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.

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