Review: Hitman

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Prologue/Paris (16 March 2016)

A fashion show full of the rich, the famous and the really, really ridiculously good looking. Oh, and a contracted killer. Agent 47, the bald headed, barcoded assassin, is back. Developed once again by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix, Hitman is the latest venture into the world of the hired killer.

Promising a return to form after the much maligned Absolution, Hitman sets out to replicate what is probably the best game in the series, Blood Money, albeit with an interesting episodic release format. After a brief and trouble-laden jaunt through the Prologue again — I played that in the beta, you can find what I think of that here — I was worried what lay ahead in Paris. Titled Showstopper, 47 is tasked with eliminating a fashion mogul and his partner; both have taken to selling state secrets on the side.

From the moment 47 first flashes his pass to the guards of the Showstopper mission it’s clear that IO Interactive have doubled down on making each level feel alive. NPCs will have conversations, complimenting or mocking you depending on what disguise you’ve acquired. When 47 first walks in, guards and waiters compliment him on his suit and figure and treat him as any other wealthy guest. Take on the disguise of a stylist or waiter however and they’ll bark orders at him, mock him and even question his sexuality. It’s this attention to detail that immerses you right into its world.

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These conversations can bring up new opportunities that clue you in on crafty ways to knock off your targets. Whether it’s an exploding camera, a poisoned cocktail or a model who bears a striking resemblance to 47, these opportunities present you with a wide range of new and exciting ways to kill your targets. These opportunities have always existed in Hitman in one way or another and often provide the player with large set-piece type deaths. Showstopper presents a vast amount more of these than previous Hitman titles with 8 or 9 available. These are also where a lot of the replay value of Hitman is found too, encouraging players to go back into a mission and try out the different kills available.

During my playthrough of Showstopper I spent at least two and a half hours planning the hit before restarting and committing to what I thought would give me the best rating. Most of that time was spent exploring and testing the boundaries for each disguise. Knowing exactly what you can get away with and where is vital in planning the perfect hit and cutting down any unnecessary risks. By default the game provides way too much information to the player, telling them where to go and when to the point where it almost plays itself.

Thankfully, the option to cut back on the hints or turn them off entirely is given and it totally changes how the game feels. With hints on, things feel more like Absolution, with a linear path provided to you and all of your goals outlined. Toggle those hints to minimal and you’re left with a Blood Money-esque experience; the game offers you a direction and a reminder at times if you so choose. This one option transforms the game from a basic shooter to a puzzle game where you’re left to solve each mission s you’d like. It’s good to see that IO provided players with both options and while I’ll never use the full hint setting, I can see the benefit of its inclusion.

It’s not all roses and sunshine as Hitman‘s questionable PC port presented a swath of problems. I had issues with control inputs from the outset when I tried playing with a keyboard and mouse. This made the Prologue section nearly impossible to pass as I’d get stuck in cover and had no way out, leading me to eventually concede and plug in a controller.

The issues continued with an odd settings system that seems to lock graphics settings depending on how much VRAM your GPU has. My GTX970 has 3.5/4GB of VRAM which is apparently only enough for Medium settings, according to IO. This comes as a bit of an oddity to me considering other more graphically intensive games allow me to achieve a stable 60FPS at much higher settings.

Putting the porting issues behind me — it’s almost sad that they’re the norm these days — the only other major qualm I had with Hitman was its dull and sometimes inconsistent AI. Turning on a radio or letting a sink overflow are two of the many ways to attract the attention of an NPC but there’s never any guarantee just who you’ll attract. Some NPC’s will just ignore an overflowing sink entirely despite standing outside the bathroom while another two rooms away will come running to fix it. This can make planning a hit or acquiring a disguise difficult and I ended up relying on other, more consistent methods to get things done.

It’s also worth mentioning that the story so far has been rather lackluster. Rather than taking Showstopper as an opportunity to set up what comes next the developers have instead chosen to vaguely hint and tease at just who is behind it all. This can work for missions in complete games but falls flat in episodic titles where the writers have to work to make the player come back for the next installment.

Ultimately, Hitman has a lot going for it. It can be played exactly how you want to play it. Fans of Blood Money will find plenty here to remind them of just what made that game great while newcomers to the series are given a gentle shove into the world of assassination. It’s hard to say just how good the next six or so episodes of Hitman will be based on this one mission alone but if they’re all up to the caliber of Showstopper then it should be an enjoyable ride indeed.

-Hamish Lindsay

Sapienza (13 May 2016)

We had to make the jump from Windows PC to PS4 to review Hitman‘s second installment due to specification issues. While Hitman‘s “Sapienze” plays well on consoles, the same can’t be said for Hamish’s poor rig.

If we take a quick look at the recommended specs for Hitman we see some pretty standard fare: i7 3770, Nvidia GTX 770 and 8GB of RAM. Hamish’s own system easily clears that with an i5 4670K, 8GB and an Nvidia GTX 970. The CPUs, despite one being an i5 and the other an i7, perform incredibly similarly — see here and here —  with the only difference lying in multi-threading capability.

