The ICA isn’t an organisation that takes kindly to being manipulated, and yet over the course of this episodic game, it’s been tricked into doing another’s bidding. At first, it seemed somewhat tangential, but now as we reach the climax of the story, Agent 47 is having to deal with this matter head on.
This year’s Hitman game has had a knack for blending the humdrum with the fantastical and opulent. Behind every gorgeous and beautiful facade has been a darker, much less glamorous side to a level; the basements and hidden back passages that the staff and underlings wander through, going about their routines.
You’d think that a hospital would lean much closer to the latter side of things, being a very workmanlike environment that focuses on healthcare, but the clinic in Hokkaido is no ordinary one. It’s practically a holiday resort or super exclusive spa with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, amidst the trappings of a traditional Japanese building. It’s just that behind this traditional look, it’s also a state of the art, AI run hospital that caters to the needs and wishes of the rich and powerful, even if it means stepping outside the rules of law in order to do so.
It’s only once you get behind the scenes that you see the clinical and cold corridors, the operating theatres, and think to yourself that this would make one hell of a Bond villain hideout. The fact that it’s only accessible via cable car or helicopter only adds to this feeling.
It opens with Agent 47 lying stiff as a board on his suite’s bed. What’s he thinking? Is he planning his actions? Coming up with one liners? Challenging himself to see how long he can go without blinking? Borrowing the familiar alias of Tobias Rieper, he’s checked in as a patient, but has to wheedle his way into the most secure parts of the building.
One thing makes all of this quite a bit more difficult: you don’t start the mission with a silenced pistol. Having a gun is hardly essential for Agent 47 to get the job done, and there have been numerous ways of going about assassinating your targets that have required you to drop your gun to get past a pat down body check, but it’s always been there as an easy crutch to lean on when things go a bit wrong.
Another point is that this is a facility entirely governed by an AI. Every door is locked to a particular biometric keycard, so even access to your own hotel room is restricted to you and certain medical personnel. You can break outside these limits, just as you’ve always been able to circumvent the guard checkpoints in previous episodes, but there’s less scope to trespass unless you’re in the correct disguise.
Of course, when a plan fails there’s always the compulsion to simply roll your game back a few minutes to the last auto-save and try something again, using an iterative process of trial and error to get the kill that you want. That’s how I offed one of the two clients, sneaking into their heavily guarded room via the balcony, subduing the two guards and then timing it just right so that the target spotted a body and came outside, but hadn’t raised an alarm before I could fling something in their face and then throw them over the side. It took me half a dozen attempts to find the timing sweet spot, but it was immensely satisfying to manage to pull it off.
The Opportunities system returns, of course, highlighting some of the more cinematic and artful ways of killing the two targets, very often by masquerading as someone else. There’s quite a lot of fun to be had with these in this entry, with one hit in particular requiring you to run back and forth between rooms trying to figure out the exact timing that you need – there is the slight immersion break of how little the hospital staff seem to care about things going wrong, but that’s part of the bizarre charm of the Hitman games.
They’re very systemic, with so many different patrol routes overlapping. You’re so often forced to wait for your opportunity to strike, having followed and observed a particular pattern of behaviour to find your opportunity. That’s true whether you’re following an Opportunity chain or not, whether you’re trying to get a mortician off in a room alone, or hunting an occasionally secluded named character.
As you watch and wait, Io’s world building comes to the fore, bordering on the absurd from time to time. The surgeon’s tears as he finds himself overwhelmed at how good a job he’s done – I literally shushed him while choking him to sleep and stuffing him in a cupboard after I stole his disguise – the personal trainer who spends minutes on the phone trying to get his much younger brother to call up the hospital and fake a family emergency, even just the happenstance of two NPCs talking loudly about a famous person that is stood literally 2 metres away. There’s a twist of humour in so many parts of the level, which eases some of the annoyance of having to bide your time to avoid being discovered.
Overall, this is a strong end to the series, taking one step towards a more difficult, more restrictive level design, but still with a certain leniency once you get past those barriers. What’s quite fascinating is that it leaves the door open to further episodes, both with a potential new plot thread to follow, as well as leaving some major loose ends from this story.
This might be the end of the season, but it’s hardly the end of the story…
Come back in a few days for our review of the full season of this year’s Hitman.