It has always been my belief, both in fundamentals and through what I’ve witnessed, that hitmen should be clean and not make a mess. I am of course referencing other Hitman titles, as I have not in fact been up close and personal with real-life hitmen. 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was a well-received game and sequel, even if it did change some of the established formula around. 2016’s Hitman is attempting to do so again, melding some sort of combination of Blood Money and the original title to Absolution’s gameplay, in addition to some other elements. Needless to say, this Hitman did not entirely stick his landing. I’m not so concerned with the quality of the game itself, rather the presentation here.
First you have the fundamental problem of cleanliness- we searched far and wide for details to be found on the title prior to its delayed release and were often in the dark. What a mess of a launch it initially had. Delays only add to already skeptical thoughts regarding episodic projects, particularly one promising a constant stream of content for players so that the experience does not grow stale. How do you take an open world and cram it into an episodic format? Hitman looks to answer that question, and we shall see how it fares each month with the dawn of a new episode, as well as week to week content availability. Scratch what you think you already know about Hitman’s Agent 47, this title is a prequel and not a continuation from Absolution’s hit storyline. In fact, 2016’s Hitman could almost be set in its own narrative entirely as it all but scraps the story in favor of returning to the roots of what Agent 47 does best: dealing death in creative ways.
The real question remaining is, how does this first episode fare? How much content is it able to provide players who have to make do for a month before new content becomes available in April? Honestly, Hitman was not created to be episodic whatsoever, so the narrative is already in the hole here. In fact, besides a few cutscenes you can bypass the story altogether- that is, if you haven’t already been doing that for the past decade in these sort of games. To say the content is enough is a stretch but I do think that the talented folks over at IO Interactive have crafted enough detail and content worthy of one episode, even if just barely so. As it is, in some ways this tutorial episode feels more like an evasion of the need to produce fully realized content, or perhaps a demo of a larger game. If they needed to have one more delay in order to release a larger product with a better story-oriented sandbox experience, I wouldn’t have been terribly disappointed. As it is, some things are too bland right now.
The feeling that this is in fact some elaborate demo or tutorial bundle is ever present in Hitman, most likely for the simple reason that the majority of the gameplay currently available to us is tutorial-based. Assuming we’re lucky and get a year’s worth of content from the developers, that means Hitman will have taken about four times longer than Absolution to develop roughly the same number of chapters (episodes in this case). Granted, the levels here are much larger in scale than many of Absolution’s more intricate and detailed ones, but still. That’s insane. You start off playing through (surprise!) tutorial segments in order to acclimate yourself to the control scheme, which is very tight as should be expected for fans. I’d go so far as to say this and the level of detail in the environment coupled with kill opportunities are the three greatest, stand-out selling points to be found in the game so far.
After a couple of tutorial missions that make sure you grasp the basics, Agent 47 is unleashed upon the rest of the unsuspecting world. It’s a bit disappointing that the tutorials take place in a pretty confined training ground rather than serving as an introductory mission perhaps in a varied locale. Thankfully however, besides the major Paris map available to players, there is also a map on par with the majority of past Hitman titles including Absolution in terms of size. The military base mission is just as interesting as the Paris fashion show one, allowing for a plethora of kill opportunities as well as candid exploration for potential player contracts to craft and dole out as you deem fit. So while in the grand scheme of things the game may be a bit barebones at the moment, I have hope for the future and that IO can come through with their promises to constantly add content and update and tweak things.
Here I was thinking Absolution looked gorgeous, but Hitman actually steps things up a tad thanks to the visual performance of the current generation of consoles. Paris is beautifully rendered and seems a lot more lifelike than some of Absolution’s locales which seemed desolate at worst and faked or forced at best at times. Take Absolution’s Chinatown and magnify that by about seven and you’ve maybe got a sense of how crowded and expansive this particular Parisian venue is. Surprisingly, even the size of the map adds to the challenge of formulating a plan to assassinate high value targets, as it makes simple memorization of patrol patterns and routes all the more difficult as well. Figuring out where special opportunities reside is exhilarating as usual, and utilizing disguises and weapons in order to make your assassination look accidental among a crowded venue is nerve wracking at times too.
With this expanded space comes understandable complications in the already trial and error methodology of assassination prevalent in the Hitman series. Thankfully this is also managed by the inclusion of “opportunities” which highlight specific details in the environment that may benefit players- such as costumes, weapons, and convoluted kills. Maneuvering plays a much bigger role than simply tracking your target’s repetitive movement pattern in this installment, however the gameplay is largely unaffected and basically the same as previous entries, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all. Don’t expect to achieve the best possible outcome in your assassinations without some prior planning and a little extra legwork in accomplishing some secondary tasks throughout the missions. Getting the signature kill is still a feat only the worthy can successfully pull off.
Hitman has always been about replayability, but now with only a select amount of content available to play, you have no choice but to keep playing the same things over and over. The first dozen times this will probably be perfectly acceptable, however even larger maps can only offer so much of a challenge before they become boring and players get burnt out. There is the potential promise of a so-called ‘Escalation’ mode however it basically features the same mission parameters with slight deviations and still expects you to carry out repetitive assassinations in order to progress. Meaning even more replay time, in case you somehow missed something the other forty times you played through. Thankfully user creation and contracts factor into the mix, adding somewhat of a less quality-driven but higher replay value mission generator. I must say however, even the contract options here were a step down from those offered in Absolution, which is a disappointment.
Needless to say, the few highlights of this title so far mostly revolve around playability- considering the fact that the controls are thankfully one of the few things that seem perfectly balanced and can be relied upon. The story is mundane and bound to be forgotten by the time the next episode releases, meaning you’ll just have to play the damn thing another time! The environments look great but the animation and voice work diminish an otherwise spectacular experience with their terribleness and at times unexpected glitched encounters. Basically, I’d say you’re much better off waiting for the actual finished product to ship in one piece than to pick up the game in its current form. If all of the content were in one place and available, maybe I could more readily judge it based on the full package rather than episode by episode in its forgettable and incomplete form. What’s here isn’t bad, it just isn’t much.
Concept: More Hitman, less of a hit.
Graphics: The graphics constantly blew me away. They looked even better than those present in last generation’s impressive Absolution and they didn’t seem particularly bothered much no matter how much action was on screen at any given time. Animation work could’ve been handled much better conversely.
Sound: The voice work was often so terrible as to not even be laughably bad. The music was equally nonexistent at times.
Playability: It’s the controls that save this package in my mind. If they had been anything less than stellar, it would’ve doomed the entire project.
Entertainment: What’s here is a lot of fun to experiment with and dabble in, however it feels more like a demo of the full game than a release of anything meaningful in its own right. I hope IO can come through with their promise of constant content production, but even still a month is a bit too long to wait to play the next step in the journey.
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 7.0/10.0