Feb 24, 2017

HITMAN – The Complete First Season Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $59.99
We Recommend: $59.99
  • Developer: IO Interactive
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Genre: Action, Stealth, Third-person
  • Released: Mar 11, 2016
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Agent 47 has completed his first full season in 2016’s self titled game HITMAN. With 6 maps, loads of equipment, a variety of costumes, and many ways to play, HITMAN is filled to the brim with content. I came away amazed by the game and can not recommend it enough to anyone. With the first season pressed onto a disc, I think it’s time I finally gave some of my thoughts on this sneaky assassin’s newest venture.

When the game was originally announced, I didn’t feel much in the way of excitement. I enjoyed HITMAN: Absolution but when this new game was announced, there just wasn’t the itch or the urge to play more. After a while, my interest had faded; that is until the controversy over how IO Interactive would deliver the game. Like many a people on the internet, I was skeptical of the decision to make the game piecemeal. Episodic games, save for Telltale’s series of adventure games, had never sat well with players. Think about it, why should I pay $60 when I’m only getting a slow drip? I want it all! But something amazing happened and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to have this happen. I started to watch videos of the game being played in more “let’s play” style coverage and I saw just how varied and open HITMAN could be. I was intrigued once again by 47 and had to have my hands on this game.

HITMAN is a solid stealth game, a master in the art of the unnoticed kill. That is, if you want to play that way; HITMAN can be played like a third-person action game if you’d like. It is far more difficult and taxing on your nerves if you play that way, but it can be done. Whether it’s setting up a scenario of you and the target alone or meeting them in a crowded area, HITMAN gives you the reigns to plan out your hits the way you want. After spending a whole year with the game, I’ve played each stage many ways. I’ve done Silent Assassin runs, I’ve gone in guns-a-blazing, I’ve attempted to complete many of the kills listed in the challenges, and I’ve even done kill everyone challenges.

Part of the creativity comes from the loadouts you take into a mission, specifically the type of handgun, gear (coins, lockpick, explosive rubber duck, etc…), and a smuggled item placed in chosen safe area. From there, you’re given free reign to approach the mission as you wish. The brilliance of this game is that each and every run can play out differently. Even if you try the same approach twice in a row, you’ll find that sometimes you were a little slow and now there’s a guard where he wasn’t before. Or maybe you forgot to pick up a weapon causing a change to the guards route, ultimately getting between you and the target. There are a staggering amount of ways 47 can complete his job here. You could go to Sapienza, climb up the church tower and snipe Victor Cruz as he’s looking out his telescope, or maybe you want to replace his golf ball with an exploding one? How about shooting his plane with a canon? There are many challenges IO have for you to complete, but they basically give you the toys to go and make your own fun.

The game isn’t light on vistas either, you have 6 levels to use as your sandbox and 2 training stages for tutorial purposes. Each one has their own quirks and weapons stashed throughout, giving each their own feel. When you enter the campground of Colorado, filled with armed guards, it’ll feel different than visiting Marrakesh with its crowded streets. The first you feel like you can’t go anywhere and not get caught while the second dares you to try something with all these eyes watching you. Non Playable Characters (NPC) are unique to each locale and outfits that 47 can disguise himself in vary by level as well. Some of my favorite stages give you silly outfits to wear. Sapienza hides a hippie stoner, you can be a baseball star in the Hokkaido medical facility, or even Santa Claus in a bonus Paris mission. Heck, that last one you can unlock to use at any level which just makes me flutter with joy.

So yes, everything around 47 is amazing, but what about the actual stealth and combat of the man himself? It doesn’t disappoint. The stealth mechanics give the player just enough information to let them know how visible they are. This gives you a sense of togetherness that never leaves you feeling confused. Guards who can see through a disguise have dots above their heads, people who are suspicious have a ring around their map marker, and when using your HITMAN vision people highlighted in orange clue you to whom know what you look like. There’s a line of sight indicator that can rotate around 47 so you know where someone is looking from and how fully they can see you. You even get a message above your map to let you know how compromised your disguise is. IO gives you all the visual information you need to make informed decisions in your hits.

