Okay, gird yourselves. I’m going to throw some scary words at you.
Gosh, that was mean of me. I’m sorry, I really am. But I do have good news: Hitman (2016) is a simply superb return to form for this series.
We will get the elephants out of the room first. Yes, this has been released in an episodic form, starting with the tutorial and Paris missions, then one mission a month over the next half-a-year. However, the episodes are now all out and available to buy. Secondly, the always-online requirement has been vastly softened in the November update which dropped yesterday. With that, the two main criticisms of the game have simply up and disappeared. That’s how good this game is.
For those uninitiated with the series, you play as perma-bald Agent 47, a genetically modified hitman who is sent out on numerous missions of assassination. 47, a quasi-emotionless killing machine, is extremely good at what he does, and you are able to disguise yourself in a myriad of costumes while using an arsenal of different ways to take down your marks. There is no railroading, though you can get a lot of help using waypoints if you wish to: but otherwise it’s you in the map and off you go. This is vastly different to the horror that was Absolution’s linear pathing, and a welcome return to the style of Blood Money.
There is a story underneath it, with the shadowy Providence group being investigated, and this does a decent job of tying together the various hits within the game. However, it never interferes or dominates with the gameplay, and once you’re in-country the gameplay is up to you. Let’s use an example from the first level, the Sanguine Fashion show in Paris.
You are dropped in outside the visually stunning venue for the fashion show on the outskirts of Paris. People bustle around you, a camera crew is doing an interview in front of you, and the large four storey building towers over you. If you enable instinct, you are able to silhouette your two targets, both far away inside the building. You can also enable the game revealing opportunities, a breadcrumb trail of information to follow to the next hit. For instance, I could mug this camera man, replace him, put a bomb in the camera and then blow it up while interviewing one of my targets.
Instead, I head inside. The male target, Victor, gives a speech on the stairs, welcoming everyone to the fashion show, then heads down to the bar. I overhear him berating a staff member for not making a drink correctly for him. At this point, a friend of mine picked up a knife and hurled it across the bustling bar, straight into the target’s face. He then ran and hid, swapping costumes and escaping scrutiny. I went for the more subtle approach – instead, I listened to the staff members talking about making the drink, stole some of their clothes, and made it for him: adding poison instead. I could have added rat poison to it, making him head to a toilet and throw up, while drowning him in it, but that was for another day.
My second target was upstairs. Finding an invitation to a private secrets auction, I changed back to my formal suit and went in as Tobias Rieper (seriously). I sat at the auction while my target did her thing, then tailed her to her private room, luring her bodyguard away with some carefully thrown items. This time I choked her out, snapped her neck, then dumped her over the railing onto the crowd below. I could have just stashed her in a closet, but where’s the style in that? Heading back outside to a private helicopter, I escape the mission unscathed: but perhaps without the perfect score due to the visibility of my actions.
You see, stealth is important within the game, with rewards for doing things as a Silent Assassin (don’t get spotted trespassing, no bodies found etc.). But I’ll be frank: stealth games are just the worst. I hate them. I’ve got on superbly with this one though, as if you don’t play for perfection and instead play for the kill, then you’re on to a winner. I do however see a lot of satisfaction from other players for pulling off Silent Assassin runs, and do plan to have a go at this now I’m super-comfortable with the game.
As you have seen from my example earlier, there are a multitude of options for taking out your targets. For instance, I could have used fireworks, a sniper rifle, dropped chandeliers or, as my friend Andy did, a knife across a packed room. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. As you complete challenges within each level (finding disguises, doing specific kills such as killing people while dressed as a scarecrow etc.) your mastery level increases and other things unlock. My mastery level of 20 in Paris now lets me start with many different options, such as one of the security guards, or starting undercover at the secrets auction. True, some of these unlocks can make things more trivial and rapidly lower the difficulty, but I’ve never felt it’s too unbalanced.
The negatives were well-publicised and if you look at Steam reviews, a lot of the complaints come from the servers dropping out. Now that on and offline game progress is synced, this should be a non-issue. Now all the episodes are out, you can buy the full game. Other negatives are minor, except for the sound and voice work. The game is based globally, in places such as Italy, Japan and Colorado. There is no reason that so many people should be speaking in posh English accents: particularly not in a small fishing village in Italy! I saw someone claim online that they would have preferred semi-racist stereotype accents to what we actually get, and I’m actually inclined to agree.
Other than that, this game is superb. The levels are bright and attractive, with a huge amount to do in each one. I’ve averaged 10 hours per level, according to my Steam playtime. I tend to have a low tolerance for spending lots of time within game, so this is a true testament to the options you have available to you to keep the game interesting and fresh.
Hitman is a superb charge back to the glory days of this franchise, and I can’t wait for Season 2 of the episodes to be officially announced.