I think I should briefly explain my experience with the Hitman franchise before I begin this review, just so you know where I’m coming from. My first experience with the franchise was as a penniless college student with the first game, Hitman: Codename 47, in 2000.
A friend loaned me his disc, which turned out to be one of those “lite pirate” copies that squashed games to a downloadable size suited to late ’90s Internet connections by stripping out the music, cinematics and other large files without which the game could still technically run. So my first murderer-for-hire experience was somewhat quiet and uninformed. I now own a legitimate copy of the game, bought from GOG.com, but I have yet to play it again.
Sadly I missed every Hitman game since, until Hitman: Absolution in 2012, which I thought was pretty good, offering a number of ways to eliminate your targets in each stage – but the general consensus, even among those who liked it, is that it was too linear compared to series’ best titles. Hitman: Blood Money is most often crowned the best, with some people also citing Hitman: Contracts. I managed to acquire those on my PS2, but I haven’t gotten around to playing them yet. Apparently the reason they’re so good is because they’re very open and sandbox-y, affording players all kinds of ways to eliminate their targets.
If that was your gripe with Hitman: Absolution, then you might want to give the new Hitman a try. Speaking from the perspective of someone who hasn’t played Blood Money or Contracts, it does seem like IO Interactive listened to their fans. At this point I can obviously only speculate, because the release of the game is episodic and only the tutorial stage and intro stage are currently available.
The tutorial stage actually has two maps in it, both of which are canned sets full of Agency actors for Agent 47 to test his skills on. If you wander too far to the outsides, you can actually see the edges of the sets with the props and fake buildings and stuff. It’s a pretty cool detail. The first map takes place on an ocean liner, and it’s supposed to teach you the basics of the game. There are quite a few options and the map is large enough, containing the ocean liner itself plus a bit of the surrounding area. The next map is a military base. It’s quite extensive and there are a number of ways to get the job done.
The first real mission, which is set in Paris, is absolutely huge. If the Paris stage is any indication of what the rest of the game will be like, then I think this might be the game fans of Blood Money and Contracts have been waiting for. There are so many ways to complete the mission, and every time I screwed up and restarted I found something new to try. I eventually succeeded by disguising myself as a fashion model and garotting one target during a private meeting, and I then electrocuted the other in a puddle by making it look like faulty wiring – but along the way I glimped other options.
You can eavesdrop on conversations and discover clues to all manner of methods for getting to your marks. Of course, if you prefer a less intricate approach, there’s nothing to stop you from requesting that the Agency smuggle a sniper rifle to one of its drop locations for you to pick up. And there are all kinds of other options the game provides that I don’t even know how I would use yet – such as flooding bathrooms and activating fire alarms.
In addition to the main missions, each map offers other modes, such as Escalation, wherein you undertake different contracts on those maps. Each time you complete them the contract gets more challenging, with more targets and more specific criteria for offing them. The Contracts mode from Absolution also returns, in which players can choose targets and criteria for eliminating them and upload them for other players to try. There are also “challenges” on each map which you can do in either the main missions or the other modes, and these encourage you to attempt to complete specific goals – such as killing your target while dressed like a vampire magician and then escaping via the catacombs.
The AI is quite convincing and intuitive, and I haven’t seen it do anything overly stupid yet. As with any stealth game, you’ll probably screw up on purpose a few times to see what the game will let you get away with before you knuckle down and start making serious attempts.
Whatever you might think of the episodic approach, it seems that IO Interactive is off to a good, if slow start. But you know what? If the upcoming stages are as good as the Paris one, I’m willing to grant them the time.