The bald, cold-hearted killer known as Agent 47 is back after a 4-year hiatus to fulfill numerous assassination contracts in various locations around the world on behalf of the International Contracts Agency (aka the ICA). However, this time the locations that Agent 47 is visiting to eliminate his targets are much larger and vast compared to previous iterations of the Hitman series.
The levels in Hitman have now returned to the sandbox style that we saw in Hitman: Blood Money and this time they are huge in comparison to their predecessors. In total, we have 8 new areas for Agent 47 to wreak havoc in – 2 mini-levels and 6 vast sandboxes. The first 2 mini-levels are warm up simulations for 47 as he is initiated into the ICA. Once he passes those with flying colors, he travels to Paris, Sapienza, Marrakesh, Bangkok, Colorado and finally Hokkaido. These locations are well made, well fleshed out and are almost seen as an assassin’s playground. They vary in style, tone, and setting. Fashion shows, hotels, warm rustic towns and cold mountainous areas.
Most of the locations are teeming with people, almost to the detriment of the game’s performance. Just like Absolution, the busier levels suffer from dips in frame rate, especially areas with things such as helicopters flying overhead. The size of the levels is impressive at first, but when you begin to dig into what is going on in each area, you start to realize how convoluted some of them are.
After strangling several people to steal their clothes and therefore upgrade my access level in said area, it turns out I am missing a vital item to get into the high-security area where the target is. Now I must backtrack again and go hunting for a needle in a haystack. In the end, it almost feels like a waste of time to execute a creative kill just for the sake of it. On the other hand, when you do have the key item or even stumble across an opportunity for a creative kill, that is when Hitman’s gameplay comes alive. Falling chandeliers, plummeting icicles, botched surgeries and even vats of shit, there are many humorous and creative murders to commit in the game. You get a real sense of accomplishment and just want to get the hell out of there ASAP. But making the stars align is the part of the game that makes it seem like a real slog.
As creative as some kills can be, other gameplay functions can be boring and repetitive. I lost count of the number of wardrobes, storage boxes and overflowing sinks there are in this game. These have been long-time staples in Hitman gameplay and have really worn thin at this point.
If you are a perfectionist in stealth games, then get ready for those loading times because they are long. Very long. This can be explained due to the script-heavy nature of the gameplay. But when your whole attempt can unravel with an unexplained glitchy accidental murder of a civilian (instead of a strangle) then you must hit that reload option repeatedly. IO Interactive seem to have been aware of this and integrated a handy auto-save feature which saves your progress in incremental stages.
A new mechanic which has been added to the gameplay is “opportunities”. This is basically IO Interactive holding your hand and showing you what there is to do to achieve the perfect kills. You usually stumble across opportunities by eavesdropping on a conversation being had by NPCs. These can be turned off, but if you are losing patience then this function could be vital for getting the mission over and done with and just getting out of there.
Another part of the gameplay that IO Interactive have improved is the most important part of any Hitman game – the disguises. In Absolution, every police officer knew every other police officer in the world and so on. This made the disguises redundant and ruined the game. They have finally nailed it. Now only some police officers will realize after a time that your attire is fugazi and the rest will have no clue. The scope of being the proverbial chameleon has increased which makes the gameplay much more entertaining. You can be anything from a security guard, a chef, a member of an indie band, a member of a militia and even Santa Claus himself.
The AI has improved from Absolution as well. Now if you trespass you will be asked to leave immediately in a firm manner, whereas in previous titles, stepping over a line saw the AI feel justified to blow you away. If you look suspicious and someone catches a glimpse of you, they will investigate for a while then go back to what they were doing. If you hang around too long, you will either get reported by a civilian or simply murdered in quick fashion by armed enemies. Battles are greatly discouraged in this game. You can only afford to be shot a couple of times before Agent 47 is toast.
There are a few game modes to keep you playing once the story is finished. Escalation is a series of missions which get harder and the parameters for completing these said missions become much more restrictive or precise. Contracts are back from Absolution where the Hitman community make up their own missions with specific goals set to achieve your kill to gain points. Elusive Targets is a mode where there are targets set for a specific amount of time (real world time). You only have one shot at these missions. No retries, no saves. Once the time has run out, you have missed it for good. This seems like a flawed mode because not everyone buys games as soon as they come out. Some people are even a generation behind in systems, so once they get their hands-on Hitman, all those Elusive Targets are gone.
Square Enix decided to make Hitman an “always online” game. If you are not connected to the Square Enix servers then your gameplay can be interrupted. Game progression and unlocks were inaccessible when you were offline but this has now been patched after some backfire from the fans of the game who had originally bought the “episodes”. I just hope the people who play this title in the distant future aren’t hampered when Square Enix shut down the servers for this game.
In terms of the graphics, Hitman is a mixed bag. While the locations themselves can be stunning at times, the characters within the game have a rather cartoony low-res texture look to them. At times the NPCs reminded me of a Saints Row game in their appearance. This can be explained by the sheer number of NPCs there are in a single level. Some of the vistas in the levels are gorgeous and at times the lighting can be impressive in setting an atmosphere to the area. From the sunset of Bangkok to the gloomy dark setting of Colorado, the lighting sets the tone for each area which helps to differentiate between them. The cutscenes are much more impressive looking than the actual gameplay. It almost exposes the in-game graphics at times.
The sound in Hitman is quite disappointing. Within each area, there are several conversations happening and sometimes you can hear said conversations coming from upstairs drown out another which is happening right next to you on your level. The small size of the pool of voice-acting talent becomes evident with the more hours you put into the game. For example, the actress who voices Diane Burnwood (Jane Perry) is also the voice of a few NPCs. This can ruin the immersion of the game. The sound isn’t all bad, though. There was one point though whilst playing the Marrakesh level, I paused the game thinking my neighbors were once again playing loud thumping music, but to my bemusement, it was the background sound from the level in the game!
The story in Hitman is almost an afterthought, to the point that it is one of the last things I mention in this review. The Hitman series has never really been renowned for telling a memorable tale but in “season 1” of Hitman, the story barely gets going at all. The story is delivered through cutscenes which last a minute or two between each level.
Agent 47 is recruited by the ICA after completing an initiation. Diane Burnwood bats for him to be hired whereas her colleague Erich Soders doesn’t see the big deal about him. Eventually, 47 is then hired by the ICA to take out an international spy ring called The Providence. There is a predictable twist in the tale which we can all see coming a mile away. Just when the story starts to get going, the game is finished. This can be explained as a “season cliffhanger” but it is difficult to even care in the end.
Hitman is a niche game for a niche audience. You really must be a purist in stealth games to get your full money’s worth from this title. Although the levels are large, there are only a few to choose from. These levels are designed to be played repeatedly but once you do so in the various game modes such as Elusive Targets or Escalations, they do become tiresome. The theme throughout Hitman is trial and error. Learn from mistakes and reload. This requires a tremendous amount of patience so Hitman can become a real slog and leave you feeling frustrated.
The disguises have finally been mastered and a number of ways you can execute someone is impressive. There is a certain charm and black humor that you’ll find in Hitman games and the latest title does not fail to deliver in that regard. When you do learn the levels and exactly what the game gives you in terms of performing the creative ways to murder someone then that is where Hitman really shines.
This review is based on a physical copy of the game for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.