AIDING AND ABETTING
Hitman’s Opportunities, which guide you to perform signature kills such as bringing down a lighting rig, concerned Hitman veterans who wanted to assemble the pieces without assistance; the same is true of Instinct, which reveals target positions through walls. In the beta, toggles were already in place to limit these hints, but Io realised it would need to signpost the system in Hitman’s tutorial before launch. This is the sort of flexibility Io hopes will distinguish its ‘live’ game from Hitmans of yore. To appease the purists, however, Elusive Targets will be making time-limited appearances in existing levels. These don’t show up on Instinct, and it’s when Hitman lets go of your hand that you truly experience the thrill of the hunt.
The initial urge is to forgive these slip-ups on account of the vast tangle of rules and mechanics on top of which Hitman is built. It takes the best of the previous games – the disguises, allowing you to hide in plain sight; the gadgets, from coins to remote explosives that abet free-form stealth; the ‘accidents’ by which targets can meet their innocuous end – and hands you the lot in one huge open level. There was concern that one level per month would be too little to keep the voracious Hitman fan occupied, and if you’re just in it for the drip-fed story that bookends each mission, that’s likely true. But Hitman appeals to the perfectionist in you, asks you to explore every corner and dream up a hit in which 47 is no more than a shadow in the night. The finest example of this more cerebral aspect is the Escalation contract, more of which will follow as the season progresses. You approach the training level five times, each time with a new constraint on your behaviour, culminating in the near-impossible task of killing two targets with set weapons, hiding their bodies within a time limit, and doing it all without knocking out bystanders.
Under such a system, it’s easy to laugh off the screaming flight of civilians from 47 picking up a poker next to a fire (while dressed as staff) as a quirk of Hitman’s many layers. But other faults are less easily brushed off. NPCs often see through walls, screaming about a body they couldn’t have noticed. Key stages in scripted kills – Opportunities, as they’re styled – sometimes trigger out of order, or don’t trigger at all, leaving you with no idea what NPCs are on about. The Contracts mode by which players create their own hits is woefully underpowered at present, interpreting crafty environmental kills as an ‘any weapon’ constraint. Challenges – in-level achievements that unlock new starting positions, gear and supply drops – are prone to checking off completion criteria prematurely, leading to one Sniper Assassin challenge that required us to go unnoticed being awarded while guards were emptying their assault rifles in our direction.
The difficulty is that Paris is still one of the best Hitman levels ever designed. The opulence of the palace itself, the possibilities it presents and the self-motivation it demands of you conspire to offer a peerless assassin fantasy caught somewhere between Ian Fleming and the Bourne trilogy. But how willing you are to engage in that fantasy will depend on the degree to which you resent being ripped out of it by a guard’s X-ray vision, or by wrestling with the game’s underfed online features. Doubtless, bugs will be squashed and features improved upon as the season progresses, but the faults are present at the glamorous, high-stakes launch party and, as a result, Hitman is once again prevented from defining the genre.