Agent 47 is back in another game of stealth, assassinating some of the most protected targets in the world. So, shave your head and don your best suit: we're going undercover!
If you've ever played a Hitman game before then this latest installment is essentially more of the same but with some very interesting new features and an expanded arsenal of ways to kill. I'll get into the details around this later. For those unfamiliar with the Hitman series, you play as the bald and well-dressed Agent 47, a man known for his ability to take out any target under any circumstance. You're rewarded for doing so as stealthily as possible and taking down your target without anyone in the vicinity catching on is an accomplishment to be proud of. In order to get close, you'll have to work your way towards them by stealing the clothes off the backs of guards or other NPCs in the area, find items that can be thrown to distract people (or knock them out), and take out any bodyguards who happen to be trailing them. That is, unless you can manage to find a perfect hiding place high up and kill them with a perfectly executed headshot. There are so many ways to take out targets in a level that you could replay the same one over and over again looking for a different challenge in each time. From poisoning their wine while posing as their date then drowning them in the toilet bowl to rigging their plane's seat and "accidentally" ejecting them into the sky during a safety inspection, you can only dream of the endless possibilities.
As you work your way through a level, you'll almost constantly be on the lookout for potential disguises. Being able to dispatch someone and hide their body in a closet then take their outfit to fool the nearby guards is a thrilling experience. However, there were times when NPCs' reactions didn't seem to add up. The fact that I could disguise myself as a member of the staff and most other staff members just nodded and smiled was quite odd. It gives the idea that every single location you visit is staffed by contractors who have never seen each other before. Having said that, some folks questioned who I was when I got close but it was seemingly random whenever that happened. Thankfully, you can see the suspicious NPCs as white dots on your map so you know who to avoid.
Leaving that issue aside, the reactions to my behaviour from other people in the area felt inconsistent, too. Sometimes, it would make perfect sense that someone was suspicious of why I was crouching behind a plant but then other times, I would follow someone into their individual bathroom and take them out while those in the area didn't even ask why I was following them in. Overall, this lack of consistency in the AI of the NPCs made gameplay more of a challenge but perhaps not for the right reason.
One of the new features in this Hitman release is the concept of opportunities. As you're walking around a map, you'll eventually come across a document or a conversation that sparks Agent 47's interest as it provides a possible way to reach the target. You can choose to follow the opportunity or not and you can even use it to get a certain disguise then decide to take them out in an alternate way to what was suggested. There are multiple opportunities available in each level so even if you want to take the easier route and simply follow any opportunity that's presented to you then you'll likely want to play that level again to try out another approach. One of the best moments for me was when I took the prompt to steal a fashion icon's disguise that happened to look very similar to Agent 47 and I proceeded to walk down the catwalk then stroll through the mansion going wherever I pleased as passersby complimented my look.
Visually, Hitman is one of the best-looking games out there right now. The detail of Agent 47 is remarkable and the variety and complexity of the locations you visit is, too. You'll be taking on contracts all over the world in locations such as a Paris mansion, the market streets of Marrakesh, an upscale hotel in Bangkok, and a snowy mountain resort in Japan. It's great that there is such a variety but the story itself doesn't do a great job of tying it together. It feels like the locations were decided first and the story was tacked on after the fact in order to make it not seem so random. The ending felt rather anticlimactic, too.
The audio is primarily background ambience and it helps keep you immersed for the most part. You'll hear constant tweeting of birds and swaying of trees in the wind when amongst wildlife and the hustle and bustle of city life while on busy streets. There's often a soft orchestral tone in the background that's indicative of your current state of alert. When you manage to grab a disguise or complete an opportunity, it will change slightly as a way to subtly acknowledge your accomplishment.
