In the famous words of Barney Stinson, “Suit up”.
There is a certain level of respect that comes to mind when I hear the title of the popular video game franchise, Hitman. The games let you step into the suit and tie of Agent 47, a cold, calculated assassin often hired by government agencies to dispose of threats. The series overall has had it’s ups and downs. Developer IO Interactive’s recent installment takes the series in a bold, new direction: episodic gameplay. The first episode, containing a tutorial and Paris missions, is out now. Is it worth picking up and does this new direction fit the series? Or does it miss the target?
The game starts in 1992, 20 years prior to the events of Hitman: Absolution. Agent 47 is flown to an ICA training facility for evaluation. He meets fellow trainee, and handler, Diana Burnwood. Agent 47 is subjected to a series of evaluations and training simulations as Erich Soders, training director, questions Agent 47’s reliability. This is where we begin seeing how off-putting Agent 47’s cold demeanor truly is. There’s an interesting back-and-forth between Burnwood and Soders about how dangerous Agent 47 is and whether or not he can be trusted. After the training simulations, Agent 47 is escorted out and time fast-forwards to the current day, just after the events of Hitman: Absolution.
Agent 47 receives his next mission from MI6: assassinate two fashion moguls that are secretly the heads of IAGO, an international spy ring. If Agent 47 fails, IAGO will reveal the identities of several undercover agents tied to MI6. Upon successful completion of the assassinations, Agent 47 escapes and the episode ends.
The story is not much to write home about, at least not now. It isn’t a horribly written plot by any stretch. It’s simply a small snippet that leaves one wanting more. Waiting a month between each episode will prove to be difficult.
From the opening theme to the synths and laughter of a fashion party, Hitman sounds great. The opening theme sets the tone, touching on beats that are reminiscent of the Bourne and Bond films. The music that plays at the start of missions carries this tone as well, even during the mission briefings. There’s a certain air of “cool” and “mystique” that is just intoxicating.
The more impressive pieces come during the missions when you’re navigating through crowds of people. The NPCs are voiced well and carry out some funny dialogue from time to time. David Bateson returns as Agent 47 and still maintains a cold, soulless tone. It’s slightly unsettling at times because he sounds as if he has no emotion. It begs the question if Agent 47 is even human anymore. Bateson’s talents shine through in this regard.
I’ve always respected the approach that Hitman games demand. Most games will assign an objective of dispatching a target and let you just run-and-gun your way to victory. Hitman requires a classier approach; a certain level of finesse to achieve your goal. That holds true in this latest installment.
The two missions offer a multitude of ways of accomplishing your goal. Within each mission is a set of challenges to test your skills at being silent but deadly. The nice thing about these challenges is they never feel unfair; they’re certainly challenging, and will require some patience and skill to pull off, but they’re never beyond your reach. In one of the training missions, you can dispatch the target by luring him to a jet and walking him through a safety check, which culminates in a hilariously ridiculous cutscene as the target pulls the eject lever and is sent hurtling into the sky, his screams echoing down to the earth below. And that’s just one of the many ways you can approach the missions. Each path comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. The variety of approaches, combined with the different objectives to achieve, incentivizes players to return to missions and test their skills in a myriad of ways. For a game with only a handful of missions in the first episode, this adds to the game’s length through replayability and gives players more to do.
The mechanics are fairly standard for Hitman games: Infiltrate, disguise, observe, plan, and act is the usual formula. However, there’s something addictive about this style of gameplay. I’m not good at Hitman games, compared to others players, so I mess up often. But each time I slip up, I learn something new about the mission and how the NPCs work. Normally, this “trial-and-error” style of gameplay would drive me to stop playing, but here it never feels like a brutal punishment. You can almost always escape the results of a mistake or restart the mission. Which leads me to something I appreciate about the Hitman games overall: you have to actually plan things out. Once you figure something out, or find an item that will help you, and put the pieces in place for the target to inadvertently kill themselves, or an opening appears for you, the level of satisfaction makes you feel smart. It’s perfected in this game and left me wanting to play more.
I will say that sometimes the game did not register a command and guards would somehow see me through a wall. There has been a patch across all systems to fix various issues, so you may not experience these when playing.
The downside about this Hitman game for some will be its episodic release cycle. I’m okay with that, though. Each mission took me roughly 45 minutes to an hour to complete (primarily because I took things slow and tried to explore the areas). This left me with roughly 5-6 hours of gameplay and I plan to play more to check off the objectives I missed. There is a “Contracts” mode that allows you build your own assassinations in the game for friends to play, but I did not get a chance to try it out.
In the end, I really enjoyed this new Hitman. While I do wish it was a full-fledged game, I can’t deny that it’s a blast to play.
I give Hitman a 4 / 5.