Everyone’s Favorite Assassin Returns

Agent 47 returns in the latest iteration of the Hitman franchise, and he’s as deadly as ever. Although nothing new is brought to the table, Hitman shows a marked improvement over Absolution and a welcome return to the open-ended levels of Blood Money. The beta highlights the strengths that we have all come to love and expect from IO Interactive, but there are still a few weaknesses.

The beta, which can be accessed all weekend, serves as the prologue to the main game. It shows Agent 47 beginning with the ICEA as well as his first meeting with his handler, Diana Burnwood. I was surprised by the agency’s initial hesitancy towards 47 with him seemingly only accepted into the training program because of Diana’s insistence. This is a nice way of establishing the deep trust between Diana and Agent 47, which has been prevalent throughout the series.

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The beta consists of two open-ended levels which are Agent 47’s training missions. The first mission is a tutorial where Agent 47 must assassinate a target on a docked yacht. Diana smoothly walks you through the mission and teaches you the game’s basic mechanics. For those unfamiliar with the Hitman series, the tutorial shows you how to pacify guards, don disguises, locate targets, and determine which disguises allow access to certain areas. The disguise system has been dramatically improved from Absolution; people wearing the same outfit as 47 will only notice him if you linger in an area for too long or generally act suspicious. This allows you to explore the area and find all of the secrets, clues, and various other ways to take out the target.

Completing the first mission grants access to Agent 47’s final training mission at an airport hangar in Soviet Russia – a mission which introduces new observation areas. Completing certain objectives such as eavesdropping on a conversation, or finding a crowbar, grant you intel and reveal unique ways to eliminate the target. Once unlocked, you can track it on your minimap, much like a side-quest in an RPG.

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Hitman feels warm and familiar, and I felt pretty nostalgic as I played through the opening level. The controls were similar enough to the prior games that I could pick it up immediately. All the crouching, garroting, and disguises reminded me of the many hours spent trying to be a silent assassin in Blood Money and finding all the unique assassinations in Absolution. And, just like the previous two games, Hitman has some unique assassinations of its own. Sure enough, the simple option remains to shoot the target with silenced pistols, but the ability to spike drinks, drown the target in the toilet, blow them up, accidentally drop heavy objects on them, or simply sneak on up and garrotte them are also available.

Perhaps my favourite assassination of all was in the final training mission where, after eavesdropping on two mechanics, I learned that the jet must pass a safety check before the target will enter the plane. Once I stole a mechanic’s disguise, I found the clipboard of safety protocols. Upon learning that the aircraft had a potentially faulty ejection system, a few turns with the wrench to sabotage the system and voila. I assassinated and stole the principal KGB officer’s uniform and instructed the target to head to the plane. Boom! The target ejected in a fiery blaze high into the sky, all the while 47 strode calmly towards the exit. It was an immensely satisfying payoff for a good 30 minutes of slow-and-steady setup.

For all of these positive points, however, Hitman doesn’t seem to be adding anything new to the series. Even though it’s a lot of fun, it doesn’t feel all that different from Blood Money. I’m not asking for a complete overhaul, but even Fallout 4 tried to innovate a little by adding power armor and a crafting and settlement building system – not matter how convoluted, messy, and poorly explained it was. Hopefully, when Hitman finally releases it will have some new features; after all, this was just the beta. Personally, I’ve always wanted more focus on money. The game hints at 47 being extraordinarily well paid for his contracts, but we never actually see any of this money. Perhaps they could implement the ability to earn money and spend it on upgrades such as upgraded firearms, or something useful for the missions ahead. I know that I would enjoy such an addition.

Understandably, the beta is somewhat buggy. The voice syncing doesn’t match up with mouth movements in some of the cutscenes, and I also ran into a glitch where I couldn’t save or load previous save files. Somehow the enemy AI is even dumber than the last few games, and it’s easy to find exploits that cheapen your victory and playing experience.

The Hitman beta serves as a fun introduction to the new game. It explains the basic controls and highlights the direction of the game, returning somewhat to its Blood Money roots. The prologue reveals a little more of 47’s history with the Agency and with Diana. The open-ended levels are fun to explore and provide a wide variety of assassination methods. Most importantly, the beta has calmed my previous worries about Hitman‘s change of release format.

You can access the beta, which lasts all weekend, by pre-ordering the intro pack or the full game. Hitman is due for release on March 15th for PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One.

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