You might think that I play a really limited pool of genres, considering the games I have reviewed until now. While I do have a preference towards sci-fi and RPGs, I play a lot of other stuff as well. To prove this point, today I will be reviewing the new Hitman by IO Interactive. Are you familiar with the Hitman series? In these games, you take on the role of the infamous assassin Agent 47 as you travel around the world to kill various targets under the aegis of the International Contract Agency or ICA. With him is handler Diana Burnwood, who provides 47 with directives and support.
The prologue of Hitman takes us back to how Agent 47 was recruited into the ICA and shows us the first meeting between him and Diana. He is brought to a secret location where he will undergo psychological tests and practical simulations, in order to assess if he is cleared for field duty. Diana’s superior, Erich Soders, worried about the lack of results from 47’s background check, tries to sabotage his final test. Of course no one can stop the duo from their target and after that, 47 start traveling around the world as he builds up his reputation as an infallible hitman, as shown in past games of the series. It is difficult to judge how solid the plot of the game is from just Episode 1 but for now I will admit the prologue was very interesting and provided insight into 47 and Diana’s pasts.
The game graphics are simply stunning. Texture details are very well curated and, even at lower settings, it is very enjoyable to look at. The different levels take place in very different locations, providing a big array of architectural styles and people to look at. Levels are populated with a high amount of NPCs, making the world feel more realistic. The NPCs do look similar to each other but I guess that’s more of a technical limitation than anything else. Sound effects and music are at the highest quality as well and I was especially taken by the voice acting. The game is very demanding from a hardware point of view so make sure you take a look at the minimum requirements before buying the game.
Gameplay feels very similar to previous games, which is good. You start each level at the entry point and make your way towards the target. The first stage takes place during a party on a yacht. Unfortunately, you are not invited, meaning that you have to find a way and infiltrate it. Here is where the game starts to shine. The game provides you with a wide array of options for both infiltration and assassination. The tutorial will guide you through the easiest way: disguising. You can knock out people and steal their clothes, which will give you access to other areas. Or you can go the old fashioned way and infiltrate in the shadows, making sure no one spots you or silencing any threat. Instinct Mode returns, a special view mode where 47 highlights important NPCs and objects through walls.
Assassination also comes in many forms. As always, the tutorial will guide you through the standard method: shoot the target when he is isolated with your silenced gun. But other options might be more appealing, with some being very hilarious. Put rat poison in your target’s drink and drown him as he is puking his soul in the toilet. Or you can stage an “accident” with a falling chandelier. The game helps the player in this task by providing information on different assassination methods through Opportunities. This system provides you with objectives and markers on the map to guide you and collect the needed items in order to kill your target. This does feel a bit too easy and unrewarding though, which is why I suggest you turn them off in the gameplay settings.
AH! I missed a gunshot and I’m compromised! WHAT DO I DO!? Here the developers made a calculated design decision. The short answer: you are fuc**d. Saying the shooting mechanics are clunky is a euphemism and while you might be able to kill a few enemies in a straight up gunfight, you will be overwhelmed sooner or later. Even if you are not, shooting is not fun so I’d rather restart the level altogether. While many might not like this approach, I approve it. You are supposed to be an assassin, not a mercenary. Kill your targets while hiding in a cardboard box (note: you can’t actually do that… yet) and leave without anyone noticing. That is the core idea of the Hitman series and taking it to the next level is a step in the right direction. If you are looking to spray and pray, go buy yourself an FPS.
After you finish each level, you will unlock Planning and Challenges. Planning will allow you to change your starting gear, outfit and location, giving you more freedom on how to approach the target. You can even set up a smuggled item of your choice to pick up after you start the level. At the beginning your options will be relatively limited but you will be able to unlock more as you complete Challenges. Those are basically side objectives you can complete during a level. There is a wide variety of Challenges, such as killing the target in a specific manner, using special gear or performing special actions.
But Planning and Challenges alone wouldn’t provide enough replay value by themselves. That’s where Escalation levels come in. Escalation levels take place in the same locations as the main story but have different targets and conditions. These conditions are usually more difficult, such as killing the target while wearing a specific outfit. The problem in this example is that said outfit is not allowed to reach the target. As you complete these levels, you can repeat them at a higher difficulty, providing an extra challenge. Completing Escalation levels by bringing with you the right gear for the job and using the right approach is the mark of a true hitman. Worth to mention, the game also has Contracts, player created conditions for the existing locations. I’m not crazy about them, they are just player created Challenges in a sense but it does give your more options to choose from so I guess it’s not so bad.
There is one dark cloud hanging on the game though. DRM. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not against DRMs per se. I don’t mind how Steam handles DRM for example. First of all, the game requires you to be constantly connected to internet in order to access all features available. Fine, what are you taking away if I go offline? Leaderboards? Ok. Contracts? Fine. Post-level rewards? What. Challenges? WTF. I understand taking away the online portions of the game but what’s with disabling rewards and challenges? I simply do not understand this. What about people who are not able to play while being constantly connected? They took away half of the replay value for these players. So please take this into consideration if you don’t have a constant or very stable internet connection as it will pause your game pretty often.
I enjoyed Hitman. IO Interactive and Square Enix’s decision to go for an episodic format has not been very popular but I personally think it can work with a game like Hitman. They even went out of their way to provide a wide range of side quests and additional content, raising the replay value of each episode to sky high levels. The gameplay feels smooth and each feature is well explained, making it enjoyable to a wider range of players. I still have some reserves on the plot and I am looking forward to see what it will be like once all 7 episodes will be released. I’d say that if you enjoy stealth games, give it a try. Episode 1 comes at a retail price of 12.99€, which is not that much and will give you a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the game. If you liked it, I suggest you try Hitman: Absolution and Hitman: Blood Money.
You can find Hitman (2016) on Steam here: http://goo.gl/u8FfHH