On a personal level, the Hitman franchise has rarely disappointed me. Sure, 2000’s Hitman: Codename 47 was already kinda bad back then, but it helped introduced elements that are still seen in the series today. It was with its sequel, Silent Assassin, that things really started to pick up for our bald cold blooded killer, thanks to much welcome improvements to gameplay and some excellent mission design. Since then, the franchise has gone through a few changes and what some might consider bumps, but it has never lost its edge.
The newest entry in Hitman is quite possibly its most radical in terms of changes. Instead of delivering a full complete game at release, developer IO Interactive and publisher Square Enix have opted for an episodic model, much akin to the current crop of adventure games. In the past, action games have tried taking a similar approach, with disastrous results, like Valve’s own Half Life 2 never seeing a conclusion even though it was a tremendous success. Still, they decided to take the plunge with Agent 47, and to many’s surprise, it’s probably the best thing that could’ve happened to the series.
But before getting into the context of the first episode released, there’s much to be lauded in regards to improvements and additions to Hitman‘s core gameplay and features. Hitman Absolution already saw a slew of very fun features in the form of custom contracts. Players could create at a whim using the established mission structure already in place, choosing an entirely new set of objectives and requirements. These could then could be shared online with the world, as long as the creator could complete their creation themselves.
This new Hitman takes this even further, by adding in its own pre-programmed and increasingly more difficult objectives to each mission, adding a lot of replayability to an already richly developed set of levels. For instance, in the very first stage of the game, the training stage, you’re given a specific target inside a boat, who needs to be offed repeatedly, each time under more strict constraints. At later levels, you’re given a lot more of these bonus objectives, and if you decide to keep your game connected to the internet, every now and then you’ll be able to tackle an unique, one-of-a-kind, single attempt elusive target, who yields a special prize if eliminated.
These contracts are layered in with the solid gameplay that was already set in place in Absolution. 47 isn’t the lumbering dolt that he was in the early games, nimbly vaulting over cover, quickly switching weapons and dispatching victims with an ease of controls that comes from many iterations. There wasn’t much to change in regards to controls from the previous game, so IO focused on making sure that the missions would be fun and demanding creatively. That creativity is certainly helped by the inclusion of challenges to each level that give new ways of finishing missions as well as new opportunities to interact with the non-playable characters in more ways than just slicing and dicing them to bits. There are even extra ways of starting off these missions, slowly unlocked through the challenges you complete.
Before each mission, along with the briefing and limited info on whatever targets you have, you’re given a handful of options to equip 47: his starting outfit, one gun, a trinket, his trusty fiber wire, and one contraband delivered via a drop somewhere in the level. This is a neat limitation because it puts the screws on us to procure other means of carrying out missions and gives the devs more options to play with in terms of mission designs. It’s extra cool that when you finish missions through different approaches, you unlock extra options for your equipment and starting locations.
It seems that Hitman is seeing a soft reboot in this new series, considering how it starts, rewinding time back to when 47 had just escaped the clutches of his evil creator and was out looking for a job under the watchful eye of the mysterious agency. Still, after a quick training stage that has 47 reacquaint himself with the basics inside hilariously crude models of actual locations inside a warehouse – props to IO for the humor on those – we’re thrust into the real deal.
Paris is the first locale we get to explore, so the stakes are high in terms of ambiance. The mansion in which the mission takes place houses a fashion show put on by an evil couple that deals with international blackmail and information leaking, a business so successful that “it puts WikiLeaks to shame”, as one of them exclaims during a cutscene. It’s with this balance between dread and hilarity that Hitman has always been carried, and it’s no different in this new season, as you’ll attest in the training stages and episode one. IO pokes fun at its own self and design choices for just about every aspect of the franchise, including its liberties taken with reality.
As the first actual mission in the game, the first episode in Paris does a fantastic job in showing off the sheer amount of possibilities within the new Hitman. It features a lot of different approaches to take thanks to the aforementioned opportunity system. It helps point out potential chances to take an alternative approach to your current objective. Other little tidbits of info are also conveniently highlighted as well, like NPCs who can see through your current disguise, the targets themselves and objects with which you can interact, all on your minimap or directly on screen via the 47’s acute senses, activated by one of the shoulder buttons. The Paris locale is chock full of different entrances and concurrent events taking place all at once, which is both a marvel to behold in how it very rarely breaks, considering the amount of different AI routines going on simultaneous, but also due to how you can throw a wrench into it and cause controlled chaos, which usually works to your advantage.
And while it’s fun to know what you can do as you approach the game’s pre-determined activation points for these tips, you can turn every single item in HUD off for the purest of Hitman experiences – something I’m very tempted to do once I start checking challenges off of the list. These options practically negate the need of a difficulty toggle, a part of these games that I previously had an issue with, because honestly, being helped through a tough mission shouldn’t negate the danger of what you’re going up against. Hitman does these so well that you’ll start wondering why the past games even bothered and realize the complex systems running under its hood.
Paris is a promising start to this new format of Hitman. Considering this is only the first taste at such a high degree of quality, it’s starting to make sense why IO and Square Enix took to this release method. It’ll be a fun wait between episodes, plenty of time to tweak and experiment every month, the best part of any Hitman game.