your aesthetics first, actions second. You could jump up and down all day in a chef’s cooking pot but so long as you’re also dressed like a trustworthy guard, you should have no problems. As much fun as the sandbox is and as impressive as some of the set pieces are, the game is not without faults.
For £11.99 it’s a great little timewaster for those of you that love that unique Hitman gameplay. Don’t expect a great narrative here; you won’t be on the edge of your seat in that respect for the next release, which begs the question why the game is being delivered in this particular episodic format anyway? What you will look forward to is more breathtaking scenery, fantastic executions and honing your stealthy abilities to the point where you’re a genuine force to be reckoned with. I’d say it’s a fair ttrade-offfor a great price.
Overall, Hitman takes me back to the good old days of Blood Money with fully interactive sandbox locations and several hilarious/exhilarating ways to complete missions. It’s so reminiscent of Blood Money, in fact, that’d I’d wager it’s slightly too archaic for modern audiences. It could do with a fresh lick of paint for episode 2 – the narrative could do with being more gripping, the animations could do with feeling more slick and the menu presentation could do with a once over. Aside from those criticisms, which are predominantly aesthetic, I think Hitman is a great little timewaster for a great little price.