An apple a day might be enough to keep the doctor away, but not even an entire apricot farm can save you from a dedicated assassin. After rocking out with his Bangkok out over the summer, everyone’s hairline-less hero is back for the fifth instalment of Hitman, released this month. Agent 47 finds himself in Colorado, with his ICA handlers’ letting him loose on a who’s who of targets – bombers, torturers, hacktivists: you name it, 47’s going to assassinate it, in what might just be the hardest assignment in Hitman history.
HITMAN Episode 5 Colorado: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 27 September 2016
Episode Price: £7.99
Full Experience £44.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The radical change of scenery is first on the hit list of highlights regarding the latest Hitman episode. Jet-setting from lavish locale to lavish locale, one might get the false impression that Agent 47’s first name is Travel, given his penchant for extravagant destinations. “Episode five: Freedom Fighters” is a far cry from the elegance we’re used to as Hitman players. Everything about this map feels tough, tense and taut: the lack of civilian NPCs’, the sheer number of armed enemy combatants constantly patrolling the compound, and populated, obscured lines of sight: all elements converge to form a highly volatile, unstable environment that requires constant attention and absolute conviction to navigate. Virtually nowhere is safe from the panoptic gaze of the ever-vigilant militia, resulting in sporadic instances of paralysis wherein you cannot move. Assessing enemy movement and patterns is a given mechanic of Hitman, but the intensity of this episode and the lack of ‘safe spaces’ means that you’re always in someone’s crosshairs; you may be the hunter, but you are constantly being hunted.
This constant pressure makes this episode simultaneously a joy and a drag to play. On the one hand, this will be the challenge that Hitman fans have been craving following the lacklustre episode 3 and it’s brilliant successor. On the other hand, the constant trespassing state means that exploration – the kind that episode two was rightly and highly praised for – is all but negated, as this episode is much more story-driven and gameplay-intensive than its Amalfi Coast counterpart. Whether you’re the kind of player who likes taking in the sights, or just taking names, there really isn’t much to see with episode five. Its set on an apricot farm… hardly the stuff of Ian Fleming novels’, is it?
While the Kodak moments may be few and far between, Agent 47 isn’t really known for his photogenic personality: he kills people, and thankfully there are more than two of them this time around! With four targets in play, IO Interactive have finally raised the stakes and gone off script. For some reason, virtually every other episode put Agent 47 in the role of the third wheel, with two targets – both alike in dignity and personality from episode to episode – for him to eliminate. Having realised that not all games require this adherence to the number three – [insert expected Destiny critique] – IO have given Hitman even more friends with which he can share his toys with! Misery does love company, after all. From an E.O.D expert with O.C.D, to a Masked Mossad member, the targets’ on offer will take you from one extreme to the other, with haphazard improvisation doing little in the face of so many armed guards.
Episode five is going to force you to play the long game. As meticulously as it has been designed, so too will you have to plan your attacks with precision and detail. Unlike episodes three and four, the whole map must be explored if you are to gain an advantage on your foes and leave nothing to chance. Conversations between NPCs are invaluable this time around, and since you’re going to be spending a lot of time waiting, you might as well get some listening done as well. Every seemingly banal factoid shared between guards relating to your targets will help you build a clearer picture of their routines, habits and patterns, ultimately aiding you in dispatching them. As expected, the number of whacky ways to whack your targets is ever-plentiful, although this time around a lot of the murderous methodology is denser and more elaborate than in previous episodes. Finding the components for an explosive watch, searching the farm for an injured soldier to impersonate, unearthing a delivery of explosives for use in a mock bombing: almost all of your murderous machinations will require determined exploration and timely execution if you want to be successful. This instalment really is a difficult one, and as of writing I dare not even try for a ‘Suit-Only, Silent Assassin’ run… yet. Although the challenge on offer here will keep me coming back, despite the slower pace of this episode.
Once you’ve strung up the quartet and completed the episode, the mastery unlocks will probably leave you clamouring for an encore regarding additional items. The rewards on offer for those looking to master episode five are pitiful compared to the swag available in previous episodes. No fancy guns, no memorable melee weapons – there isn’t even a rubber duck! I mean, what the duck, IO!? What the actual duck! Mastery rewards feel like anything but in this instalment, so pushing for that coveted mastery level 20 will be a long, and relatively unrewarding, process. The challenges are as varied and whacky as frequent players have come to expect, so you’ll have plenty of reasons to return to the level. Technical hiccups are thankfully kept to a minimum, with instances of audio loss or jarring NPC behaviour rarely occurring – if they even occurred at all. With Hitman players being well versed in the mechanics of the title by now, the A.I – or lack thereof in some instances – will become predictable during elongated playthroughs. This is to be expected of course, and can be said of virtually any other game, but when the design of the level forces you into a battle of attrition, you’ll be looking for laughable instances of A.I to exploit just to speed things along.
For too long, Agent 47 has been enjoying his martinis’ shaken, not stirred. His previous destinations have been plush, pretty and populated with friendly faces. Episode five is as much a departure from the established Hitman formula as a Bourne movie is a departure from the James Bond formula of gadgets, guns and girls. “Freedom Fighters” is a jarring, but welcome, change of pace – even if the pace might not be to everyone’s liking. The penultimate act of Hitman is one that you cannot afford to miss and will push you to your limit both tactically and methodologically. Hitman episode five: “Freedom Fighters” represents the single greatest challenge available in the entire Hitman experience. The only question is: are you up to the challenge?
HITMAN Episode 5 Colorado
- Most challenging mission so far
- Plot really picks up in this episode
- The change of pace adds greater variety to the overall Hitman experience
- Mastery unlocks are the worst so far
- Not as visually appealing as previous maps
- Slower to navigate than previous maps, which might hamper the experience for some players