Hitman‘s debut episode beautifully combines the brilliance of Blood Money and the sparse, positive aspects of Absolution and I think that’s exactly why I’ve enjoyed it so much. While, arguably, Blood Money was the supreme installment in the franchise, I haven’t had this much fun since ‘Invitation to a Party’ in 2002’s Silent Assassin. In the first episode of the subtitle-free reboot of Hitman, we experience a brief opening scene that leads to a prologue twenty years ago in a covert facility, where 47 meets his handler, Diana Burnwood, and undergoes some straightforward and immersive training to earn his place in the International Contracts Agency. Hitman wastes no time and immediately showcases its revamped mechanics, primarily the overhauled and improved disguise system, giving it meaning and functionality once more—something Absolution had rendered entirely useless. With the right disguise, you can navigate the area mostly interruption free and fool almost anyone, unless you stumble upon a new kind of character called an enforcer. Enforcers are essentially key characters who are well aware of who’s who, so while disguising yourself as a sailor on a luxury yacht will allow you access to most areas, you would be wise to steer clear from the owner, as he’s hand-picked his employees and knows them all. However, there are some unique disguises that will allow for unrestricted access without question, like a male model that shares similar facial features with 47. Half the fun of the disguise system is figuring out your allowances and restrictions and exploiting them to your advantage. Every now and then though, the AI seems to be asking for it with their quirky behavior.
It’s worth mentioning that the AI behavior has been improved in important ways, especially while trespassing. Guards will attempt to shoo you away or escort you out of restricted areas, as opposed to treating you like an armed terrorist and exhibiting the ever-so-annoying shoot-to-kill attitude just because you wandered into the wrong room. However, the mild frustration lies within the fact that some rooms are obviously restricted or have posted ‘Staff Only’ signs, while other off-limits areas give no indication and you feel like an amateur when you wander inside and hear the guards tell you to leave, even though some random civilian just waltzed in without issue. It’s one of a few AI quirks that may or may not get on your nerves or disrupt your feelings of immersion.
Hitman offers some of the best gameplay that the series has seen so far; there are dozens of ways to approach your mission in Paris and numerous opportunities to take advantage of. It’s encouraged to engage in more than one playthrough, as each successful, varied assassination will unlock new equipment and starting locations for the mission. Opportunities are a new, optional feature that will allow players to discover varied methods of taking out your target. Eavesdropping on particular conversations can lead to unique opportunities that can be tracked step-by-step to completion.
The impressive depth of the episode is one of the greatest features. I’ve maximized my mastery level for the location and I still have areas to explore and some more secrets to uncover. The mansion is well-designed and has countless rooms with points of interest in every which way; even the exterior is brimming with areas to explore, leading to quite a few interesting advantages. Each area can offer its own unique opportunities and really sets the precedent for exploration. For example, like I mentioned before, players can utilize the outfit that international male model, Helmut Kruger, wears and use his celebrity status to gain unrestricted access to all areas of the Palais de Waleska; fortunately, he and 47 look enough alike for the disguise to work. With the right determination, you may also find your way upstairs to the private auction without being stopped by guards, and doing so in your default tuxedo really has a lovely James Bond feeling to it.
Naturally, not a lot of people were thrilled to hear about Hitman being an episodic title, and we discussed that earlier this month in our article, ‘An Episodic Hitman is Not That Bad.’ It’s a rather unconventional release model for a game of this theme, but if it’s done correctly, it could work. Even as an episodic title, Hitman offers enough replay value to supplement the wait between the next episode. In addition, Hitman also features some live components that come by way of Elusive Targets, Contracts Mode and Escalation Mode. Elusive Targets come on a weekly basis and they are one-of-a-kind targets that are only available for a limited amount of real-world time. Whether they leave the world of their own free will or by your hand, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Contracts Mode makes a return from Absolution and gives players the freedom to create their own custom contracts within each available location, and share them with the community. Escalation Mode is something new that IO Interactive have implemented that will essentially give players a task and escalate it with each round. For example, round one could task the player with eliminating their target, while round two could escalate it to eliminating them with a fire axe, and round three could task the player with eliminating their target with a fire axe after disabling the security cameras.
For all the good points made, Hitman does have a few noteworthy issues. For starters, there is a very heavy reliance on an always-online experience to connect with the live components of the game. It goes one step further to render the game virtually useless offline, where you will not be able to load saves that you’ve created while online and vice versa. Hitman was plagued with connectivity issues at launch that IO Interactive is still, allegedly, working on fixing, where players would be disconnected from the server and forced back to the main menu in the middle of their playthrough. In addition, loading times are painfully long and can take long enough to allow players to make and consume a sandwich and arrive just in time for the mission’s start. It’s a full loading screen even when loading a previously made save and it can be increasingly frustrating if you’re trying to accomplish a specific task and must continuously load a save to try again. In a nutshell, Hitman takes longer to load than Grand Theft Auto V and obviously, there’s a hell of a lot more content in the Grand Theft Auto series. Just as well, some NPC dialogue is awkward and annoying, and hearing the same dialogue every playthrough can get increasingly tedious and unbearable. I’m already walking around the house quoting a few civilians’ conversations in the grand ballroom.
It goes without saying that only the individual can know what’s best for them. I won’t fail to acknowledge Hitman‘s flaws, but I’ve managed to enjoy it for what it is so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what Italy has in store for us. With a release like this, IO Interactive has plenty of time and zero excuses when it comes to addressing complaints and rectifying issues that are presented in the game. While we haven’t seen fixes coming as quickly as desired, we’ll hopefully be able to see a more stable server connection and quite a few needed fixes before episode two launches next month in April. I won’t tell you whether or not to purchase Hitman; if you want to be a part of the game’s development as time goes on and be able to experience it in the meantime, climb aboard. But if you’re walking on a path of trepidation and would rather wait for a physical release at the end of the year when all of the content is available at once, feel free to do so. Much like the approach you’re given in Hitman, what you do is entirely up to you.