I’m an international male supermodel standing in an ostentatiously decorated reading room on the top floor of a mansion in Paris. Some of the shadiest and most powerful people in the world are all bidding on incredibly valuable and incriminating evidence, some of which could bring down the most senior people in governments across the globe. I step back, skulk into the shadows and ready my aim. The area is littered with armed security but the two supposed to be where I’m standing are undressed and unconscious in the wardrobe. The last 2 hours have been building up to this and I’ve got one shot to get it right. The bullet ricochets off the chandelier’s stem and brings the whole fixture crashing down, eliminating the head of this corrupt organisation and completing the task I’d been set out to do. Now all Hell breaks loose – do I run for my life or find somewhere to hide long enough to make my way out peacefully? The choice is entirely mine.
Hitman games have always been about choice – some more than others, so when IO Interactive announced they’d be going down the episodic route, fans and newbies alike were anxious to find out how much replay-ability there would be in the levels. Luckily, there’s a ton.
A mission typically follows the process of finding a disguise, killing 2 or more targets and then making your escape. The concept sounds incredibly simple, but the way you do it is anything but. Most missions take between 90 minutes and an hour to complete for the first time and as there is a plethora of different ways to kill a target, from blowing up their tuk-tuk to drowning them in their lover’s bathroom toilet – the most memorable kill I can remember was poisoning a man’s spaghetti dinner and booting him off a cliff as he threw up. The way you approach each level is entirely up to you and although some scenarios are timing-dependent, you’re still left with a host of different ways to take down each target.
Completing opportunities and challenges during the mission will earn you EXP, which in turn raises the mastery level of that specific map and unlocks various benefits to help you in future playthroughs. What’s more, you’re not limited to a specific number of scenarios per run – you can complete an objective, re-load and kill the target another way, banking all the points once you complete the mission, whether you re-loaded the game or not. With this EXP, you’ll be able to start in a different location, smuggle in special weapons, and choose which member of staff you’d like to start as undercover. This variety not only gives each run a fresh feel, but it completely changes your way of completing the mission and allows you to check off incomplete challenges at a quicker rate. Once you’ve reached mastery level 20 (which interestingly doesn’t require every single challenge to be complete) you’ll unlock professional difficulty, a one-save-per-level super-hard mode that’ll test your patience, stealth and the robustness of your controller after an NPC spots you through a wall and renders the previous 45 minutes completely wasted. This addition was patched in when the physical version of the game was released and while fun to complete, the frustration of losing such a large amount of work makes playing it unenjoyable for most.
The main campaign is not the only mode to keep you entertained. Escalation mode consists of a contract comprising various missions, each one ramping in difficulty and with specific requirements, such as what weapon to kill each target with and your disguise when doing so. I’ll admit that I haven’t played more than a handful of these as raising the mastery level has been so absorbing but I can imagine finding these missions incredibly enjoyable if you’ve got friends over and you’re swapping the controller over each time you fail. In addition to escalations, contract mode enables you to create your own contract or play ones designed by your friends and the community. They’ll often have an amusing mission briefing and specific requirements to complete and can be a light-hearted bit of relief after a long day at work.
As the game was episodic, IO Interactive needed to find a way to keep players involved in the game throughout the year. Apart from the excellent bonus missions that take place on redesigned areas of Sapienza and Paris, the developers have been constantly churning out the unique elusive targets. Not only are they unique in the fact that no other game to my knowledge has attempted anything like this before, but each elusive target, a brand new NPC who has an entire backstory and pre-programmed route around the map, is only available for assassination for a limited time. If you fail the mission or miss the window of opportunity, they’re gone. Forever. The added tension of only having one attempt to kill an elusive target makes it so much sweeter when you do and once you’ve got a few of them under your belt you can claim exclusive rewards. These events, alerted to me through the mobile app or on social media, brought me back to the game even when they weren’t releasing new levels, yet breathes new life into a game that if released in one go would have been gathering dust a month or two later.
Similar to previous games in the franchise, Hitman’s plot is nothing to write home about and most of the FMVs that sandwich each mission will easily be forgotten in place of stories you forge for yourself during levels. Despite being predictable at times, the story is pretty straightforward, fun to progress through and you never feel bogged down with unnecessary dialogue or long, drawn-out cutscenes.
As with previous Hitman games, the controls are reasonably intuitive and the camera never poses a problem, allowing you to fully absorb your surrounding as you make your way around the stunning and distinctive levels. Each one has been carefully thought out and meticulously realised, whether it’s in a futuristic private hospital set in the snowy mountains of Hokkaido, Japan or a clifftop mansion overlooking a harbour on the Mediterranean coast. No part of any map is off limits (providing you’re wearing the right outfit) and it certainly pays to fully explore every one, something you’re bound to do if playing for mastery level 20.
IO Interactive took a very brave step when releasing Hitman episodically, something which has absolutely paid off. Their constant support through updates, free bonus missions and elusive targets makes it a game worth coming back to on a regular basis and has strengthened their loyal fanbase, already resulting in the announcement of a second season. Hitman’s history of weak plots is certainly not going to end with this release but despite the long load times on consoles, the incredible amount of choice presented to you with every stunningly-crafted and unique level this game is a must-buy for anyone who enjoys plotting, planning and dropping a giant stuffed moose onto a corrupt CEO.