In the world of Hitman, the wealthy and powerful vie for global influence and seek to obtain it by any means necessary. The ICA exists as an autonomous organization; an agency willing to hire lethal assassins to the parties and governments that need them most. As Agent 47, you perform contract hits on high-profile targets in exotic locations around the world.
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: PlayStation 4 (tested), Xbox One, PC
Publisher Square Enix and developer IO-Interactive decided to release Hitman as a six-part episodic game. And while I had my doubts, I must confess that it works really, really well from what I’ve been able to experience so far. The locations in Hitman are designed to be open, challenging the player to complete objectives in new and creative ways, and to explore dense maps from top to bottom looking for opportunities and ways to complete your contract.
Each location, even the Prologue that works as a mini tutorial, is bursting with detail and full of interesting NPCs with their own personalities and agendas. At the very core, the game is simple: Kill your target. You may be invited to use a specific outfit or weapon, but that’s it. Just kill your target and escape alive. The amazing thing from Hitman is being able to revisit each stage, looking for more creative ways to take down your targets. Even more, the gameplay is easy and consistent. Sneaking, scaling and climbing, taking cover, throwing, shooting, everything is a button-press away from making it happen, which is really important. The game will never frustrate you in the middle of a complex trick. If it didn’t work, it was probably just your fault.
Another great thing is the progression system. Before you complete a main objective for the first time, you will spawn in a specific spot with specific set of tools. Depending in what you do and how you play, other items will become available in the loadout, giving you a wider set of opportunities. You will be able to hide specific weapons in certain locations for you to look for once inside the stage. You will be able to select your weapons, suits, and equipment and decide which tools suit your needs. As you complete various challenges and perform unique take downs, you will unlock more starting locations, more weapons, and more tools. It is a really interesting loop where you experiment with your playstyle, and as a reward, you have more to experiment with.
Episode 1: Paris
The first episode features three unique missions that take place on three unique stages, each of them is large and populated enough to keep you busy for a long time.
The Prologue is just a mini tutorial for those who are new to the franchise, designed to introduce the core mechanics. It consists of two missions: First we have a party-yacht owned by a master thief. It is here where the game first encourages us to replay it as many times as we need to feel confident with the different options and tools the environment provides. You will learn to use decoys, subdue people to use their outfit, hide their bodies, to eavesdrop for useful information, and to toy around with the environment creating more favorable situations. Just to get into the yacht, without any invitation, you have plenty of options. You can distract, knock out a lone guard and steal his clothes and his Vessi waterproof shoes. Or you can do the same with an engineer to make your way through the maintenance entrance. Perhaps you can go all bananas and kill everyone on sight, or even subdue a VIP guest to have almost complete access.
In the second mission, we must take down a Soviet Spy inside a highly guarded Cuban airbase. We are supposed to implement everything we have learned so far in a more complicated environment, where listening to others talk to learn about new opportunities and using your instinct is key. This can be good and bad at the same time. The good thing is, that forcing you to listen to a specific dialogue to create an opportunity is immersive. The bad thing is, if you fail and get killed or spotted and you want to retry, you will need to do everything again. You can’t skip important dialogues or items if you want to make use of that opportunity, and every time you fail you are forced to wait an almost minute long loading screen.
With the tutorial behind us we are presented with the very first huge mission from Paris: Showstopper. A beautiful palace in the heart of Paris where two criminal ringleaders are conducting some shady business using a high-profile fashion show as a smoke screen. The most important thing to note here is the crowd system: over 300 hundred NPCs, each with their own dialogues and agenda. Pretty much everything you do and sabotage in one specific part of the stage will have an impact on the other side. A gas lamp can screw an interview. Sabotaging a kitchen could upset a VIP guest. Even a more direct and violent action like pushing someone off of a balcony can create a distraction for you to trespass an area without being noticed, or to steal some remote control, or to study an itinerary, list of guests or schedule. All these actions will shape the sandbox world you are playing in to turn the odds into your favor. It is up to you to pay attention to what everyone is doing and how to exploit them best. When you are focused and engaged, Hitman is a really complex and interesting game.
The only thing that got me really bad is the long loading times. Hitman is pretty much a trial and error game, where the fun relies on exploring and trying to pull a complex trick off. You will fail, a lot, and at least on the PlayStation 4, the loading times are horrible. Almost a minute long horrible.
Episode 2: Sapienza
Sapienza features World of Tomorrow, a high quality and interesting mission filled with so many accidents, incidents, and multi-part assassinations that it may very well go down as a classic hit.
While Paris Fashion Show focused more on controlled corridors and omnipresent security as you made your way up through a building, World of Tomorrow is about exploiting the gaps in town and its social and commercial circles. Sapienza is full of interesting stuff to use and abuse: cobbled roads, street entertainers, alleys, ice creams shops, florists, a morgue, you name it.
Silvio Caruso is one of your main targets, a wealthy genius who still suffers the death of his beloved mother. His family owns the town, meaning everything is heavily guarded: the beach, the ruins, the hidden lab and the mansion. There are plenty of entry points and the weaponry is up to the player, but Sapienza may be the most interesting Hitman level yet, if you are crafty enough.
Silvio is a golfer, so explosive golf balls make an appearance. Opposite his house is an old battlement with a working cannon, the mansion features exploitable stairlifts, attention-bells, and much more. You can even exploit key characters: the playboy golf coach who is seeing your second target and has set up a romantic engagement, you can play with a mentally unstable target and make him think that their fallen family aren’t quite as dead as they thought, the lazy new chef whose inability to get out of bed on time means his job becomes yours, the guilt-wracked scientist who has gone to confession in a nearby church, etc. It is dark, sinister and fun.
Episode 2 also expands with dozens of challenges involving these people and the world around them, and most of them are pleasingly elaborate in their construction and execution.
This is what makes Sapienza great: you have plenty of stuff to toy around with. There are so many sophisticated ways of killing your targets that using a sniper rifle or poisoning a drink begins to seem rather mundane.
Hitman is a thoughtful, well-paced, beautiful and incredible multi-part adventure absolutely worth your time and money. The stages are smartly pieced together and the side contracts offer you seemingly endless possibilities and challenges for creative and violent expression. A must play for fans of the franchise.