Agent 47 is back to his best in Hitman The Intro Pack. Our Review;
The Hitman series has taken may subtle guises during its 15 year life span. It has evolved over time, developing from an unrestrained assassination simulator (Codename 47) in to a plot-driven linear action/stealth game that pivots on its set pieces (Absolution) and all of the indistinct shades in-between – but as the series has shifted focus with each new iteration, gaining new fans and critics along the blood-soaked way, there are constants that make the Hitman series unique to the genre. Purist stealth mechanics. Disguises and hiding in plain sights. Baldy, cool headed bad-asses with bar code tattoos. The Silverballers. A multitude of creative methods to complete a hit. A level of suaveness and sophistication that many other games in the stealth genre can’t even take aim at.
So, then, to 2015. Agent 47 is back and his latest outing is a departure from the structure of the Hitman games you may have played in the past. Simply titled “Hitman”, Square Enix and developer Io Interactive made the conscious decision to move to an episodic release schedule, much like the system used by Telltale games. The first episode of Hitman is out now, titled “The Intro Pack” and it’s a brilliant start to a very promising series.
The game’s structure isn’t the only thing to have changed either. It feels like Io Interactive went back to basics with the Hitman game play, as if they stripped it all back to the series’ origins, Codename 47, then rebuilt their entire design system around what makes Hitman, Hitman – the creative killing. They’ve trimmed the fat from their formula, leaving an amalgamation of the cinematic set-pieces from Absolution and the freedom to play it how you want too from Blood Money, lacing them together into a playground of assassination. The game is still stealth orientated and punishes you for being a cold blooded psychopath – cut a bloody swathe through the games NPC’s and you get diminished rewards as well as making it much harder to actually complete the job – but it’s far more respectful of your time than its predecessors. You won’t be hiding in shadows for long periods of time, waiting for someone to walk by (unless you want to play the game like that of course) and while it’s more accessible that its forbearers, it’s deeper and far more innovative than them too.
The first 2 the 3 missions included in the Intro Pack take Agent 47 right back to the beginning of his career as a Hitman. Set 20 years in the past, a fresh faced (but still very bald) 47 is undergoing a series of tests as part of the ISU recruitment. He’s being put through his paces, challenged to replicate the result of some of the agencies most difficult hits in a simulation setting.
The first mission, set aboard a luxury yacht, acts as a tutorial to the games basic game play on its first play through. You’re guided through the hit with way points and told exactly what to do by your handler. Get a disguise, sneak on board to boat, tail the target, shoot him, get out of there undetected – a classic Hitman tactic. And then the handler lets go of your hand and it becomes clear how free you are and how creative you can be. Spiking drinks with rat poison, drowning people in toilets, using remote detonation explosives, swapping disguises to stealth into new levels of the yacht or simply gunning down everything that moves – the spirit of this new Hitman series is freedom and it challenges you to be as creative as you can be. Each level is accompanied by a set of challenges which push you to test yourself or tease new ways to kill your target. It took me 2 and a half hours to complete all of these additional challenges, killing the target in a myriad of imaginative ways, before I felt I had exhausted everything this level had to offer.
The second mission up’s the stakes even further. Set in a heavily defended air force base, 47 is tasked with assassinating a target within its fortified walls. This job introduces the new “Opportunity” system, a game-within-a-game to assist with inventive assassinations. These Opportunities are a series of steps, like getting a particular disguise and then sneaking into an area or sabotaging an object, that set up a unique kill. There’s freedom between these steps – It’s more like a Satnav than a Chauffeur and it doesn’t restrict your moments, allowing you to choose how to fulfil each objective as you see fit. The Opportunity system offers guidance on getting the most out of the game’s systems and coupled with the previously mentioned challenges, it wrings an impressive amount of replayability of out the maps.
If the Hitman Intro pack’s first 2 missions were the rat poisoned Hors d’oeuvre’s, its third contract, “The Showstopper” is the garrotted main course. Combining all of the lessons learnt from the first 2 missions into a massive and challenging hit, its where NuHitman finally shows its true colours. Set in a large Paris map during the locations famous Fashion Week, Agent 47 is contracted to take out 2 high profile and very well guarded targets. With multiple points of entry, lengthy and varied options in the Opportunity system and some uniquely “Hitman” assassination methods, The Showstopper is fantastic. It’s a tense hit that’s damn near impossible to complete via the all-guns-a-blazing method – instead, you can put yourself in the limelight, strutting down the catwalk dressed as a model or manufacture meetings to get your targets away from the hubbub of the fashion show. It’s a mission that requires a scalpel rather than a battering ram and a little more patients that the previous 2 missions of the intro pack. That being said, it’s still very accessible. The Opportunity system makes sure you’re not totally overwhelmed by the size and scope of the job and offers guidance on how to 86 the targets while you learn the subtle intricacies of the map itself. My first attempt at this map was disastrous – I left a body out in the open which, of course, was discovered and set all of the guards on high-alert and rendered my disguise uselss – but I learnt a lot about the map itself. The layout, where the Opportunity’s are, where guards are posted and what disguises I need to use to get to new areas. This level is almost rogue-like in its complexity, with each play through revealing a little more intel about what to do and how best to do it. When I finally managed to blow up one target and drop a chandelier on the other, walking out as if nothing had happened (which was probably my 6th attempt), I felt elated – but also driven to do it even better next time and to set my sights on some of the challenges.
