One of the most beloved stealth series of the last couple of generations, IO Interactive’s new Hitman game struck a nerve with fans when it was announced that their latest game would be released episodically. Even as a fan of all the games in the series, I didn’t have faith that this would work. Our reviews of the first couple of episodes echoed these sentiments, claiming that what was there was pretty good, but we’d like more of it. The first season of Hitman is complete, and the end result is something that turned out to be surprisingly good as a whole package.
Hitman works as an episodic game but it’s also enjoyable as a full package.
Rolled out over the course of the year, Hitman was released in six episodes. These episodes furthered a storyline and introduced new areas and targets for Agent 47 to take down. The more surprising thing that came about over the course of the year was how dynamic that Hitman became. IO offered plenty of reasons for players to keep coming back to the game through both the core design, as well as the online components that served up time-dependent assassination missions for players to complete. Surprisingly enough, Hitman works as an episodic game but it’s also enjoyable as a full package. There was so much depth to each level that there was enough to keep players busy as the mission and target lists expanded. Layer after layer could be uncovered by playing and replaying missions, earning mastery unlocks that allowed for different starting equipment, disguises, and points on the massive maps to start your missions. In retrospect, the outrage that was shown towards the game was misguided as IO had a very good plan in place to keep players busy, and more importantly, keep them exploring each of the maps to the extent that they needed to be explored to get the full value out of each of these meticulously crafted levels.
While six missions doesn’t sound like a whole lot, the game takes you to some interesting locales: A Paris fashion show, an Italian villa with an underground lab, a Morrocan city of social unrest, a luxury hotel in Bangkok, a Colorado militia encampment, and a private hospital in Japan. For PlayStation players, a side mission called The Sarajevo Six will also take you back to these levels to assassinate six war criminals to unlock a unique branch of the storyline. That’s just the main line content. On top of that you’ve got user created contracts for all the levels, featured contracts, and the ability to create your own contracts on each map. Again, as a whole package right now… there’s alot to play here. Eventhough you might have missed some of the cool live events like “Elusive Targets” which entered the game worlds for a very limited time during the Season and the game gave you one chance to take them out.
Each murder sandbox is littered with opportunity
The way that Hitman evolved was very untraditional compared to its contemporaries. Start to finish, Hitman isn’t a very “long” game. You can sit down for an evening of play and smash though the six episodes, though you’d be selling yourself short of the real meat of the game and it’s depth. The stealthy gameplay is classic Hitman, in which, IO gives you plenty of variety in the ways that you can take down your targets. Like other games in the series, you’ll be putting on disguises, infiltrating areas you shouldn’t be, and looking for opportunties to stalk and kill your prey. But more so than any game in the series, the variety that this first season of Hitman provided was incredible, so much so, that there’s a lot of handholding in the game just to showcase how dynamic each level is. You can follow onscreen prompts to complete a multitude of objectives, or you can freelance your way through any mission. The choice is up to you, but as you become more and more familiar with each level, you come to find that there are endless possibilities of ways that things can ultimately turn out on a given mission. Things can go perfectly. Things can go hilariously bad as well. Hitman is incredibly brutal at times, ruthless in the ways that you can take out the many characters that populate each map, whether they’re your target or not. Hitman can also be incredibly funny, as things can go poorly for Agent 47 resulting in failure or success. The dynamic nature of this Hitman game and all of the challenges that IO throws at players make it the best that we’ve seen from the developers across the series in terms of gameplay.
Where Hitman does lack is in the story department. It’s pretty clear that IO is setting the stage for something bigger with Hitman, and this is just the first course. While each level builds on the legend of Agent 47, there is something brewing in the background that the developers never quite get around to explaining. That said, each level does add some color to the overall story and even some of the side content does well to build out the world, but it’s hard not to walk away from the game feeling somewhat disappointed as there’s no real resolution here. Hitman ends with an unabashed thud leaving fans guessing until Season 2 rolls around. That’s kind of the problem with all episodic games, really. IO is treating Hitman like a television show, where players are left waiting for resolution, explanation, and context for months at a time. At this point, we don’t know when Season Two will roll around, but being left on a cliffhanger is somewhat off-putting. As noted above though, the gameplay does make up for it, ultimately.
Hitman is so dense that handholding is almost a requirement to get full enjoyment
Another point of contention that I had with Hitman’s first season is in the aforementioned handholding of assassination opportunities. These opportunites were the very best that Hitman had to offer in terms of completing your assassination goals, but without the step by step instructions from the game itself, you’d almost never be able to figure these things out on your own. Sure, the game allows you to turn off these tips, but then the game becomes incredibly tedious. It’s a fine line to walk, but if you want to see and complete all of the cool things that each level contains, you’ll want to keep these tips turned on. For newcomers this is really helpful, though Hitman veterans will probably want to turn the dial down. Because in doing so, there’s an incredible puzzle to figure out. That puzzle takes a special type of person. One that has plenty of time, and plenty of patience, because Hitman without said tooltips can be a tedious experiment of trial and error.
Over the course of Season One for Hitman, we got a chance to play it across both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. More recently though with the release of the PlayStation 4 Pro, Hitman is a real stunner on the more powerful console. Before we get into those improvements though, the Xbox One version is entirely passable and looks fantastic as well. The original PS4 release was a full 1080p title that looked sharp on the console too, but the Pro enhancements bolster the resolution, frame rates, and loading times. A game that already looked great on both Xbox One and PS4 has been made to look even prettier on the more powerful Pro console. There’s no doubt about it, outside of a top-end PC, the PlayStation 4 Pro is the definitive way to play Hitman.
It’s also worth noting that while Hitman was built to be an ever-evolving online game, there were plenty of complaints about the offline mode of the game. As of this review, you can now play the game in an offline mode that allows you to take the things that you’ve unlocked online with you when you play online. That includes all of the mastery unlocks that include weapons, gear, starting items, locations, rewards, and challenge packs. This update arrived just a few days before this review.
IO is still best in class when it comes to the dynamic murder sandbox. Their most ambitious Hitman title to date, Season One sets the table for more to come and it’s hard not to be looking forward to it after how well it was handled this time around. Hopefully, we continue to see improvements to the formula — Levels of different size and scope, more natural discovery for the many ways to tackle a level, and a story that materializes into something more than a teaser. The developers had a tough hurdle to get over to win players over due to the way it was delivered, but now that they’ve got Hitman fans on board, it’s time for some fine-tuning.