Tiring of constant management restructure, Phil Savage practises his assassination techniques with the latest murder sim and bides his time.
Tiring of constant management restructure, Phil Savage practises his assassination techniques with the latest murder simulation and then bides his time.
Like many, we were surprised when Hitman was announced as episodic. Surprised, but not worried. Story has never been the focus of the series. By releasing each mission individually, IO seemed to be signalling a return to Hitman as a standalone series of sandbox murder playgrounds. Everything fans loved about Blood Money, but larger and more diverse.
You can, in many cases, just shoot your target and run away, hoping to reach the exit before the security team surrounds you. Doing so would be valid, but messy. 47 is a professional, and that means getting in and out with the minimum of fuss. Hitman’s hardest, most satisfying challenge is taking out targets without even being recognised. This is where disguises come in.
Disguises have been a mainstay since the series’ inception, but Hitman offers the most elegant implementation to date: here you can only be discovered by specific NPCs of the same type. In certain cases this requires some suspension of disbelief – it’s not always clear why some guards can recognise their colleagues when so many others can’t – but the transparency is welcome, ensuring you can circumnavigate these characters in an effort to remain undetected.
It’s not just a case of using disguises to get to a target. You must also figure out how you’re going to kill them. Again you have a silenced pistol, and it will do the job. Alternatively, you can take various tools into each mission, from guns and explosives, to lockpicks and a variety of poisons. Often, though, the most fiendish means of murder can be found within the level itself. 47 can rewire electric cables, loosen chandeliers, or tamper with gas heaters. And beyond the more generic options, each mission has its own tailored murder methods: ‘Opportunities’.
Opportunities allow you to manipulate your targets from their set routines, often fatally so. Similar in function to BloodMoney’s accidents, they’re a powerful tool to either draw a target away from their security, or to lead them straight to their own demise. By default, Opportunities lead you, step by step, exactly where you need to go. If dropping a stuffed moose on some jerk requires a cameraman disguise, you’ll be told where to track one down.
Happily, every element of the UI can be tweaked. Opportunities can be set to minimal, giving you only the broadest of objectives and letting you to figure out the finer details. The result is the same – a jerk, dead by moose – but the feeling of accomplishment is far greater.
IO has succeeded in making levels bigger than any previous Hitman. They’re dense, too, packed with items and possibilities. Thematically, few are as strong as those of BloodMoney – there’s nothing quite as iconic as the New Orleans Mardi Gras, but each offers something slightly different.
Each level is designed to be replayed, either repeating a mission to find new methods, or taking on one of the Escalations – special missions featuring alternate targets that evolve new complications each time you complete them. As such, every environment is big and intricate enough to support multiple approaches.
Strip away the theme and fantasy, and you’re left with a diorama of moving parts – a seemingly perfect system of loops, each intersecting to create a complex scene. It’s left to you to decide how you want to break it – whether by surgically removing key actors, or violently smashing it all up with guns, bombs and a stuffed moose.
The actual design – the targets, environments and challenges – is strong throughout the six episodes. Hitman isn’t perfect, but it’s well made, entertaining and a far cry from the mistakes of Absolution, and a return to form for the series.