The season finale is here, and Agent 47 is out for revenge in the phenomenal conclusion to season one of Hitman, released earlier this week. Set atop a remote mountain in Hokkaido, Japan, The ICA’s deadliest agent is tasked with eliminating two more unsuspecting targets in what is perhaps the most memorable and cold-hearted assassination in Hitman history.
The setting for the final episode is a spiritual vortex of a map, coalescing all of the previous maps into one aesthetically captivating scene. An uber-exclusive, state-of-the-art medical facility set against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji, Hitman’s final mission this year is easily the most impressive in terms of locale. After the sophistication of Paris and Sapienza, Colorado was a welcome change in visual tone, but IO has ramped the cool factor right back up to 11 for the season climax. The Gama medical facility is split into several distinct areas, all rife with various NPCs – both civilian and armed. The public areas of the facility are visually stunning, and IO’s ever-immaculate attention to detail is sublime. From the snow-capped centre garden to the mountainside spa and the authentic, tatami-inspired dining area: the Gama facility is seriously stylish.
HITMAN Episode 6 Hokkaido: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 31 October 2016
Episode Price: £7.99
Full Experience £44.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Each section is so distinctly stylised, yet so infused with a cultural and architectural verisimilitude that you’ll feel transported into the world of assassination like never before. Previous episodes were beautiful to look at, but IO’s rendition of Hokkaido and the surrounding landscape is achingly awe-inspiring. The mimesis of the clinical, crisp whites of the medical wings and the winter garden help situate players in the cool, cold and calculated atmosphere of the episode, with the traditional Japanese music perfectly complimenting the contemplative intensity of Agent 47’s character. The overall theme of the mission is overwhelmingly felt, with the Japanese locale playing into the sub textual ideas of redemption, revenge and honour that are at the heart of this final contract. Even the easter eggs in the level compliment this thematic axiom, with some brilliant references to classic revenge movies thrown in (go visit the morgue guys!).
Players are invited to take their time with episode 6, with dedicated observation and mindful preparation rewarding the patient warrior. Although the map might seem small compared to previous instalments, the difficulty and depth of hidden opportunities will command much more attention from players than previous maps, where kills could be performed woefully quick, as was the case with episode 4. Each area is densely populated, meaning opportunistic assassins’ might have to dial it back somewhat in order to secure the perfect, killing blow. An unprecedented limitation upon the player in this episode means that you cannot take a concealed weapon or equipment into the scenario this time around. This handicap is a fantastic idea, encouraging deeper exploration of the map in order to excavate more opportunities and equipment.
Were this restriction in the previous maps, the first season of Hitman might have enjoyed even more longevity and replay value, but with this restriction being solely justified by the narrative, it is understandable why this wasn’t implemented in earlier episodes. Additionally, springing this challenge upon players in the final act keeps things fresh right up until the very end of the season, ensuring that episode 6 will be a memorable act for months to come. The limitation imposed by the game, welcome though it may be, can be circumvented once full mastery is achieved within the level. This seems somewhat cheeky on IO’s part – rewarding players with a feature they have had access to for the entire season is indicative of yet another batch of underwhelming unlockable rewards. Tonfas and ninja throwing stars aside, the rest of the mastery rewards follow on from episode 5’s, insofar that they are level-specific and not worth pursuing. Players looking to master episode 6 will surely be pursuing such a path in the name of posterity, rather than lacklustre incentives.
Having reviewed the entire season, I can’t help but draw parallels between this episode and the highlight of the series thus far, episode 2. In terms of the division of the playable areas’, the two episodes are quite similar for all the right reasons. Sapienza and Hokkaido are segmented in three distinct ways: there is a neutral, relaxed area that players are invited to explore. Then there is the inner circle of each map, followed by the hostile ‘core’ of the map. This breakdown of each map allows players to familiarise themselves with the locale and enjoy the scenery, then invites a deeper exploration of the boundaries, ultimately leading to an infiltration wherein the difficulty ramps up and players are really challenged.
Whereas episode 2 had the – admittedly larger – town square and back alleys, episode 6 has the social spa area and communal dining area. The inner circle aspect of each map – the Caruso estate of episode 2 and the maintenance walkways and side-rooms of episode 6 – are hostile but can be navigated with little fuss, as the player stalks and observes NPC interactions in order to learn more about the map’s own ecosystem. The core of each of these maps are perhaps the most similar, with each being a densely populated medical facility. In these sections, the claustrophobia well and truly has you, and each step you take atop the chess board of the map has to be examined and scrutinised intensely so as to avoid patrolling guards and ever-suspecting civilians in these high-risk areas. With these fundamental aspects in mind, the aesthetic consideration is perhaps the most important aspect I can reflect upon when trying to consider which is the best map, and I have to say: episode 6 steals the show.
Episode 2 was beautiful, but it wasn’t stylised. It looked like an Italian coastal town right out of a travel brochure – which is great – but it didn’t do much else to distinguish itself. Episode 6, on the other hand, looks exactly like what a super-secret, global elite-clientele medical facility would look like, but this time it isn’t trying to be ‘realistic’. Rather, episode 6 is the ultimate visualisation of IO’s world: the world of assassination. IO have stamped out their signature brand of cool with the season finale. They aren’t situating the world of assassination within reality, but rather making their world real. The fact that a super-sophisticated AI runs the entire hospital, for instance, doesn’t suspend the belief of the player. On the contrary, this is accepted by the player as another challenge that Agent 47 simply has to deal with. This is a necessary complication in his world, rather than a ludicrous or unrealistic extension of the real world. Perhaps this statement of intent is brought home in the final assassination of the season with the termination of the ICA director, Erich Soders. This kill is simply the cruellest, swiftest, and most brutal in any Hitman title I have ever played. The execution is startling, and veteran Hitman fans and newbs alike will be left reeling from it, such is its genius and style.
Having surpassed the previous season highpoint, episode 6 is unique in its challenge, its aesthetic, its powerful thematic resonance, its drama, and its gameplay. A literally stunning conclusion to what has been a terrific season from IO Interactive, I think it’s finally time to say domo arigato to IO, and congratulate them on the jet-setting gem that has been Hitman. Suffice it to say my ticket is already booked for season 2, and I can’t wait to see what the world of assassination has in store for Agent 47.