Silent kills are obviously what you’d be looking to use and they can be really satisfying. Poisoning drinks or using the fiber wire while sneaking up behind someone, they’re all great. The game does have a slight habit of getting confused sometimes; you may approach at just the slightest of wrong angles and the person will see you. Their face may have been looking elsewhere but still you become compromised. This can turn a great run into a frustration one in an instant. If that man happens to be a gun toting guard, then you need to act fast. Gunplay in HITMAN feels like a last resort. 47 doesn’t have much health and will go down very quickly. So like I’ve mentioned earlier in the review, you can go in guns a blazing action style, but you’ll need to be precise and meticulous about who you shoot. There’s no health bar on screen, IO went with the screen getting a darker red as 47 takes on damage. It becomes very easy to tell when you’re about to die and when you should get the hell out of dodge. The pistols and the sniper rifles are most likely going to be your best friends for distance kills because of the option of silenced versions. The assault rifles and shotguns are too loud and will just bring the guards to your location, making a giant mess.

If you’re finding the levels are becoming too easy or want something with a little more challenge, IO added a professional mode with the latest update to coincide with the disc release. Professional mode makes getting spotted far easier. Things like having the cameras alert guards to your presence, adding more cameras to the level,  guards becoming suspicious of your footsteps, and even to your running. IO went and moved items and NPC placements to make things even more interesting. Shameless plug, but I’ve done a walk through set of videos on how to get the Silent Assassin and Suit Only ratings on the 6 professional stages. You can watch them here

HITMAN is an amazing game but you’ll run into some “jankiness” here and there. It’s to be expected though, so it’s not like it’s surprising when NPC’s get stuck on geometry or items magically get eaten by the floor. Each level is essentially its own open world and it’s a little easier to digest these hiccups knowing that. What sucks is when it causes an issues with your mission. Having a dead NPC cling onto a door only to fly back like a slingshot is funny, but having a guard see that dead body from the opposite, closed, side of the door is frustrating. Line of sight is an occasional problem too. You might think you’re clear to get someone in a headlock, only to be instantly locked in combat because some dude 5 rooms away happened to peek through a tiny end of a window. Although, for as maddening as that can be, sometimes it works in your favor too. I’ve had times where I bludgeoned a guy with a wrench next to someone and they just kept on like nothing happened. So yeah, you win some, you lose some.

When you get bored of the missions IO shipped with the game, you’ll be glad to know that you’re not done. IO has been supporting the heck out of HITMAN for the past year with lots of content. Other than the levels and bonus missions, you have Escalation Missions. Here you’re given a target and once you complete the hit, they add on another condition and you’ll do it again, 4 more times. These can get tough but are overall ok, and sometimes fun! But, on the PS4 the load times are tragic. When you play these Escalations, those long waits can really kill your momentum. On top of the addition of new Escalations, IO puts out Elusive Targets every few weeks. The Elusive Targets are a perfect fit for this game. You’re given the task of placing a hit on a certain target in a certain level. Your HITMAN vision is nerfed in that you can’t see where the target’s at and the only information you have to go by is the intro video Dianna describes to you. That alone makes things tough but IO went one step further and added a 1 death condition. If you die or fail the mission, that’s it; you don’t get to play it again. The payoff though is that you’ll unlock new outfits for 47 to disguise himself in on the various missions.

The worst part of this though is that the targets are only around for a limited time. So if you happened to miss getting on to play, you are essentially locked out of that content forever. That sucks, there’s no two ways around it. IO has extended the length of time targets will be available with the past few new targets but it’s a band-aid on a completely solvable problem. Keep the 1 kill condition but leave the targets available to play if you missed the opportunity to try. This is terrible for a lot of disc owners because you’ll be constantly reminded how many targets you missed in a year’s time on the stats screen. There’s also a Contracts mode where players can create their own missions with their own targets. I’ve haven’t found any of these to be enjoyable and honestly only did enough of them to unlock challenges or trophies. If that’s your thing then go whole hog, it’s pretty in-depth and anyone on a map can be a target. You can have kill conditions and required disguises, it’s pretty robust.

If you read my Game of the Year list for 2016, you know that I gave HITMAN my top spot; it’s well deserving of it. IO has kept the game fresh with its constant updates and content, and the promise of a Season 2 has me all sorts of excited. I have not put in as many hours into a game except for big titles like Mass Effect and the Forza series both of which extend into the hundreds. That says something when I can compare the amount of time I played HITMAN to a critically acclaimed RPG that can easily sink over 100 hours of your time. HITMAN was the game of 2016, and is extremely deserving of a 5 out of 5. IO Interactive distracted us with an episodic plan so it could bonk us on the head with a near perfect game, and as Dianna would say, “Nice work 47”.

A physical copy of the game was provided by PR for review purposes