So why is this important? Here’s Hamish in his own words:

“Because Hitman‘s ‘Sapienza’ cooked my little stock cooled CPU, even on low settings. It was apparent that the newest episode was going to cause trouble from the get go. Even at the mid to low settings i was automatically given i experienced severe framerate drops. One minute I’d be cruising at 85 frames, the next I’d have 25.  Eventually, I got the setting to a playable state only to have my whole PC lock up after 30 minutes of play. The cause? CPU overtemp. Oh dear.”

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Whelp.

Despite Hamish’s problems, “Sapienza” was a treat on PS4. Compared to the game’s prologue, and even Paris, Sapienza itself is gigantic. It remains as picturesque as what we’ve seen in this new current-gen release, and this map seems destined to become one of the franchise’s best. There are less crowds about, but far more opportunities to work some magic with Agent 47.

There’s good and bad to this of course — you’ll get a lot of replay value from tackling your mission in different ways, but each playthrough takes a while to actually play out. One minor mistake could mean the different to hours wasted or not. Be careful and manage those saves.

-Steve Wright

Marrakesh (07 June 2016)

Hitman’s third episode sees Agent 47 donning a lovely summer suit as he steps out into the heat of Marrakesh, Morocco in pursuit of his next two targets: the General and the Banker. There’s tension in the bustling market streets of this new location as a riot brews thanks to the actions of our lovely Banker and his friend the General. Luckily, our bald headed, barcoded superhero is in town to save the day. With death. Lots and lots of death. And so you set off, with the empty threat of a riot echoing in your ears, to find new and exciting ways to murder your targets.

Episode 3 of Hitman features the same cookie cutter gameplay found in the previous two episodes, tasking you to seek out your two targets and punish them for their misdeeds. “Marrakesh” features the usual broad variety of methods and strategies to eliminate your targets; be it a falling toilet, electrified hand railing or falling moose. The level itself is undoubtedly paying homage to the “Murder of Crows” mission from Blood Money and hoping to capture the tension of it. It’s fair to say it falls short.

Hitman Marrakesh

The gameplay is fun, if stale, but the real killer here is the lack of story. Most of what we’ve been given so far has come in 2 minute segments at the end of each episode, segments that drop us into a new place with mostly new characters and expect us to understand what’s going on. Episodic games have to work hard to build investment from the player base to ensure they keep coming back but Hitman is failing miserably at that.

It’s also remarkable how empty the streets of Marrakesh feel. It’s odd to say that as you’ll have to wade through large crowds of people to make your way through the market and into the consulate but for some reason there’s no life in the level, something IO nailed in “Sapienza” and “Paris”. It could be the fact that everybody has an American accent which is at best off-putting and at worst totally immersion breaking.

Hitman seems to be having more and more issues with each passing episode — at least on PC — which is a shame considering how much potential it had. Here’s hoping that with three episodes still remaining, Hitman finds its feet again and slays its way into our hearts.

-Hamish Lindsay

Bangkok (22 August 2016)

Well hot damn folks, it appears we have some story. Finally.

Episode 4 of Hitman Season 1 takes the bald headed assassin to Bangkok to rid the world of some very naughty boys. Our friends for today are Jordan Cross — lead singer of The Class — and his dad’s big shot lawyer pal Ken Morgan. It seems Jordan has a bit of a problem with his temper which, unfortunately for him, led to him murdering his then girlfriend which in turn leads to us murdering him. They say what goes around comes around.

The Bangkok episode is set in a luxurious hotel where The Class are currently recording their new album. Half the hotel is devoted to keeping the band (and their sizeable entourage) happy while the other half is more accommodating to regular guests. There’s the usual assortment of ways to knock off your targets, ranging from electrocution to a good old fashioned exploding birthday cake. There also happens to be someone who bears a striking resemblance of Agent 47. Of course.

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Look, “Bangkok” is better. “Sapienza” was ok and “Marrakesh” was, frankly, terrible. None of the episodes have come close to “Paris”, which remains the highlight so far. The real glimmer of hope I see for Hitman is that we finally have some story. It’s taken five months and four episodes but we’ve finally caught a glimpse of something of substance. The overarching string of coincidences has finally caught the attention of 47 and his handler and now this intrepid duo are well and truly on the case.

Next stop, the United States.

– Hamish Lindsay

Colorado (4 October 2016)

Four targets, a farm full of hostiles, humour and — most importantly — story. Welcome to Colorado, 47.

Episode 5 of Hitman kicks off a little more intriguingly than those that came before it, asking questions rather than just telling. 47 finds himself at a farm following a tip off to the ICA that this unsuspecting apricot orchard is actually a training ground for some of the series patented Nasty Guys™; four of them, in fact. We’ve got Eco-terrorist and Aussie Sean Rose, who is altogether too fond of explosions. Next, the mysteriously masked Ezra Berg, who elevates drug induced torture and interrogation to an art. Then, Maya Parvati, a Pakistani terrorist in the midst of planning her next assassination. Finally, ex-secret agent turned terrorist Penelope Graves.

