By Andrew Dodson on March 25, 2016 at 10:14am
The Hitman franchise has always followed the same basic formula. You're a bald guy in a nice suit. You have a target. You kill the target. Simple. It's hard to mess up, but on its own, it's not exactly fun or interesting. Anyone that has spent any time playing a Hitman game knows that there is a lot to that simple formula that the game build its base around. While the formula rarely differs, any fan will tell you that the games are very interesting and always memorable.
Even when I was playing "Hitman 2" on my PlayStation 2 years ago, I could tell you that what really sets the Hitman games apart from other "assassin" games are the settings. Even on the now ancient PS2, the environments felt huge and complicated. Each AI existed as another piece of the puzzle to solve in order to get to your target. There were dozens of ways to get to your target, dozens of ways to take out your target, dozens of disguises to try. There were dozens of weapons to find, or non-weapons even, if you're a fan of "causing" little accidents. At its core, the gameplay is simple - you just have to kill a guy. Around that is an intricate puzzle that you have to solve, and there are a thousand ways to solve it successfully.
Developed by IO Interactive, "Hitman" is the latest game in the Hitman series. How does the game hold up against the other titles in the franchise?
"Hitman" starts off as a prologue to Agent 47's career - first exploring the training and tests he underwent in order to join the other elite assassins of the world, and then picking up at a mission following the events of "Hitman: Absolution." The prologue worked as a tutorial, but it was also the first mission and it did a good job of teaching you just enough of the game's new mechanics so you understood them, but didn't necessarily hold your hand through the entire thing. Once you completed the training missions, you were off to Paris for a hit that really showcased what "Hitman" was capable of as an addition to the series.
The Paris mission is incredible to behold. It takes place at a gigantic mansion/theater where a fashion show is underway. There are hundreds of people being rendered - civilians, security guards, models, stagehands, waiters...everyone. And they're all moving around and seem to have places to be. It was definitely much more complicated of a puzzle to unravel than some of the previous games. And, as always, there are tons of ways to complete the mission. You can be sneaky and work your way up a ladder of disguises. You can set traps. Or you can do what I did and just follow the target around for a bit, pick up a screwdriver, throw it at the back of his head like a throwing knife and then jump out of a window to escape.
Yeah, my way isn't the cleanest, but it certainly got the job done.
Now, "Hitman" is a unique little addition to the popular series of games. One thing that really sets it aside is that it's episodic, meaning we only have a piece of it now. As of this review, there are only really three missions, with more being released periodically in the future. At first, I thought this was a cheap trick to sell an incomplete game, but since my first chaotic run-through in Paris, I've found myself going back again and again, doing it quieter and cleaner - learning the puzzle of the stage more and more with each attempt. While still annoying, I can say that as far as the Paris stage goes, I am learning to be the best 47 that I can be, and I just hope those skills pay off in the later chapters.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. It is next-gen at it's finest. The shadows, light, and color look very natural. The levels have an incredible amount of detail that make them feel real. Even the NPCs are rendered with a lot of their own detail. The game is a delight to walk around in.
Gameplay-wise, not a whole lot has changed from previous Hitman games. You're given an open world and you can do any number of things to get to your target - steal disguises from NPCs, climb drain pipes, sneak in through windows, pick locks ... or just start shooting at everyone until there is no one left. Like other Hitman titles, each level is its own Rube Goldberg-isque machine, and all you have to do is make yourself a part of it, leading to a professional assassination or maybe a chaotic gun fight.
One of the newer mechanics is the ability for 47 to eavesdrop on certain NPCs, and learn about the stage - weaknesses in the defenses, behavior of the target, things that could be sabotaged in certain ways and things of that nature. The player is able to "track" that information, and use it later to their benefit. In the Paris stage, for instance, you learn about the target's favorite drink and if you play your cards right, you may end up at a bar making said target that favorite drink ... but maybe with a twist of rat poison for that extra zing.
The AI in the game has vastly improved from the past titles. If you are acting weird (like creeping around a public place), you're likely to gain suspicion from people watching you. Civilians will even run to the nearest guards and give them detailed descriptions of 47, what he was wearing and what he was doing, which could potentially ruin everything. Guards are also much better about using cover and flanking tactics to get 47 out into the open. It is much more difficult in this game to get guards to run at your in a straight line while you mow them down than it was in the previous titles.
That said, the AI isn't perfect. In one instance, a guard saw me assassinate a target then hide in a cabinet. Said guard proceeded to take out his rifle and unload on the cabinet. He emptied his magazine, reloaded and emptied a second one at me. The wooden cabinet I failed at hiding in was apparently lined with adamantium, because I didn't take a bit of damage while hiding. After reloading a third time, the guard put his gun away and said something like, "Huh, guess I was hearing things," bagged the corpse up, and dragged it off.
So that was weird.
Another added feature are the "challenges." Challenges are little achievements you can try for during a mission for added points at the end. They are things like: "Kill the target with this weapon," "Kill the target wearing this disguise," or "Do this ridiculous thing sometime during the mission." They're pretty neat and definitely add some interesting replay value to the game.
There is some negative aspects to the game, too. The biggest complaint being the online/offline save issue. While you're playing the game, if you lose connection to the "Hitman" servers or if they go down, you are kicked back to the game's main menu and you lose your progress. It happened to me a few times at the very beginning. Once within five minutes of starting the game, and a another frustrating time as I was about exit a successfully-completed mission. There is no warning or anything. You just have to hope the game auto-saved. This issue has occurred a lot less the further it got away from the initial release date - either because people stopped playing it because of the issue or IO Interactive fixed whatever issue the servers were having. In the last week, it's only happened to me once which, while annoying, is much better than what it was initially.
Another issue, is the episodic nature of the game. Right now, when you buy the full game, you are only given three missions - two of them being part of the 'tutorial.' While the tutorials stand as solid levels all on their own, when you finish the Paris mission (the first real) mission, you are given a cut-scene and then dropped back at the main menu with the option to replay it. It is pretty unsatisfying, and I feel like the game loses a lot of momentum because of this. New sets of missions are going to be dropped every month, along with new contracts (for different targets) to attempt on each stage.
That said, the nature of "Hitman" lends itself to a vast amount of replayability. I've played the Paris mission a dozen times now, and I think I've done it differently every time. With each mission attempt, you learn the stage more and learn how to use the "clockwork" of the setting to your advantage. I am a significantly better assassin in Paris now than I was when I first entered the level. Still, I don't like being forced to replay a level when I'd much rather move to the next stage. It makes the game feel unfinished.
As an addition to the Hitman franchise, "Hitman" is excellent - even if this is only the start. The levels are huge, challenging, unique and feel organic. It looks fantastic. While there is obviously some kind of story-arc being started, the main focus is on being the best hitman you can be. Yes, the server-DRM issues are frustrating, but they seem to be getting better with each day. And yes, the episodic gameplay definitely feels like it's slowing the game down, but at least the replay value is fairly high.
At the end of the day, "Hitman" feels like a Hitman game. And that's a good thing. Fans of the series should find this new game endearingly familiar, while newcomers will enjoy this as an introduction to the career of the ever-professional Agent 47. For only three starting missions, "Hitman" hits the right marks and I will definitely be coming back for more once the other missions are released.