The Art of Assassination
Agent 47 is back and better than ever. Hitman combines the best elements of Blood Money and Absolution to create a fantastic stealth and assassination game. Due to the episodic format, there’s only two locations and a handful of targets in the first part, but Hitman has a surprising amount of content and replay value. You can easily get lost in the fantastic environment and there are dozens of unique methods to dispatch your targets.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Hitman franchise combines stealth and planning with slow paced gameplay. You play as Agent 47, a renowned assassin, and you are dropped into a sandbox with the objective of dispatching a target. The method by which you go about this is entirely up to you. Sure, you can kick down the doors, spray machine-gun fire, and hightail it out of there with cops and guards nipping at your heels. Or you could sneak around gathering information, wearing different disguises, learning your targets weaknesses, and assassinating them when they’re isolated or vulnerable. This level of freedom and the unique assassination techniques at your disposal makes the game tense and provides plenty of replay value.
Hitman offers the best gameplay that the series has seen to date. There are nearly 30 different ways of assassinating your two targets in the Paris location, as well as 15 or so opportunities in each of the tutorial levels. Replay is encouraged because each successful assassination and escape unlocks new weapons and starting locations for that mission. It’s also significantly easier to find unique kill opportunities than in Blood Money or Absolution. Eavesdropping on particular strings of dialogue can sometimes lead to new opportunities revealing themselves. A waypoint marks these opportunities on the map, and you can track each necessary step until you complete them, which usually leads to a unique execution.
Disguises are as important as ever. Certain areas can only be accessed by using specific disguises, so utilizing the correct attire is crucial. For instance, the Paris mission takes place during a fashion show at an enormous mansion which has four levels, each of which can only be accessed through the utilization of the correct disguise. A staff disguise will only work on the ground floor, whereas a security guard disguise will give you access to the third floor. Only a bodyguard disguise will give you access to the top floor, however, making a consistent need to change your tact an ongoing requirement. Thankfully, the disguise system from Absolution has been scrapped, and enemies will now only become suspicious of your disguise when you are near other similarly attired characters. If you’re in a bodyguard outfit and spend too much time near other bodyguards, they might start to see through your previously excellent disguise. Otherwise, you can explore with impunity.
The impressive size of the Paris location is Hitman’s greatest feature. I’ve played through the level three times and I’m pretty sure there are still more secrets to uncover. The mansion is sprawling with rooms, a fashion runway, an auction room, kitchen, attic, dressing room, and many more. Even the exterior is brimming with areas, such as delivery truck drop-offs, parking lots, and a beautiful pavilion overlooking the Seine River.
Each area offers its own unique assassination opportunities, and these are by far the best parts of the game. During my first playthrough, I overheard that a famous model was going to be performing at the fashion show: a model who looked an awful lot like me. After killing him, stealing his outfit, and having applied the correct makeup, I had free range of the mansion due to my celebrity status. I strutted down the catwalk to maintain my cover, then met the target privately in the office. A quick garotte wire later and one target was down. Going through all the necessary steps creates a tense gameplay atmosphere as you hope nobody will see through your ruse as you steadily get closer and closer to your target. In my second playthrough, I stole a Sheikh’s disguise and infiltrated a secret auction where global power players were bidding on state secrets. It felt like something out of a Bond movie. Successfully bidding on a secret led to a private meeting with the target. Two silenced shots later and my target was dispatched.
These are just two possible scenarios from a wide range of opportunities. You can also create accidental kills, such as dropping a speaker or spotlight onto a target. Or you can disguise as a bartender and poison the target’s favorite drink. It feels like there are an infinite number of possibilities and the reward system makes you want to replay the level over and over again. Each successful assassination and escape earns you points which can be used to unlock mastery levels which grant new weapons and drop locations. With these unlocked, instead of starting from the very beginning, you can choose to begin the level in the kitchen disguised as the chef, or in the lobby disguised as a guard.
Three other features enhance the value of Hitman. Featured contracts consist of two targets in the Paris level that are separate from your main mission targets. They provide an extra challenge, such as having to kill the target by using a specific method. There’s also the extremely addicting Escalation Mode. Escalation Mode has five stages, with each stage increasing in difficulty as you work through them. It starts out simple enough, giving you free reign on how you choose to assassinate your target. But each stage ups the ante and becomes more specific as you make your way through the levels which keeps you on your toes. The Contracts mode from Absolution has been brought back as well where you replay a level, kill your target by your own means, and then challenge a friend to do the same. It adds a competitive challenge, especially since contracts can often vary from exceptionally easy to frighteningly difficult.
For all its good points, however, Hitman is not without its flaws. Loading times are unbearably long, ranging from 30 seconds to a full minute in some cases. It’s a full loading screen every time you load a save file, which can become increasingly frustrating when you’re trying to complete a particularly difficult section of the game. Occasionally NPCs also behave like they’ve had lobotomies, which can ruin the immersion. Finally, you will have to hear the same hamfisted dialogue over and over again when you replay areas.
The game is beautiful, however, and Paris is a huge map with lots of potential situations to take advantage of. Characters look and act realistically and, as always, IO Interactive successfully creates a great party atmosphere. The booming music at the fashion show and the bustling crowd at the bar feel real and pull you into the environment. It’s always satisfying to arrange accidental kills in a large public area, or to watch the crowd gasp in horror as their party suddenly comes to an end.
Hitman is the game that every Blood Money fan wanted. It successfully creates an engaging sandbox for Agent 47 to explore, and it rewards you for your patience, planning, and acumen. The large map creates many unique assassination opportunities and encourages replay beyond a single playthrough. I just unlocked a sniper rifle and can’t wait to get back out there and find a nice vantage point from which to utilize it. Hitman should assuage any doubts about its episodic format and I sincerely hope that the subsequent episodes match the high bar set by this premiere episode.