Hitman has been rolling out episodes throughout the year, which has had its ups and downs. The best thing about this installment of the franchise is the amount of freedom that is granted to the player and the game’s hesitation to stamp flawed methods as a “mission failed”. It can also be played in a formulaic manner: explore, find opportunities, isolate and eliminate the target. Unfortunately, there seems to be an emphasis on hand holding as the game is consistently pushing opportunities on the player. Luckily, these are almost always interesting and fun, and there are still plenty of options for the more creative player. Hitman’s previous four episodes have been solid, with only a few dull moments. Episode five finds Agent 47 in a completely new environment in a rural Colorado farm estate.
This iteration of Hitman has become almost synonymous with upscale, beautiful environments such as the Paris villa and the Italian seaside town of Sapienza. Rural Colorado is a refreshing change of pace, feeling more gloomy and unpolished than other locations. Farmhouses and barns are scattered throughout the large open fields, making this mission feel like a sprawling endeavor. Even though the change in setting keeps the experience fresh, it sacrifices one of the best elements of Hitman: the lively bustle of civilians.
Going undercover in a densely populated area is all part of the experience. Walking through Sapienza, I was observant of my surroundings as I watched people have conversations at a cafe or relax at a nearby beach. Unfortunately, the only NPCs in the main mission, Freedom Fighters, are members of a dangerous militia. Agent 47 is operating in completely hostile territory which certainly adds to the difficulty and frustration. To top it all off, there are four targets in this mission instead of the usual two. Isolating these targets proves to be very difficult and will involve a lot of waiting for them to walk to a specific area.
Mechanically, the game is fantastic, but that doesn’t change or evolve with each episode. What makes each episode fun is the setting, level design, and story behind each character. Freedom Fighters combines new-age terrorists, guerrilla fighters, and expert hackers in order to create a daunting high-security militia training camp. Infiltration requires cunning stealth and a very convincing disguise. Breaching the fenced-in perimeter proves to be a challenge in itself, but avoiding detection within the camp walls is even more difficult. Each of the four targets specializes in a certain field: Sean Rose is in charge of operations, Maya Parvati is a training instructor, Penelope Grave is training advisor, and Ezra Berg is an enormous masked man who specializes in biological torture.
If the thought of Ezra strikes a nerve, that’s because he is like something out of a horror film, which is a different approach for Hitman. Sneaking into his garage showcases his collection of medicines-turned-torture devices. Oddly enough, Agent 47 can’t disguise himself as Ezra, despite the fact that he wears a featureless face mask. With such a perfect set-up to do something out of the ordinary, this feels like a missed opportunity. However, the ability to disguise Agent 47 is still there, so not all is lost.
Such a diverse cast of villains also comes with a handful of great opportunities to complete. Replacing Sean’s watch battery with an explosive device yields deadly and satisfying results. Overdosing one of Ezra’s captives alerts him to run down to the basement cell, where Agent 47 is free to do what he pleases with the sadistic torturer. Learning about the four targets and exploiting their weaknesses comes into play now more than ever. Paying close attention to overheard dialogue will prove to be very lucrative. As with previous episodes, there are a number of environmental “accidental” kills such as igniting a leaky gas line and running targets over with a lawnmower. Lovely.
As noted before, previous episodes took place in enormous buildings such as villas, hotels, and event halls. This resulted in four levels that all seemed a bit too similar to each other. In Colorado, there are no more multi-floored giant buildings with long hallways and branching rooms. The biggest building here is the two-story farmhouse, which is far easier to navigate and explore. Most of Agent 47s time will be spent outside, trying to sneak around or blend in with the armed guards. Since you’ll always be trespassing in this isolated area, disguises become so much more important.
Colorado offers the player more chances to test their pure stealth skills, since the entire operation is “behind enemy lines”. The departure from a highly public setting is something new for this iteration of Hitman, though it comes with its own faults. Players who enjoyed the thrill of infiltrating an auction or party will be disappointed in the strictly-business approach to episode five. However, this episode holds its own against previous episodes and forces the player to change tactics in order to achieve success.