After receiving the excellent collector’s edition of this game I have been lucky enough to get an extended playtime with it. It is the perfect Hitman game for me, however, purists may be very annoyed with the episodic nature and high level of hand-holding throughout.
To begin with, I am only picking this game up a few months after release, so the episodic nature doesn’t affect me as much as someone buying at release. If I had picked up this game on release day, I would have been severely ticked off at having to wait for months to get more levels. However, the game is actually designed for a reason.
If you have ever played Hitman before, you will be instantly at home with the levels available. You begin with a few training missions before heading off to a number of locations released as episodic packs. The nature of this allows you to focus a lot of time on individual levels, rather than simply killing the targets and moving on to the next. Something the previous game, Hitman Absolution was guilty off. It played too much like a linear, level driven game, akin to a Splinter Cell. Hitman is much more focussed on the environment than the kill. Each level is a well-constructed playground, built to let you live out your dreams of being a professional hitman. Let’s take the small Italian village of Sapienza for a start. You begin sitting reading a newspaper as the hustle and bustle of the world goes by. When you are ready you can take a stroll around the cobbled back streets or check into one of the coffee shops dotted around the town. A simple stroll through the ancient city gates shows a broken down florists van that has been involved in an accident with a cyclist. Here is where the new Hitman game hand-holds you a bit too much.
You are immediately alerted by an icon on your hud than an opportunity is revealing itself. If you sit on the bench and eavesdrop on the van driver’s conversation you find out that he was heading to deliver a bouquet of flowers to you target for this mission. In previous games, you may have been given this information in a briefing, to begin with, or had to assume this yourself. In this Hitman, you immediately have the ability to track the opportunity. After this, it is a simple case of following the signs and trying not to be careless. There is still scope to do things the way you wish but when the opportunities are laid out so invitingly, why would you bother?
Instead of struggling, I was able to find a doctor who was due to meet the target, dress up as a waiter, poison his coffee, follow him to the toilet, assume his identity, stroll into the mansion and smother the target as they were telling me their mental issues. No game has the ability to make you feel so powerful. You literally feel like the character you should. The only nagging issue is the hand-holding. It just feels too easy to succeed with a complicated plan. The now obligatory ‘hitman sense’ makes it even easier. In the older games, you could sit for hours trying to work out a complicated strategy, to just get you into position to take a shot. Now the difficulty lies in picking one of the multitudes of scripted options to follow. It is far from linear but just as far from free will.
Each level has a mastery score encouraging you to try out every way of killing the target. Due to the episodic nature, you may have to make do with a few locations for a few months. This means you can really begin to experiment with the physics, A.I., and mechanics. Do you break into the roof space of a building and drop a propane flask down the chimney onto the lit fire or do you tamper with an electrical socket before turning on a hose? These ingenious choices are there to be found outside the linear ‘oppotunity’ paths. The game really has a short meaningless story to tie together some beautiful sandbox levels.
Before you decide this game isn’t for you because of this, take another minute to change your approach to the game. By showing the challenges available and the ways to kill the targets the developers have basically turned Hitman into a round of golf. You approach the hole and depending on the conditions or even your mood on the day take a different approach. If something goes wrong the hole will play completely differently from day to day. Such is the case with a level in Hitman. There are always the ‘cookie-cutter’ ways to kill people, but look a little harder and there are very inventive ways that might get you less XP and points, but a lot of satisfaction. You can see an assassination challenge to kill someone with an antique cannon, yet to date have not found said cannon, here lies the hook of the game. The enjoyment all depends on how sociopathic you want to be.
If you enjoy the Hitman games, there is already a lurking sociopath within you somewhere. The contracts section, expanded from Absolution lets you take this to the next level. Pick a computer-controlled character in the level and set the rules. Then make sure it is possible by completing it yourself before uploading it to the community. It’s the Mario Maker for sociopaths everywhere. While there were a few early server issues and disconnects, this coupled with the difficult elusive target mode adds greater length to the overall package. The most recent target was Hollywood actor Gary Busey, he was running about in Sapienza and unfortunately, I failed to kill him. That’s it, once you fail they are gone forever.
With the community creations and additions coming for the game, I have no problem recommending it to others. My only concern is the very slight storyline, which shares a common thread with the film Wanted and the overly helpful and straightforward main path through the level. Despite this, there is nothing like the feeling of walking to the exit of a level knowing that chaos is about to descend behind you. This is what it feels like to be Agent 47 and because it gets this feeling right it is one of the best experiences on offer this year.
You can buy the first location as a taster here