There is one big gripe that I have with the audio, however. It's not a problem with the sound itself; it's the writing. As you walk around the levels, you'll encounter hundreds of NPCs who are none-the-wiser of your identity yet they feel the need to insult and belittle you for no reason. This is quite a harsh thing to say but some examples of what Agent 47 endured in my journey include being called a derogatory term for mentally challenged by multiple people many different ways as well as nonsensically being told, "I don't need someone to guard me, I can take care of myself". I'm simply a guy walking around while sometimes pretending to be part of the staff yet everyone has something to say and wants to pick a fight. These jabs often pulled me out of the experience and the failed attempt to lighten up the atmosphere certainly didn't help build the suspense.
With this latest release of Hitman being broken up into episodes and delivered slowly over eight months, the complete first season is quite an impressive package when you bundle it together. There are seven total locations, each with one main story level. The length of the levels varies dramatically depending on how you play and what you want to accomplish before you exit. You can try and take out the target in the shortest time possible while paying no mind to being seen or slowly and strategically set up a series of events in order to kill them without any suspicion. Once you're done playing the story levels, you can go back to each and play through an additional mission with a different target and setup. There's also another bonus mission that decks the mansion in Paris in holiday decor.
Once you've finished the story and extra episodes, you're still not done. Each location has multiple escalations to tackle. These are basically contracts for different NPCs that you may have ignored in previous playthroughs. The challenge sometimes becomes quite tough, too, because you're limited by how you can kill them and you have other goals that you must accomplish along the way. Each escalation has five levels of challenge that stack. For example, the first level of one has you taking out a certain security guard while dressed as another security guard and you must use a knife to kill them. Once you play through this mission a couple more times, you'll be asked to do so while erasing any evidence on security cameras and with the added challenge of security guards being suspicious of you when you're in disguise. When you complete these escalations, you're not allowed to save your progress mid-level. It's quite a thrill to complete one without loading while accomplishing all of the requirements.
Hitman also takes the stealth action online with the addition of contracts. Players build their own missions and upload them for others to attempt. You might be wondering how many of the uploaded missions are actually doable considering the complexity of the average Hitman level. Thankfully, all of them are due to the way that they created the tool. Essentially, you must walk around a location and mark a target that you want someone to take out then take them out yourself. Certain actions that you do while walking around are tracked and when you complete the level and choose to save and upload it, you can decide how many restrictions to set on the player in order for them to complete it. Another online component also makes an appearance in the form of elusive targets. These targets are selected whenever Square Enix decides to put a bounty on their head so they change constantly.
The content in this edition of Hitman is plentiful and with the online levels further expanding its replay value, you're more than getting your money's worth. However, with so much for a player to wade through, the menu system does a terrible job of displaying it. Whenever you boot it up, you're presented with a bunch of rectangles that will confuse even the most experienced gamer who has seen their fair share of menus (such as myself). I had to go online and research exactly what everything meant in order to get a basic understanding of what Hitman had to offer. I honestly struggled figuring out how to load my save a few times until I realised one of the boxes on the main screen actually said "Load Game". It was hidden amongst an ad for DLC and boxes with titles such as "Escalation", "Elusive Target", and "Mission". I thought: I'm playing Hitman so I should select a mission. I'll click on that but then I'm presented with another screen of more boxes to play a video or have me "Plan". Oh, there's a "Play" button on the bottom-left that will take me to the mission itself and not just show a movie. Anyway, this is simply the worst menu system I've ever seen in a game. It needs streamlining for newcomers instead of assuming that everyone starting it up has an understanding of its many layers of content.
Overall, I wasn't disappointed by this latest installment in the Hitman franchise. Its awesome graphics, varied gameplay, and tons of content will impress. However, the terrible (and sometimes offensive) writing, confusing menus, and inconsistent AI took me out of the experience enough to warrant a less than stellar score than it would otherwise deserve.
- + The myriad of ways to take out your targets keeps the gameplay fresh
- + Tons of varied offline and online content
- + The diverse environments are beautiful
- - Awful menu system is sure to confuse even the most hardcore gamer at first
- - Terrible writing for the NPCs
- - Inconsistent AI behaviour