The world’s most famous bald-headed assassin, Agent 47 makes a return this week with a brand new release format. For the first time in over a decade and a half since the master of stealth made his debut with Hitman: Codename 47, IO Interactive’s acclaimed series has gone down the episodic route, a calculated yet innovative risk that left many fans scratching their heads, fearing the worst, however, despite its new look structure, Hitman is a fine return to form, plucking the greatest elements of Blood Money and Absolution, combining them together, with great results.
HITMAN Intro Pack: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 11 March 2016
Price: £11.59 Full Experience £44.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Set twenty years before the events of Hitman: Codename 47, the first episode takes Agent 47 back to the beginning of his career with the agency, more importantly though, the games opening moments focus attention on the start of his relationship with long-time handler Diana Burnwood. While the vast majority of the first episodes gameplay can be found within the first real assignment set inside a luxurious Paris mansion, the story, however, begins inside the ICA training facility, where the chrome-domed protagonist can master the art of assassination and fine tune his skills.
There are three locations to explore with Hitman’s first piece of content. The first stage is more a mock contract than anything. Taking place aboard a model yacht, Agent 47 is tasked with killing and disposing of master thief Kevin Ritter. The almost comedic wooden location and nature of the hit, acts as a perfect opportunity for the would-be assassin to practice the art of the perfect kill with the help of a well laid out, if not completely obvious setting. The second stage, again, another training mission tasks Agent 47 with taking out Jasper Knight, a world renowned Chess Player turned Soviet spy who is residing inside a well-defended airbase. Lastly, the protagonist heads off to Paris for the first contract of his career, where he must eliminate two targets – Victor Novikov and Dahlia Margolis at a Fashion Show inside a large glitzy mansion.
All three stages and their locations are excellently designed to give players plenty of depth while encouraging different forms of approach. Episode one costs £11.99/$14.99 but there is plenty of gameplay and replayability to fully justify the price tag if you don’t plan on purchasing the full experience. The great aspects that help to set Hitman aside from other stealth based titles return with various ways to kill, weapons in which to do so and an abundance of disguises to dip into. One of Hitman’s greatest new features are “Opportunities”, overheard conversations or items positioned across missions that if found, can greatly assist Agent 47 throughout a contract, they can not only be tracked once found but can also reveal a certain way of eliminating a target you might have been unaware of prior to finding.
I have always been a huge admirer of the inventive ideas shown by IO Interactive when it comes to the art of assassinating a target, the first two missions are a great example of that, both showcasing what the episode has to offer as well as providing a sign of things to come with future content. While eliminating your target might be satisfying, there is a lot of joy that comes with planning. Changing into a jet mechanics disguise, grabbing a wrench and proceeding to tamper with a fighter jet before leading an unsuspecting victim to try out his newly modified ejector seat is a great example of mixing the two together for a fine end result and of course, you get to witness the poor soul fly off into the sky, he’s probably still up there now.
While the excellent training missions offer a wealth of options and a multitude of ways to reach your end goal, the intro packs main selling point is the Paris level and that for me is where the real production value shines through. The ICA Facility offered a great insight into the training of Agent 47 but there is nothing like a real assignment to sink your teeth into. Situated at a fashion show in the heart of Paris, France, the “Showstopper” mission is as breathtaking in scale as it is by design. The mansion and surrounding grounds are brimming with activity, dense and heavily populated with AI. Hitman games encourage players to locate the numerous ways of taking down a target and with two targets available and multiple ways of eliminating them, a large chunk of time was spent revisiting the mission over and over to explore different yet new ways of killing, perfecting the perfect kill.
Exploration has always been important when playing Hitman. With a huge wealth of choices available, there has never been more exciting time to be Agent 47. The series has always been about offering players options, encouraging us to find the various means of execution before deciding on the best and most effective way to make it from point A to point B with the utmost style and finesse. From the moment I stepped foot inside the large mansion, my mind immediately switches to scout mode. I took my time, sometimes pushing my luck as I looked to explore every vestige of space afforded to me. Cocktail glasses line up tantalizingly on tables, perhaps some rat poison will do? High above a large catwalk lies some heavy rigging that if tampered with may prove to be an entertaining way to die, how to pull off the kill is certainly in players hands, knowing how to pull off the ultimate assassination is a different matter altogether.
Significant tweaks have been made to the way in which the games AI operate and function within each setting, unlike the series previously twitchy AI, this time around they appear to be pretty flawless. In the past approaching an area you’re not allowed to be in usually led to an NPC AI opening fire on Agent 47 all too quickly, leaving very little room for error. Hitman’s AI however, tend to lean more on the side of caution rather than resorting to a barrage of bullets. For example, at times during the Paris level Agent 47 will be escorted or ushered away by guards from a private area while not in the correct disguise, guards announce a clear warning towards the assassin if he ventures into a foreign area. But it’s not just the AI interaction that has been vastly improved, as a whole the game feels more vibrant and full of life, Paris provides a perfect example of that. Sure you can still lure unwitting AI into a bathroom with the simple toss of a coin, before strangling them and relieving them of their clothes but that is part and parcel of what makes Hitman games a great experience.
The new and improved Hitman offers a throwback to previous games like Blood Money and Absolution with key elements from the latter evident with Agent 47’s insight – an option which highlights targets in red, while it might not be as effective as the previous game in getting the protagonist out of difficult binds, it does help keep a track of moving targets. Another returning aspect from Absolution are the contracts, which add a level of creativity to the game. Setting up and completing contracts are both rewarding through the feeling of achievement but also provide players with actual rewards. ‘Objectives’ are added to each contract which provide players with a variety of new tasks to fulfill while performing an assignment, there are also items of interest to discover along the way, such as weapons and items of clothing.
There is a great deal of replay value to be had with episode one. When not attempting to master the Paris level, I took the time to tackle Escalation, a five level mode which tasks players with killing a select target in a certain way, be it by disguise or weapon. Upon completing the first level the game tasks you with repeating the feat while throwing in a new objective to complete. Over five levels this builds up, leaving players juggling objectives to keep themselves afloat, Escalation requires thoughtful planning and good timing to pull off, an exciting new feature to keep players hooked.
This introductory episode showcased all the signs of Hitman becoming a natural and worthy successor to 2006’s Blood Money. The more I played the game, scrap that, the more I explored and learned about my environment, finding different ways in which to perform kills, the more I found myself thoroughly enjoying what the first episode has to offer. IO Interactive have taken aspects that made Blood Money such a cult classic and merged it beautifully with some of the finer points of Absolution to great effect. While some might not enjoy the current format it certainly doesn’t lack value for money and would be well worth parting your hard-earned cash with, even if you don’t plan to buy the full experience. Other than the at times painfully long load times I found very little fault in what was an extremely pleasing experience and a great first piece of content.