Adopting an episodic release format has worked wonders for the Hitman franchise. Where past instalments had me stumbling from one scenario to the next, never fully taking in the levels, the time gap between missions and wealth of added content forced me to explore locations over and over. Taking time to survey your surroundings and the movements of your target before carrying out a deadly string of actions has always been at the core of Hitman, but this episodic game really brought that to the fore.
If you pick up the full first season of Hitman today – or wait until it comes out on disc early next year – there’s nothing stopping you from blitzing your way through all six episodes without looking back. However, to become a silent assassin, you’ll need to go back and hone your skills. While a bit of marksman training will serve you well on occasion, the mark of a true top tier assassin comes down to patience above all. There’s an awful lot of standing around in Hitman doing nothing, just watching and waiting for the perfect opportunity to line up while avoiding the gaze of certain NPCs.
Luckily, Agent 47’s Instinct Mode is the perfect crutch, showing outlines of targets, patrols, items, and other points of interest. Still, even with all this information, you’re often left powerless unless you manage to sneak up on your victim alone as they stare in the opposite direction. In truth, this has always been the case with Hitman and there’s no getting around it. You can either wait for the perfect two-second window or flounder miserably just moments before you inevitably get lit up by armed guards. Although there’s the option to fight back, the gunplay in Hitman has always been an afterthought. Honestly, if you’re reaching for anything that can fire a bullet, expect nothing more than a one star rating if you manage to get away.
What’s more frustrating is the time it takes to manually save your progress while in-game. We’re talking around thirty seconds, which is just enough time to break that sense of immersion. If you’re a perfectionist like me, prepare to spend a great deal of time watching the game’s admittedly stylish load screens. Accidentally brush past a security guard? Reload. Equip the wrong item while in sight of NPCs? Reload. Get spotted trespassing? Reload. Count the minutes and they’ll soon add up.
If Io were to simply add a quicksave feature, Hitman would definitely rank higher. Better still, some kind of time manipulation, allowing you to rewind time half a minute or so, would make the game much more forgiving and, as a result, way more fun for the majority of players.
Only the hardcore purists would disagree though there are modes and settings available that already cater to them. Instinct mode and other pointers can be switched off to bump up the difficulty, while those wanting a real challenge can also hunt down the limited time Elusive Targets with no saves and only one attempt.
It’s easy to get hung up over Hitman’s trial and error approach, but it is a big caveat and one that will turn off players who want to explore this richly-layered game without the constant frustration. In truth, each of the reboot’s six main missions follow the same base template. Whether you’re in Paris or Hokkaido, you’re primary objective is to kill the targets and escape with bonus points awarded for discretion, speed, and style.
The same can’t be said about the levels themselves. Each one is like a precious diorama of sorts, teeming with hundreds of characters that mill around, interacting with one another. They also have a diverse, pronounced sense of identity, bolstered by Io’s staggering attention to detail. Whether it’s the idyllic coastal village of Sapienza, the bustling markets of Marrakech, or the serene luxury of Hokkaido’s hospital for the super rich, the contrast between them is astounding.
The tenuous thread used to tie these levels together? Not so much. Narrative has never really been a strong point for the series and here it’s no different. Between missions, players are treated to a series of gorgeous cutscenes, each one attempting to illustrate some kind of backstory. Although it’s great to see Io at least try to create some kind of intrigue, there isn’t really any payoff or closure at the end of this season.
- It’s drop dead gorgeous.
- Loads of freedom to experiment and explore.
- Plenty of replay value.
- Suits the episodic format well.
- There’ll be periods of constant trial and error.
- Long saving/load times.
Following a short hiatus, we’ll no doubt see a second season of missions crop up, and this excites me. Hitman may have its shortcomings, but with a few smart revisions this could easily become one of the best game series to appear on current consoles.
Version Tested: PS4
- Developer:IO Interactive
- Publisher:Square Enix
- Platforms:PS4, XBO, PC
- Release Date:11/03/16