Between this little group of targets, Hitman finally finds some of the most fun gameplay and storytelling so far in the series. The interactions between the targets and the tidbits offered by various NPC’s around the level show a level of depth not found in the previous episodes. Guards will remark on Rose’s borderline OCD tendencies, the odd mishmash of groups present at the farm (who could be gathering them together?) and they’ll even offer up little bits of information that will eventually lead to an opportunity. For once the level feels alive; it’s genuinely rewarding working out the best path between clean hits. There’s plenty of humour too, and even a not so subtle reference to another of IO’s games, Kane and Lynch.

The gameplay is challenging too. You’re immediately on the back foot from the time you enter the level and if you want safe passage into the compound at all you’ll need a guard’s outfit. If not then you’ll need to find another, quieter way in. There’s four distinct zones within the farm itself and most disguises will only get you into one or two of them. If done improperly this could lead to frustration, but the nature of the level and the dialogue from NPCs makes this feel natural. You have to work to succeed in Colorado, but it’s not a frustrating slog like Marrakesh was. Instead you’re rewarded for your patience and that’s what Hitman should be about.

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Colorado succeeds where the previous four episodes, even Paris, failed. It feels like Hitman. You’re not just a bald headed, barcoded dude popping people, you’re Agent 47. And you know what Colorado does best? There’s story. For the first time we’re placed firmly into the world of Hitman. Guards discuss the shadow client, echoing your handler’s thoughts on who could be arranging this diverse group of bad guys. We hear them talk about their past attacks and see them plan their future ones. Questions are raised throughout the level as you make your way through target after target and see for yourself the evidence of a wider conspiracy.

This all comes to a head after you’ve whacked the final freedom fighter and are tasked with gaining access to a tornado shelter underground. I won’t say exactly what it contains, but it does feature throwbacks to many old hits; including some from older games. I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

For the first time in all five episodes I left the mission feeling genuinely impressed. Colorado fully corrects the course of the drifting Hitman and brings it back to its roots. The final, post completion sequence is a perfect example of Hitman story. Sure it’s overly expository, sure there’s a character who’s only purpose is to ask questions and drive said story, sure it’s even a bit cliché, but I don’t give a damn. This is Hitman, and this is what I want more of. Bravo. On to Japan.

-Hamish Lindsay

Hokkaido (4 November 2016)

Ah, Japan. Land of stunning vistas, poisonous fugu and a startling futuristic hospital catering to the overwhelmingly wealthy. It’s here we rejoin 47, tasked with eliminating the soon to be former head of training at 47’s own agency, the ICA. It seems Erich Soders has been a very naughty boy, but I’m sure HR would have a thing or two to say about his ah…abrupt dismissal. Joining him on the soon-to-be-dearly departed list is Yakuza lawyer and all around nasty girl Yuka Yamazaki, for no real reason other than “we can’t possibly only have one supremely difficult target”.

The setting is Gama, a hospital for the rich and very rich that is part resort, part experimental medical research facility. The main portion of the hospital grounds is the equivalent of a day spa, complete with sauna, hot spring pool and a decked-out sushi bar. Beyond that though is the hospital proper, where all sorts of not entirely legal activities take place. Overseeing all this is the robot AI KAI, a futuristic bit of tech that does everything from opening doors for patients and staff to conducting medical procedures.

Getting around Gama is a blast, the whole facility feels alive in a way some previous instalments haven’t and I think this is largely because of KAI. The AI greets you, dings at you and just gives the whole place a sense of personality. This makes exploring more fun as you poke and prod your way through the hospital looking for opportunities to take down your targets.

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Speaking of targets, while I can understand that the ICA is peeved at Soders (though the reaction does seem a little over the top), I don’t understand why Yamazaki is a target outside of the designers wanting more than just one bad guy. While she has some cool dialogue and it’s certainly fun to see her security guards trying to hunt her down across the facility after you do away with her, the character is a bit of a push over. Literally. I killed her by pushing her off a ledge during a yoga lesson. Take that, fitness.

Soders is another story though, and getting to him was a complex puzzle full of trial and error. Just getting near him was enough to give me conniptions as every angle I tried didn’t quite work. Eventually I lured a surgeon out and made my way into his operating room. Turns out that was only half the battle though, and working out just how to put him down was another story all together. No more spoilers though.

Japan represents the end of Hitman’s first season and the culmination of the ah… story… sparsely dished out across the six episodes. It feels like 100% of this has been rushed out across episodes 5 and 6, and I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on. It’s something about 47’s origins, I guess? The season ends with a cliffhanger of sorts – of course – which sets it up for Season Two; still, I’m still left wondering what exactly is happening. Perhaps played all at once, Hitman‘s story would make sense, but this episodic system has done nothing for it.

At least the gameplay is fun. Finally.

-Hamish Lindsay

 

The good

  • Incredibly detailed world.
  • High replay value.
  • An enjoyable return to Hitman‘s glory days.

The bad

  • A continually questionable PC port.
  • Short on actual story.
  • Weak AI.

Hitman was reviewed using promotional codes on PC and PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.