The mere fact the latest entry in the long running stealth series is simply called Hitman suggests that it’s a series that’s very much striving to return to its roots.
The franchise seemingly lost its way with Absolution – an ambitious divergence from the staple formula, but one that proved altogether too restrictive for long-time assassin aficionados. Now developer Io Interactive is keen to get Hitman back on track, with an experience that more closely resembles the series finest entry – Blood Money. There’s a real focus on quality over quantity here with the first batch of missions consisting of only three missions, two of which are tutorial levels that will be familiar to anyone who partook in the recent beta.
Hitman sees Agent 47 return to his roots not only figuratively, but also literally. The introductory missions serve as a flashback to the suave assassin’s induction into the ICA – a global conglomerate of hitmen that brings him into contact with his long-term handler Diana Burnwood.
The first mission sees 47 put through his paces via a training simulation on board art dealer Kalvin Ritter’s yacht. The mission is to assassinate Mr. Ritter while of course being mindful not to spoil the party for his guests. The first attempt sees us don several disguises to infiltrate the yacht and access its upper passages where we sneak into his private meeting room and lob a nearby statue directly at his cranium. Upon successful completion of the mission, we are encouraged to tackle it again in a different way, gifted with lockpicks and explosives to grant much more variety proceedings.
This is where the diversity of the game really presents itself as there’s a plethora of ways to ensure your target sleeps with the fishes. Do you poison his beverage and drown him in the toilet? Disguise yourself as his business associate and take him out with a swift garrotte to the neck? Drop a life raft on his head? It’s this sort of creative carnage that made the Hitman games so popular and it’s reassuring to see a vast variety of options from the get-go.
Being the first entry in the franchise to grace the current generation of consoles, Hitman features the most expansive and densely populated levels the series has seen. To balance out the difficulty of navigating and executing plans within these considerably larger levels, the game introduces a new element that involves gaining intel. Casually strolling around, 47 can overhear conversations that give hints as to how objectives can be completed.
In the Paris mission, the only true taste of the full Hitman experience offered by the first episode, we overhear a conversation about a male model, by some fashion show attendees. Turns out Agent 47 could have had a very glamorous career on the catwalk had offing people for a living not worked out as the model sports an uncanny resemblance to our barcoded backstabber.
After hearing the conversation we are given the ability to track this path, which provides helpful waypoints as to how to complete the objective using the information gained. The waypoint led us straight to the model where we tossed him over a bridge and gained entry to a private meeting with the target, after having our five seconds of fame with a brief walk down the catwalk of course.
Purists who wish to discover all Hitman has to offer for themselves can of course turn these off, but the waypoints do offer a manageable and accessible experience that should be welcome to all but the most hardcore of players.
This is of course just one way to go about the mission. Completing objectives using a healthy dose of exploration, experimentation and improvisation is where Hitman really shines. Challenges are listed in the menu, giving players helpful ideas on how to complete missions in numerous delightful and deadly ways.
Instinct mode, introduced in Absolution, makes a return, but is much less of an imposing force here. Success in Absolution pretty much depended on using instinct whereas here it’s only use is to see through walls. Your target and nearby items are handily lit up should you have trouble locating them in the densely detailed and impressively populated levels.
Disguises are also much more effective now as only certain NPCs will be sceptical of Agent 47’s outfit depending on what disguise he chooses. These individuals are clearly marked allowing you to rethink your strategy should they be in your immediate vicinity.
There are however technical problems that hamper the experience somewhat. The sheer volume of NPCs sees them sometimes walk through each other and the size of the levels makes reloading times brutal – this is made exceptionally worse given the trial and error nature of the game.
Also it’s apparent that some games suit being released episodically – take Telltales’s The Walking Dead for example. The chapters divided into episodes give the feeling of an interactive version of the TV series, plus the breaks in-between offer a welcome respite from the tough moral decisions and sometimes devastating consequences the game produces. But is the same stunted release model suitable for a series like Hitman?
To an extent it makes sense, as giving players morsels of gameplay allows them time to replay missions and really experiment with the vast array of ways to complete the objective. But it runs the risk of jeopardising the fluidity of other elements such as narrative and player emersion. Leaving such a technically intricate game such as this for a sustained period forces players to repeatedly familiarise themselves with the story and game mechanics and there’s a real risk the game won’t flow quite as well as it should were it released with all missions intact.
However, what has been released so far gives the impression that this could be a high point for the series and it’s certainly whetted our appetite for more. It’s a very strong start that provides the kind of cleverly creative and intuitive gameplay that fashioned Agent 47 into one of gaming’s most iconic killers.
By Anne-Marie Coyle
Score – 8/10
PEGI – 18
Reviewed on PS4
Available now via digital download on PlayStation Store, Xbox Live, Steam or through Amazon: HITMAN Full Experience Bundle [PS4 PSN Code – UK account]