IO Interactive’s newest installment of the Hitman franchise stays true to what makes the series great. It offers a great sandbox experience that has become a staple of previous Hitman entries and does so with more freedom and the best controls yet. Episode 1 of the new game, which will be continuously released throughout the year, delivers a satisfying experience for stylish killers with big imaginations.
Hitman begins with two simulated training missions, both of which are actually very informative. Agent 47 is being evaluated by the ICA, who put him through different staged scenarios. These serve as great hands-on tutorials as the game tests your ability to improvise. Since each level is essentially a small sandbox, there are multiple means to achieving your end. Before moving on to the next mission, it is helpful to approach each test using different strategies. This prepares the player for upcoming real missions and illustrates a good idea of how the game is played.
Targets can be eliminated in a variety of creative ways, usually classified as Ballistic, Accident, and Explosion kills. Simple shooting or choking is always an option, but some of the more creative options include “accidentally” dropping lifeboats and light fixtures on your target, rigging their private lounge with explosions, and even drowning them in a toilet bowl. In one of the more noteworthy scenarios, Agent 47 disguises himself as a fighter jet technician, runs his target through a procedure, and finally murders him by way of a sabotaged ejector seat.
Rather than sneaking around in the shadows, Hitman is based on hiding in plain sight. You’ll need to acquire appropriate outfits in order to access certain areas. For example, an engine technician in a reflective vest shouldn’t be walking around on the deck of a fancy yacht party. If you do happen to get caught wearing the wrong outfit in the wrong place, security or staff will ask you to leave or even escort you away from the area. This is a nice counter to so many stealth games where an instance like this might result in guards attacking you or a simple “mission failed”. Hitman is very forgiving and, in a sense, more realistic. Guards and staff treat you as a party guest and you’ll only be permitted in certain areas.
Hitman offers very free and diverse ways to complete missions. Rather than simply walking up to someone, shooting them, and making your escape, this game is about style. Your goal is to blend in and assassinate your target without anybody ever knowing. There are multiple ways to enter a building and gain access to a specific person. As always, obtaining disguises plays a big part in your success and players will need to be witty in order to be progress through the levels undetected. Surveying your surroundings and stopping to listen to people’s conversations is always advised over acting with haste. It’s important to understand the environment and learn what role you should play. With that being said, Hitman is a thinking game about patience and swift action. When you leave each mission, everybody should be completely unaware of your actions, as if you were never there.
Since there is only one actual story level in this first episode (though the two training levels are quite substantial), I replayed it a number of times. Agent 47 takes on a job in Paris at a very high-profile fashion show in which he must eliminate two targets. Each target requires a very different strategy to take down and there are multiple ways of doing so. As I wandered around the sizable palace which housed the event, I begun observing my surroundings and devising my plan of attack. This took quite some time since there is a lot to take in. The palace itself is enormous, with multiple levels, a large courtyard, and countless rooms. Each room feels alive, with people talking amongst themselves and observing the event.
I spent a lot of my time blending in with the crowd and listening to conversations in order to get clues about my mission. My observations were rewarded and I was later able to knock out and impersonate a celebrity model, which granted me access to all kinds of restricted areas. I even walked the runway as the main attraction – hiding in plain sight at its best. When you do gain the trust of your target and get them in a room one-on-one, it is very satisfying to take them out. Casually walking out of a room after committing a silent murder is one of the greatest accomplishments in Hitman.
Since Hitman is largely about disguising yourself and observing, there will be a number of instances in which you are trailing your target. Some of the atmosphere is ruined once you discover that the AI gets stuck on a loop if you choose to do nothing. In Paris, I observed my target check in with the kitchen, go to the bar, and stop backstage probably three times before I realized he was going to do that until I made a move. In another instance, I watched a man have the same phone conversation repeatedly while the game was “waiting for me to do something”. Suspension of disbelief should surely take place here, but it also shatters any ounce of realism that was felt before. This especially hurts the game since the environment feels so alive at first.
After a number of rotations through “The Showstopper” mission in Paris, I am now able to eliminate my targets and get out within 10-20 minutes. This was not always the case, as I spent a lot of time memorizing the layout of the palace and where everybody was going to be at certain times. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and I was punished by having to restart and endure a lengthy loading screen. If I wanted to try something new and it didn’t work out, there was another loading screen waiting for me. It got to the point where I felt unwilling to experiment with clever ideas.
Hitman is very reliant on repeated playthroughs which are actually quite fun due to the mission variety. However, since Paris is the only real mission, that’s where you’ll spend most of your time. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re out of luck. I am still a little confused about the decision to release this game episodically. Even though there is more to come, there isn’t really much content in this first episode. You can get a lot out of “The Showstopper” and even the two training simulations, but that’s still only three missions (for now) in a $60 game. As a result, Episode 1 does, in a way, end up feeling like an extended demo of a great game to come.