The new Hitman makes its debut as the first episode of a complete story. It’s where you train as Agent 47 during his induction into the International Contract Agency to familiarize yourself with the flow of missions. It’s also where you infiltrate a well-attended fashion show at a ritzy mansion, 20 years later, to assassinate targets surrounded by layers of security.
There are multiple ways to slip in and out of the episode’s three “secure” locations, and many means to complete your objectives, lending a great degree of replayability for the curious and the creative. Hitman’s sandboxes are intricately woven, offering an abundance of decision-making opportunities that can drastically change your approach towards a mission and the execution of objectives.
Do you infiltrate and choke your target with a wire, or drop poison into their favorite cocktail? These are two of many possible tactics that you can employ. There’s nothing stopping you from opening fire in a crowd either if that’s what you want. Just be sure to have a solid exit strategy when your enemies retaliate.
Incapacitating hapless NPCs and stealing their clothes to disguise yourself is a major component of Hitman’s design, and each mission gives you numerous options to consider. One disguise can only get you so far, so you frequently need to change your outfit, depending on your path and strategy. Each environment is open, with very few choke-points, and you’re free to mix up your methods to suit your preferred style of play. But you won’t get far unless you keep changing outfits. The reliance on disguises feels stifling at times, but this is alleviated somewhat by the myriad other options that are available once you dig deeper into a location.
Each of the three maps–a party boat, a modest military aircraft hanger, and the aforementioned Parisian mansion–feature distinct, over-the-top hit opportunities that lend a unique flavor to each mission. Tampering with a fighter jet so your target falls prey to a malfunctioning ejection seat is more rewarding than, say, simply shooting them or snapping their neck. I also took great joy in masquerading as a fashion model to gain unprecedented access to another target; I infiltrated a social group and fooled hundreds of onlookers at once.
The fashion show is where Hitman shines, and it’s an impressive display of how complex and varied one location can be. There are gardens to sneak through, a wine cellar to search for clues, a jam-packed crowd in front of a catwalk to hide your face, not to mention the expansive collection of rooms and hallways. It’s almost impossible to account for the plethora of ways you can hit your marks here, and even though you may have seen it all, you probably haven’t done it all. It’s a multi-part mission that allows you to meander and experiment for hours on end, and a perfect illustration of how nuanced you can be in an isolated yet ornate environment.
More than objects or NPCs, it’s Hitman’s UI settings that hold the most power over your experience. Though you can take advantage of systems–the likes of which allow Agent 47 to see through walls–that can make your job easier, you may also choose to disable all assist options and immerse yourself in the challenge at hand. In a sea of hundreds, surrounded by potential threats, Agent 47’s missions can be daunting assignments that test your ability to improvise under smothering scrutiny.
Agent 47’s missions can be daunting assignments that test your ability to improvise under smothering scrutiny.
Once you complete your first run through Hitman’s three missions, your job isn’t finished; escalation missions appear, introducing new objectives with constraints that dictate new targets, what equipment you have to use, and even what type of disguise you have to wear during a kill. You can also create your own contracts, with full control over the aforementioned conditions and objectives. You simply need to enter a location, mark targets, take them out and successfully escape.
There’s no denying that repeatedly revisiting the same locations wears on your enthusiasm, but escalation missions and contracts stave this feeling off for a while with prescribed, alternative objectives. Because Hitman is episodic at the moment, you don’t have the chance to move through a campaign and distance yourself from a mission. Of course, there’s a lot to do if you’re looking for new opportunities, but after your first run through a mission, the initial feeling of immersion fades as you transition into full-on puzzle-solving mode.
As you poke and prod at Hitman, looking for new ways to complete missions and take advantage of your options in a given environment, you also start to notice gaps in logic that allow you to circumvent AI. Reaching from behind an enemy to grab something on a table in front of them won’t necessarily get their attention; as long as you’re close enough to trigger a button prompt without passing through their field of view, you’re in the clear. You can also act like a total oddball, bumping into targets or crouching suspiciously near them without triggering concern. Hitman presents itself as a stealth game that can be as hardcore as you want it to be, but its AI fails to connect all the dots on a semi-regular basis. Should I be able to exit a mission after gunning down people in a packed party? You wouldn’t think so, but somehow the guards manning the exit don’t always get the memo when there’s a madman on the loose. You can choose to ignore these moments or use them to your advantage, but you can’t dismiss how they detract from Hitman’s proposed tension.
Hitman feels at odds with itself on occasion, but there’s no question that missions are the star of the show, not the story.
Then again, Hitman is sometimes designed to make you laugh. As you go about your business on a mission, non-threatening NPCs comment on your seemingly benign but strange behavior. They whine about their jobs when you engage with them in disguise. There’s a definite contrast between Hitman’s gameplay and its story, which is doled out in mysterious cutscenes that feature stone-cold antagonists. Hitman feels at odds with itself on occasion, but there’s no question that missions are the star of the show, not the story.
Hitman’s opening act isn’t ground-breaking, with a host of tiny problems lending it a dated feel. When you drop a body into a freezer, there’s no animation connecting the process together; there’s a hard cut from dragging the body to hiding it. Load times are frustratingly long, lasting just under a full minute when reloading saves. This alone is especially disappointing, given how fun it can be to iterate on your methods by reloading saves and experimenting, a process that’s tainted by extended downtime. However, Hitman’s a veritable playground that will delight you with its open-ended design, comical NPCs, and contract creation tools. These qualities, and the flexibility to be as hardcore or laid back as you want, are much appreciated, even if they don’t disguise Hitman’s lesser qualities.