Dressed up as make-up artist, Agent 47 stalks his prey waiting for the opportune moment to strike. His victim walks out into a main hallway and stops directly under a chandelier to speak to his bodyguard. Perfect, Agent 47 moves over to the winch that lowers the chandelier and tampers with it. The chandelier drops crushing Novikov and his bodyguard. The headlines will read ‘Fashion Designer Killed in Freak Accident.’ Scratch that and rewind, it was too easy. Agent 47 moves toward the bar dressed as a waiter. Time to mix Novikov a drink he won’t forget anytime soon, special ingredient: rat poison. Our unsuspecting fashion designer takes a drink, minutes later he feels ill (wonder why?) and heads to the toilets. As he throws up Agent 47 slips in the door and pushes Novikov’s head down into the toilet bowel, drowning the sick designer in his own vomit. Too vile? Maybe a little, but the point is Hitman is an artfully crafted sandbox that gives players one goal and a multitude of ways to approach that goal. The only limits truly are your own imagination and patients. As is the Pure PlayStation way, I’ll start with the good and work towards the bad in a spoiler free fashion.
Location, location, location. Location is everything in a Hitman game and the designers nailed this one. The level is set in a palace in Paris, but there’s more to it than that. The ground floor of the palace is a museum and then to top that off there’s also a fashion show on. That all adds up to a hell of a lot of environments in one small sandbox. There’s the kitchens, a Napoleon Bonaparte exhibition, a secret auction, gardens, a V.I.P. Lounge, a bar, a catwalk and the list goes on and on, but you’ll have to check out the rest for yourself. I’m honestly not sure I could spoil every location even if I wanted to, I’ve been playing for a week now and I’m still finding new things. Current-gen gaming has offered us an abundance of sprawling open worlds to explore, but what Hitman offers is an open sandbox. You get the four floors of the building and the surrounding grounds. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it allows for an astounding level of detail and immersion that you just don’t see in the games that offer you huge open worlds. The map is full of its own systems working in unity with each other, this makes it realistic and allows you to study the environment, understand it and interact with it in ways that other games just don’t allow. Models will move from the make-up room to the catwalk and if you watch them carefully you might be able to spot one on their own for a few minutes. You could knock them out and take their cloths, then you could head onto the catwalk yourself. There’s probably a hundred other patterns in the environment you could learn and take advantage of, you just have to be patient and watch.
The gameplay is brilliant. As mentioned there’s only one true goal in Hitman: kill your target. You could decide to just shoot every guard in your path as well as your targets and the game allows for that. The shooting and cover mechanics are solid, but then again the game is best played when you never pull the trigger. The only time I found myself needing a gun was when I got caught executing my target and had to shoot my way to the exit, but it’s rare that you’ll need one. The most enjoyable way to play the game is stealthily. My favourite Hitman mechanic makes a return and that’s the disguise system, which allows you to take a NPCs cloths and pretend to be them, just make sure you hide their body. The disguise system feeds into two things that I’ve already mentioned. Firstly, to use it right you need to study the environment, for example early in my playthrough I noticed waiters on the second floor and thought dressing up as one would be a good way to move through the building unnoticed. Being the bright spark that I am I went out to the car park and knocked out a waiter I had previously seen and headed for the second floor. I walked up the stairs and security shot me. Why? Well because I hadn’t studied the environment, if I had I would have realised ground floor waiters wore red waistcoats while upper floor ones wore black. The second thing disguises feed into is the maps sense of immersion. How people react to you depends on what you’re wearing. Walk past a security guard dressed as a waiter and he might ask ‘what’s a good tip?’ Walk passed the same security guard in a suit and he might say ‘have a good evening, sir.’
The fact that everything is centred around the goal of killing your target has allowed the developers, Io Interactive, to tailor everything gameplay wise to obtaining that goal. You can use the disguises to enter different parts of the environment unnoticed, but be careful because some NPCs might catch on which usually means game over. However, you can stick with Agent 47’s trademark suit and still attempt to move around unnoticed. You could throw a coin to distract a guard and slip by. You could climb up pipes on the outside of the building, shimmy across ledges and hop in a third floor window, peep around a corner, pick off your target with a silent pistol, hop back out the window and shimmy on back down to escape. I have to say it is refreshing to play such a finally tailored experience, as I mentioned so many games offer huge worlds and throw in as many half-baked activities as possible, but the point I’ve been driving home so far with Hitman is that it does the opposite. There’s just one activity, but many ways to approach it. While there’s only one activity there is a small variety of game modes, but they all centre on killing a target. Contracts mode allows you to create your own targets or try out contracts created by other players. Escalation mode has you working your way through five rounds, which get increase in difficultly as you go. For example, round one might ask you to kill a KGB officer, round two might be kill a KBG officer and then rob a safe, round three might be kill a KGB officer, rob a safe then kill a soldier while dressed as a mechanic. It goes on until you’ve completed the five rounds. Then lastly there’s the Elusive Targets who only appear in the game for 48 hours, if you fail to kill them they’re gone forever (at the time of writing this mode has not been added yet, so I have been unable to test it out).
Along with Paris, the Intro Pack also contains two other maps for the tutorial, but they’re nothing to write home about. The first is a mock boat party, which the game will firstly guide you through so you can get to grips with gameplay, then it will set you loose in the boat to approach the target however you want. The second part of the tutorial is set in a mock military hanger, you simply have to kill your target anyway you can, I personally recommend the ejector seat method. The second tutorial actually introduces ‘opportunities’, these are tips that you can pick up on by listening into conversations, which may help you deal with your target. However, it’s nice to get the two tutorial maps but once you’ve completed them and get to Paris you’ll probably never return, so they don’t add a lot to the game. The story is pretty much none existent, it seems that the developers have learnt their lesson after Absolution and have opted to minimize the story instead of shoving it in your face. However, the story that is there is pretty forgetful and not very engaging, I won’t bother getting into it here because I don’t want to spoil anything, but don’t expect edge of your seat stuff. That’s by no means a bad thing because we play Hitman to mess around in the wonderfully crafted murder-centric sandboxes not for story time, so a bad story is neither here nor there in this case.
The first few paragraphs dealt with the good, the last paragraph dealt with the indifferent and this paragraph will be dedicate to all things wrong with Hitman, but thankfully there’s not a lot. Firstly there’s the music, which isn’t horrible per say but it is fairly bland and forgettable. I doubt that many people will be investing in the soundtrack separately from the game. Then there’s the slightly bigger issue of voice acting. For the most part the voice acting is really good, Agent 47 and Diana for example sound great. In fact pretty much all of the NPCs on the map sound great, but the developers have made one pretty huge oversight/omission and that’s the fact that the level is set in Paris but there’s not a single French accent. I spent a good part of the review complimenting the game’s sense of immersion, but after realising that the majority of NPCs seem to be American it broke that sense of immersion a little bit. The game’s load times are also astoundingly bad, this has been a reoccurring issue this generation with games such as Bloodborne and Just Cause 3 also suffering from long load times. The issue was fixed in those other games so hopefully a patch will also sort things out for Hitman. Then my last big complaint is the overall lack of content. The original plan was to launch with three maps and then release the other three maps post launch, honestly it’s a pity they didn’t just stick to that plan because having only one map kills the replay value. The only advantage of this is it creates a certain level of intimacy with the map as you learn to read it beat for beat, but on the flip side I think that a few more hours in the Paris map and I’ll never want to see it again. Having the two other maps really would have broken the monotony just enough, it would have resulted in still having an intimate knowledge of the three maps but you wouldn’t be stuck looking at the same rooms and people game after game after game until you just don’t want to see them any more.