Agent 47 is the MacGyver of murder. Drop him into any locale with nothing but his bare hands, bald head and bountiful wits, and he will find a way to kill everybody in a quarter-mile radius. On that premise, IO Interactive’s newest foray into the much beloved, but sometimes maligned, Hitman franchise has fully released its first season of content, and it’s time to see whether or not it is worth the wait, and if a second season is necessary, or even wanted.
The decision to release Hitman in monthly episodes was initially spurned by the gaming community and instilled the notion that this game might be the last hurrah for the series in an attempt to squeeze blood from the Hitman stone, especially after 2012’s lackluster Hitman Absolution. Looking back at the game’s release when juxtaposed to playing it today and having everything in the game visible but gated off, it is very understandable why fans of the series would be opposed to this release schedule. However, on playing Hitman, IO’s choice does seem to pay off. Hitman isn’t your typical fare of playing through a level and then moving on to the next mission. The real reward, the real enjoyment, is playing, and replaying, each level literally dozens of times to truly engage with them and find all of their hidden treasures.
Where in any other game the tutorial is an uneventful affair of learning basic camera controls and movement, Hitman has created not one, but two tutorial levels that are delectable morsels of what a real level brings. Learning to sneak around, steal outfits and avoid suspicion is not only fun, but genuinely hilarious when you add in the context of the level: a prop yacht made of slapped together plywood with a couple hundred paid actors on board. Even your handler will comment on the cost of murdering the actors, and that it would be highly preferred to stick to the target at hand.
When you finish the first level and transition from the clearly-fake set dressing of the yacht to the less-fake set dressing of a 1970s Soviet military base, your first thought isn’t ‘How do I solve this little puzzle?’ but rather what your agency is paying these actors. You also have to wonder what the liability form these people signed had to have looked like when you’re cracking a shovel into the back of their skull, poisoning their vodka, electrocuting them with a slide projector, or sending them into low-Earth orbit with a jet’s ejector seat.
The best part about these tutorials isn’t that they teach you how to play Hitman in a genuinely fun and engaging manner, but rather that they teach you what the structure of Hitman is going to be and what you are going to be in for with each additional map. Many hours later, I can tell you that what I have been in for has been late nights, long days, and a yearning to just keep getting better.
From Paris to Japan, each and every level feels completely unique and personalized. Nooks and crannies hidden about, hammers, screwdrivers, guns and axes lay in wait, revealing themselves to you the more you replay the levels and dig in.
I found myself in Marrakesh, lost in the impressively large crowd of people in the middle of the bazaar with no means of knowing in which direction I was moving, but with every attempt at the level, with every turn of the corner and running from the guards, the levels map built itself in my mind, allowing me to mentally prepare for what I would want to do, and when to do it.
Admittedly, some levels felt more interesting than others. For instance, Paris’ verticality lends itself perfectly to teaching the player on the importance of changing outfits. The more clearance your outfit grants you, the higher in the mansion you can go. Whereas Colorado’s design of concentric circles and almost Venn diagram styling of security clearances definitely takes more time to understand. While the designs of some levels are more interesting, the beauty, the craftsmanship, and the intricacies of each one gives them personality wholly unique to themselves. When combined with the fantastic NPC background dialogues, the numerous Easter eggs, and the undercurrent of a story through line told in the background of each level, it is hard not to love each one for what they are.
While featuring only six individual maps, two tutorial maps, and three variations of the original six cities for extra missions, Hitman may appear small in size, but, as they say, appearances can be deceiving. The game may only be a foot long, but it’s a mile deep. From challenges and feats which give insight into the more Goldbergian methods to the game’s insane means of murder, to biweekly elusive targets with custom video work and modeling, custom mission creation shareable with the world, and mastery challenges that unlock additional costumes, weapons, starting locations and gadgets (ranging from vials of sedatives to the explosive Napoleon ‘Blownapart’ statuette), this game may as well have come with a label warning of its addictive nature.
Hitman, as a franchise, has had its ups and it’s downs, but with the addition 2016’s Hitman showing off its first season, the record books can mark another tick in the ‘ups’ column. With everything shown in this release, I eagerly look forward to seeing what IO has in store for season two.