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 its episodic format, there’s only two locations and a handful of targets, but Hitman has a surprising amount of content and replay value. You can easily get lost in the fantastic environment and 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. You are dropped into a sandbox with the objective of killing a target. Your methods are entirely up to you. Sure, you could kick down the doors and spray machine gun fire into the target 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 him when he’s isolated or vulnerable. The freedom of the game as well as the unique assassination techniques make the game tense and increases replay value.
Hitman offers the best gameplay to date for the series. 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 location for the mission. It’s also significantly easier to find unique kill opportunities than in Blood Money or Absolution. Overhearing certain dialogue will lead to an opportunity reveal. The opportunity is marked with a waypoint on your map and you can track each necessary step until you complete the opportunity, which usually leads to a unique execution.
Disguises are as important as ever. Certain areas can only be accessed by specific disguises, so having proper attire is crucial. For instance, the Paris mission takes place during a fashion show at a enormous mansion. The mansion has four levels and each level can only be accessed by a certain disguise. A staff disguise will only work on the ground floor. Whereas a security guard disguise can get you to the third floor, while only a bodyguard disguise can get you to the top floor. And thankfully, the disguise system from Absolution has been taken out back and shot. Your disguise will only become suspicious when you are near similarly dressed characters for too long a time. If you’re in a bodyguard outfit and spend too much time near other bodyguards, they will become suspicious. Otherwise, you can explore with impunity.
There’s so much to explore. 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’s still more secrets to discover. The mansion is sprawling with rooms, a fashion runway, an auction room, kitchen, attic, dressing room, and much more. Even the exterior is brimming with areas, such as delivery truck dropoffs, parking lots, and a beautiful pavilion overlooking the Seine River.
Each area offers its own unique assassination opportunity. These opportunities are the best part of the game. My first playthrough, I overheard that a famous model was performing. A model who looked an awful lot like me. After killing him, stealing his outfit, and having the proper makeup applied, 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 grow closer and closer to your target.
In my second playthrough, I stole a Shiekh’s disguise and infiltrated a secret auction where global power players bid 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 my target was dispatched.
These are just two of 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’s 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. These points unlock mastery levels, which grant you new weapons, like a sniper rifle, and new drop locations. Now, instead of starting from the very beginning, you can begin the level in the kitchen disguised as the cook, or in the lobby disguised as a guard.
Three other features enhance the value of Hitman. Featured contracts are two targets in the Paris level that are different from your mission targets. They provide an extra challenge, such as having to kill the target in a specific disguise in a specific way, like as a staff member with poison. There’s also the extremely addicting Escalation Mode. Escalation Mode has five stages, with each stage becoming more and more difficult. It begins easily enough with simply kill a target in any manner. Each stage ups the ante. Kill the target while wearing this disguise, or kill the target with this weapon, or kill the target and unlock his safe, etc. The Contracts Mode from Absolution is brought back as well. You replay a level, kill who you want however you want, then challenge your friends to do the same. It adds a fun competitive challenge, especially because contracts will vary from exceptionally easy to frightfully difficult.
Hitman is not without its flaws. The loading times are unbearably long, ranging from 30 seconds to a full minute. It’s a full loading screen every time you load a save, which can become increasingly frustrating when you’re trying to complete a difficult opportunity or challenge. Also, occasionally NPCs 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 and Paris, as stated above, is a huge map. Characters look and act realistically and as always, IO Interactive successfully creates a crowd and 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 very satisfying to arrange accidental kills in a large public area; 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 a fantastic sandbox for 47 to explore. It rewards you for patience and planning. The large map creates many unique assassination opportunities and encourages replay because of its reward system. I just unlocked a sniper rifle and can’t wait to get back out there and find a nice vantage point. 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.