Hitman returns: a look at episode one
Square Enix's decision to release the new-gen entry to their Hitman franchise as a series of episodes was a bit of a surprise. Having played through the content released with the first episode a few times now, it makes perfect sense.
As the original stealth game, Hitman's open gameplay is a big reason for its success over the years. The last game, Hitman Absolution introduced some huge and very detailed levels full of assassination options. The contracts mode blew the game right open adding a nigh-on infinite amount of replayablity via user-created content.
For this new outing, all the signature Hitman gameplay mechanics return. The titular Himan, Agent 47, is equipped with his trademark silenced Silverballer pistol and garrotte, with plenty of less traditional weapons and methods of dispatching targets available in the field. The hitman can disguise himself in the cloths of anyone that he takes down, being sure to hide the body in a suitable receptacle. The same receptacles can also be used by Agent 47 to hide from guards.
This first episode gives us three locations, two of which are training areas and the other Agent 47's first real mission.
The first training mission is a mock-up of a situation that occurred in Sydney Harbour. Situated in the Agency's training facility in an abandoned missile silo, the movie-set-like reconstruction of a luxury yacht is impressive. Packed with guests, crew and armed security, there's lot of opportunities for Agency 47 to disguise himself. It's a great introduction to being a hitman and does a good job of making suggestions on how best to dispatch your target. The second play-though drops the hand-holding and provides players with more equipment and more opportunities to complete the mission.
The second mission, Agent 47's training final test, set on a mock-up of a Cuba airbase in 1972, is the simulation of the assassination of a defecting US chess champion. With less opportunity to blend in and a full complement of armed guards, this mission ramps up the difficulty. Even getting into the compound undetected requires a diversion to slip past the guards.
For the final scenario in this first package, Agent 47 must dispatch a billionaire underworld information broker and his Machiavellian wife. The mission has been sanctioned by the British MI6 as it is information on their spy that is about to be sold to the highest bidder. The location is a lavish Parisian fashion gala.
The fashion gala level is meticulously detailed and brimming with life, from the kitchens to the fashion show runway. A lot of work has gone into creating the sort of sandbox that allows players the freedom to carry out the assassinations pretty-much as they wish. The location has several zones which will require a few disguises into order to get about. There's a huge crowd in the building and so plenty of opportunities to move about undetected in the public areas. It's only when behind the scenes of the show that Agent 47 sticks out like a sore thumb.
Whilst you could argue that this first episode is bite-sized in that it only offers two short training missions and Agent 47's first real mission, it's all perfectly formed. Believe me when I say that you can spend hours on each of these scenarios, completing challenges or making up your own.
The contacts mode from Hitman: Absolution adds unlimited gameplay opportunities with the addition of user-generated missions and challenges. As sandbox environments they are great, allowing players to use initiative and creativity to kill their targets.
Apparently, the inclusion of dynamic, timed additional challenges necessitates the game being connected to the internet at all times. I don't see it myself. A disconnection from the server or your internet service is going to throw you straight out of the game. Whilst for most of us the always-on issue is a thing of the past, some players would probably welcome an offline mode.
As a card-carrying member of the PC Master Race my test rig equipped with two Nvidia GTX 980s and 32 Gb of RAM was easily able to push Agent 47's pixilated adventures around, without issue, at a whopping 5880x1080 over three screens. Unlike some of the issues that I've had doing the same with Hitman's stablemate Rise of the Tomb Raider, IO Interactive's game fully supports Nvidia Surround multi-monitor gaming.
The huge environments are bustling with people, bigger and more populous than before. Visually, though, on PC, there's not much of a change from those in Hitman: Absolution. Of course, Xbox One are PS4 owners are going to see Agent 47's adventures with the crispest visuals ever to grace consoles.
Hitman shows promise with this first episode. It is a bit more of the same, but fans of Hitman: Absolution are going to feel very at home with Agent 47's latest outing.
The first of seven Hitman episodes is available now via digital download on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with the next episode released on April 26th.