I’ve had a very much love hate relationship with the Hitman series of games. In a very real way this resulted in me loving Blood Money, liking Contracts and having just an odd sense of general apathy towards Absolution. The new instalment comes out some three years, and a new console generation, after the divisive Absolution and is confusingly just called Hitman. What we have here then is the return of Agent 47 in a game harking back to the classic Hitman of old.
It’s an odd review to write as we are just looking at episode 1 of a possible 6 episode game. What IO Interactive have done is taken the decision to release the game as an episodic event over the coming year. The only other episodic games I’ve played have been story driven stuff like the Telltale games, where the episodic formula works well. I’m yet to be convinced by the use of episodes in more action based games like Hitman, but one thing is for sure with the prospect of Final Fantasy VII being episodic it looks like this is a trend here to stay.
I’m not going to even get into the plot here as it’s basically none existent guff, but then you don’t play Hitman for the plot. Lets face it one of the reasons Absolution was divisive is the way it used the plot as the driving force behind what was a tightly scripted chase style game, rather than let sandbox puzzles play out in well realised locations. With the plot out of the way we are left with three missions to play before the game ends and reminds you to come back and purchase the rest of it later on. It may seem like short rations but there is potentially a large amount of content on offer here, think depth of experience rather than length.
Each of the missions is a self contained area where you get dropped in, told who to kill and then left to your own devices. This is classic Hitman. The opportunities open to you from the very start feel almost unlimited and represent one of the great strengths of the game. What will follow is a series of trail and error runs through the level, as you stalk your hit before stuffing up, learning the way they move and then killing them on your next run. Invariably your first go will end up in failure, but this will give you knowledge to use in your next attempt. This simple cycle represents the core of the gameplay, and it’s easy to see the parallels between this and a puzzle game. It’s a series of learning by trail and error.
What Hitman does well is take ideas from the previous games and works them into this new experience. Within a couple of moments of starting the game you’ll also discover one of the new elements to be found here, these are called opportunities. These are basically a hint system telling you how to complete your objective, and can be obtained during the mission, for example by eavesdropping on conversations. You can chose to active these hints from the pause menu, and what this gives you is a great helping hand to guide you step by step through the level. Making the game significantly easier should you wish.
The slightly flawed instincts mode is also back, but this time pared back substantially. It no longer gives you super stealth powers to see the routes of enemies and dress up in clothes. Instead you now just get a much more restrained xray vision allowing you to see through walls and locate NPC’s and your mark, that’s about it. This new vision mode keeps the emphasis on watching the people to identify where they are going, instead of just following red glowing trails.
Once you’ve done with the three missions on offer, you’ll be looking for further things to do in order to justify the admission price. This is where the contracts system comes into play, again taking its queue from Absolution, contracts mode sees user generated hits being added to the existing in game level set. What this means is that you will face a totally new target, with different equipment to use and different criteria to work against, but in the same location. It’s a nice idea and could add loads of depth to the game, but once again as with all user generated content 99% of it will invariable be terrible.
Saving the contracts mode slightly is the inclusion of an exclusive developer created contract, the first part of the Sarajevo Six. The contract is based in the Paris level, and sees you taking out a bespoke mark. I’m in mixed minds over this, it’s great there is more high quality content on offer, but it’s still based in the same level and arguably not proper additional content. It is nice, and it does work but it also makes you feel slightly short changed given that this contract was sold as a new part of the game exclusive to the PS4.
There are some issues though with the online infrastructure for contracts. The way the contracts are searchable online isn’t great, meaning it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on. Also IO Interactive promised escalation contracts, which increase in difficulty each play through, and at launch there is only one. These are little niggles, but do put a dampener on the overall experience.
What you have here then is a shortlived introduction to the new Hitman. The open environments are brilliant to get to know, and the potential for later episodes to add more locations is really enticing. As it stands though things are a little sparse, and the episodic nature will put loads of people off. What is on offer though is great, and it’s beginning to look like Hitman: Blood Money reskinned for PS4.