Aside from the game play, one of the biggest achievements that Hitman manages to pull off is to focus the game on its most enjoyable aspects – the assassinations. There is an over-arching plot to these 3 missions that are played out in cut scenes between cases. While these cut scenes are interesting enough and offer insight into the bigger picture, they only exist to set up the next assassination. Unlike Absolution, that mixed hits with entire missions dedicated to escaping a police search party(*yawn*), Hitman 2016 has shone its spotlight on what it does best and ignored all the rest. It’s a concentrated experience, free of any bumph and plot posturing during game play and is all the better for it.
It’s not perfect though and its innovative new mechanisms have come with a price. That price? Well, it’s that the maps and the NPC’s that inhabit them all revolve around the actions of Agent 47. For example, on the first map, the target and other NPC’s have a routine that they follow – but they will only move on once Agent 47 has fulfilled certain criteria. These criteria might be as simple as getting close enough to someone to hear a conversation, but it makes the process and your planning feel scripted, stripping back some of the tension the game otherwise creates. Whether Hitman would have been as pleasurable and accessible if it were left to run in real time, ignoring the actions of 47, we will never know but it’s a fair trade off for the Opportunity system and all the benefits it provides.
“Hitman The Intro Pack is a beautiful taster of what’s to come… Agent 47 is back to his suited and booted best – better even”
The burning question I can almost hear you asking through your mobile phone screen or monitor awaits… “Only 3 missions for £11.99. Is Hitman’s first episode short?” and the answer to that question will be entirely subjective to how you play games. If you are one of these people that play games just to get from A to B and care little about how you get there (no judgement here), Hitman’s Intro pack will feel short. To get a chaotic and messy kill, each level can be “completed” within 20 minutes and if you have no interest in delving any deeper than that, Hitman isn’t a game for you. If you want to peek beneath the surface, experiment, get creative, game the systems, complete the challenges, push yourself to do it quicker or more effienclty and explore the Opportunity system to rinse each map of its secrets, there are hours upon hours of enjoyment here. Personally, it took me 2 and a half hours for me to feel like I had wrung dry the first map, more than double that for the second mission and I’m still finding new and interesting things about the Paris map after 6 more hours of play. In total, that’s 14 hours of “content” and I have no intention of putting down Hitman any time soon.
The longevity of the Hitman Intro Pack spans beyond just completing the missions and their challenges thanks to the Escalation mode and community created contracts. The Escalation mode challenges you too kill 5 consecutive targets on one map. This is a stripped back mode without the assistance of the Opportunity’s and puts your ability to react to evolving situations to the test. Making a mess of one of the assassinations will put the guards on edge and can compromise your disguise, forcing your hand in to do something risky. It’s a mode that harks back to the series’ origins and the purity of game play that was on offer in the days of yore. Then there are the community created contracts. Hitman 2016 comes with a reasonably powerful contract creation tool with which you can designate your target, how they should be killed and the position of NPC’s around the map. There are already a selection of decent contracts to play through and this will only increase the longer the game is available. Finally, there is the “Elusive Target” mode. At the time of writing, the first target (which is due to arrive this week) is not yet available but this promises to be an interesting addition. This mode disguises the target meaning that Agent 47 can’t identify him using his instinct mode (Hold down R1 and targets are painted red) and will have to find information on who the target is and where they are in order to kill the right person. Colour me excited.
The Hitman Intro Pack is a beautiful taster of what’s to come. While it sets the scene and introduces the new game play mechanics, it’s as deep and as replayable as any of the Hitman games that have come before. While previous iterations have attempted to become more accessible to new players by making the them more linear, the new Hitman does the opposite. It broadens the scope, offering creative freedom while using the Opportunity system to offer a guiding hand – something you can ignore and be as inventive as you like. It might only be 3 maps long but what we have here is proof that Agent 47 is back to his suited and booted best – better even – and shows that the developers know what many of the series’ fans wanted from Absolution – a sandbox playground of creative assassination and freedom to play how we want. In summary, Hitman is the game we hoped and dreamed it would be.
Hitman The Intro Pack
Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Hitman The Intro Pack is available now on the PS4, Xbox One and PC. 7 further episodes will be release in 2016.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a code for the game in order to complete this review.