Developer/Publisher: IO Interactive/Square Enix
Platform: PC (Steam), Xbox One, PlayStation 4 – 14.99$ for the Intro Pack, 49.99$ for the Full Experience
PS4 version reviewed. Review code provided by the publisher.
Almost all games feature some sort of killing, but Hitman has always felt slightly different. While something like Call of Duty might put you in the role of some US grunt, mowing down endless amounts of Foreigners™ in the quest for justice, anti-hero Agent 47 approaches things in a slightly different manner. That is no different in this latest outing, simply titled Hitman.
The element of choice has always been first and foremost the chief feature of this franchise. Climb up a pipe, miraculously clamber out of a toilet bowl, knock out and steal the clothes of some cheeky tennis girl before feeding an evil Mafioso spy millionaire oil magnate to his pet otters – you could usually go as far as you wanted to get the kill. And all while playing Ave Maria on a loop.
For the last title, Hitman Absolution, the developers watered this down somewhat in an effort to be more accessible, and it did the series no favors. Long time fans will be happy to know that this problem has been solved with an utterly fair compromise that offers the best of both worlds.
There’s a long list of ways to finish each level, and a number of ways to kill your mark. Unlike the olden days, when you were free to experiment with no guidance, your choices are partly informed by vague challenges that give you a hint at your options. Sometimes it’ll be as obvious as a picture of your target being killed by piano wire, while other times it’ll be a lot more involved.
As you progress through an environment, you’ll hear conversations that might hint at ways to get your opponent on their own or vulnerable. Players are able to, at a click of a button, set waypoints whenever they hear one of these exchanges and follow the path focussing more on stealth and less on aimlessly walking around.
And here’s the beauty: everything is entirely optional. You can turn off the hint waypoints if you choose to, and without specifically checking the challenges you won’t see anything you should. If you want to approach a given situation completely blind, you have that option.
It might not be the glorious return to the hardcore that some people had hoped for, but I think they’ve successfully walked a pretty difficult line. They’ve made it as easy or as hard as you want, and while that’ll no doubt annoy extreme cases in both groups, I have no doubt that it was the right choice.
There’s a few other things that make Hitman stand out from its predecessors.
Firstly, the sheer number of people at each stage. It makes an incredible difference to be surrounded by literally thousands of watching eyes. Private rooms are few and far between, and you have to choose your opportunities very carefully.
Granted, it’s a little bit formulaic at times. In the Paris level, staff can go on the bottom two floors, security on the bottom three floors, and so on. You realize quickly that the easiest way to avoid being seen is to wear the right clothes, and with so few stages it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating working ideas (more on this later).
When you get caught, you’ll probably die. There was only a single time I alerted the guards and lived to tell the tale. A few shots and you’re dead. The stakes are high, especially as you have to manually save if you don’t want to play huge chunks of a level again.
Graphically, Hitman is hard to knock. From snow falling onto the ground and sticking to the surface before melting away to incredibly detailed character models, I couldn’t believe just how pretty this game is. General design is impressive as well, with busy yacht parties and Paris fashion shows feeling exactly how you would want them to.
The user interface deserves special mention, which is a bit of a surprise. Nobody raves about the UI, because the whole point of it is that it gives a maximum amount of information without getting too much in the way. If you notice it, it’s not doing its job.
But this may well just be the exception that proves the rule. It’s minimalistic, clean, precise – just like 47 himself – and it never overstays its welcome. I’m expecting a patch pretty soon to fix the odd occasion when options don’t pop up as easily as they should (especially when hiding bodies), but these times are few and far between and won’t impact on the experience.
As a game, as a concept, Hitman is just excellent. It’s what a Hitman game ought to be, right up until the story gets started and the whole thing comes to a close. Those of you that have already played the prologue as part of the beta are going to be very, very disappointed by the general release.
Let me preface this by saying that the switch to being episodic probably won’t hurt Hitman. Like Ground Zeroes, the shallow surface hides what could easily be dozens of hours of gaming. There is content galore here, so long as you’re happy to play on the same maps, with the same options, the same voice acting.
You can modify your start point, your equipment. You can change your plan of attack, your method of entry. All in all though, you’re going to be playing through the same chunks of the game again and again. For those of you who plan to rush this out, taking the easiest option to get to the end as soon as possible, you’ll have – at best – two or three hours of play this month. If you’ve already played the beta, you can half that, because although you’ll have to play through the first three levels again, you’ll only have one new location to explore. It’s massive, but, again, as long or short as you want it to be.
This is a short term problem because, frankly, Square Enix plan to release a boatload of content over the coming months. For somebody who already has the game, missed the beta and has limited time to play, I’m quite happy with it. I know I’ll be back between now and the April content drop to mop up the rest of the trophies and I’ll get more time out of it. Others will be better waiting until next month, when the new content on offer is more meaty, or for the end of the season when everything will be available, especially when considering paying for the full package upfront. It’s a lot to spend at this point with relatively little to show for it.
So you’ve finished every challenge on every level and you’re ready to jump into Contracts mode. The downside is, this probably won’t offer much in the way of new content.
The player created levels are exactly the same as the developer created ones, only they might have specific challenges attached to them. You create the ‘new’ stages by playing through it and tagging who you want to be the target. You can then share this via the internet.
It’s nice, in that it will be extremely challenging when people select random party guest 267 as the target, but at this point it just isn’t a replacement for official content. Pre-release, I’ve already seen a few trophy tests, and I suspect this is mostly what Contracts will become.
There’s a few non-crucial glitches that might annoy slightly, but nothing awful. I’ve seen a slowdown once in all the time I played, and the loading time is longer than I’d have liked. There’s also glitches with sound, but oddly enough, only on the loading screen – go figure.