As I saunter through the narrow pathways strewn throughout the Sapienza map, I’m searching for individual item placements, reading the routines of specific people whose outfits I could use. I’ve played this map dozens of times, yet I couldn’t even begin to tell you the best way to kill the two targets. Is it the one where I poisoned someone’s spaghetti with expired sauce? Maybe that time I fired a cannon at them? Oh, what about that time I threw a hammer to knock them out, then fed them to a wood chipper? I don’t know, making an explosive golf ball and impersonating the golf instructor was certainly enlightening…
This is Hitman; a lesson in trial, error, and stupidly efficient murder techniques. The concept of ‘variety is the spice of death’ is unparalleled in the franchise, giving the player complete freedom in how they approach an objective. To some, it’s a stealth game, to others, it’s an action game. To me, it’s a puzzle game. You get dropped in with as little information as possible, and it’s your task from there to find your own solution; the ultimate sandbox.
You play as Agent 47, an assassin of ICA tasked with fulfilling requests made by certain clientele. The game starts off with the origins of 47; nameless, no loose ends, an enigma. Your handler, Diana Burnwood, teaches you the basics of your role, but 47 himself uses the unorthodox method of blending in by taking uniforms and impersonating certain people; to an astonishing degree.
Hitman’s gameplay is a three-step “Ex” system. Explore, Execute, Extract. Explore the map to find your targets and key movement patterns, while looking for potential ways to take out your quarry; execute your targets with whatever insane plan you reveal for yourself; leave the area, hopefully without anyone knowing what went down. It’s a master lesson in trial and error; you will fail many times at first, but by the time you finish a map, you leave all the wiser and ready to do better.
When you enter a map, you are immediately given total freedom, to a degree. There are certain areas locked away, but never inaccessible. All you need to do as a player is find an unwitting “non-target” with the uniform you need, then take them out as you find necessary and take their outfit. 47’s main gimmick is blending in using outfits and deception. There are people who will see right through you, and the game does fantastically in telling you who.
Your UI is non-intrusive, informative, and sleek. Your mini-map shows you NPCs, indicated as dots. White dots are NPCs that can see you as “suspicious,” whether its by knowing you shouldn’t be in that uniform, by trespassing in an area you shouldn’t be in, or causing a scene. Non-lethal NPCs (chefs, civilians, butlers, etc.) will notice crimes like knocking someone out, killing a target, hearing a gunshot, hiding a body, or changing into an outfit. This will cause a panic and make them report the crime to a “lethal” NPC (police, guards, militia, etc.). If you don’t vacate the area, or change into a different uniform without someone seeing you, you will be “hunted.” If you are spotted by these NPCs hunting you, you will enter “combat.”
Agent 47 is not a tank, he cannot take a dozen bullets and be fine. If you enter combat with any more than two or three units, you are going down. The same applies to units, a single headshot takes them down, and that can be of use to you. Combat follows the same format as most third-person shooters; the difference here being that your weapons have a very strong decay in accuracy with successive shots. Pistols become a marksman weapon that quickly becomes difficult to use with back-to-back shots. Sniper rifles, although strong, require a headshot to kill instantly. The list goes on, but weapons aren’t the only tool in your arsenal.
Agent 47 has a plethora of items at his disposal. He can quickly dispatch enemies by throwing sharp objects, like knives and screwdrivers, or knocking them out with blunt objects like wrenches, hammers, and fire extinguishers. These items also have a use in the level: Loosen a valve on a gas tank with a wrench, or expose a wire near water with a screwdriver. Accidents aren’t your thing? Then how about poisons? Put a bit of emetic poison in a drink or some food while nobody is the wiser, and your victim will go somewhere to throw up. Drown them in a toilet, shoot them in the head, doesn’t matter. Of course, there are lethal and sedative poisons, but those need no description.
Uniforms make the man just as much. Specific uniforms will allow you to sneak by with certain actions; poisoning a drink as a bartender, walking the runway as a fashion model, pretending to be a scarecrow (yes, this is real), and so on. Combine knowing which uniforms allow you where, and the items you bring, and all that’s left is map knowledge to guide you.
Each map has a fixed layout of items and NPC patterns to learn, as well as objectives and ‘Opportunities.’ Opportunities are optional routes you can take to eliminate your target. Simply overhear or find the first step, and the game will give you the process towards succeeding. These can, of course, be disabled in the Gameplay options, as well as the entire UI. If you accidentally stumble upon an opportunity, you don’t need to track it or even follow the instructions.
These tend to lead to the game’s ‘Challenges,’ which are usually obtaining a unique uniform or eliminating a target in a specific way. This gives the player vague clues as to what you can look out for in the level, but it still leaves you with minimal info so that you need to find it on your own. You have your usual challenges, like “kill these targets” and “use this item to kill your target,” but others are more quirky, like Episode 1: Paris, which has challenges based entirely on killing your targets in a magician’s costume. Or Episode 2: Sapienza, which allows you to kill your target with poisoned spaghetti. The variety in how you can complete these challenges is very wide, but you are not restricted to completing it these ways.
Completing these challenges grants you XP, which goes into the Mastery Level for that Episode. As you climb up in rank, up to the Level 20 cap, you will unlock new starting locations, items to use in all Episodes, even uniforms. Some challenges grant you gear as well. As stated before, your first playthrough is just the tip of the iceberg for Hitman. You will always find new approaches and new ways to kill targets, and that is the draw of Hitman.
If you find killing the same targets boring after a while, then you can take to the other ways to play in Hitman: Contracts and Elusive Targets. Contracts are custom, community-made targets that are based in the Episodes. These are rotated every month by IO Interactive, or you can search for your own contracts through the search menu. You can create these Contracts yourself and submit them for the community to play; simply go into a level in Contracts and mark whoever you want others to kill. Then all you need to do is assassinate them in any way you want. The game keeps track of what outfit you were wearing and what item you used to kill your target.
The other way is Elusive Targets; a limited-time event with one-of-a-kind targets. These affect the levels in small ways, but overall, these are forgettable for multiple reasons. First things first: You can only ever kill these targets once. If you fail your mission at all, you cannot play it again. You can restart the mission, but only if you haven’t completed an objective yet, and this is where the community is split. Elusive Targets can be an interesting addition to the Hitman formula, but you obtain unique outfits to wear in any mission by killing a specific amount. These outfits include the Blood Money and Absolution suits, and starting with E.T. #14, you can get these suits with gloves (which is actually an often-requested outfit by the community). And that’s what’s concerning about it; how will players be able to obtain these outfits when the Elusive Targets “campaign” is over? The thing is that nobody really knows. IO Interactive claims to intend on releasing Elusive Targets again in the future, but there isn’t a whole lot to go on currently. Either way, Elusive Targets are nice and all, but they’re really only meant for the hardcore fans, and when you have a decent amount of versatile gear unlocked.
At launch, Hitman released episodically, but this is more of a review on the “Full Experience” and “Complete First Season” versions of Hitman. As such, this review is only covering the content based around Episodes 1-6, and much like the amiibo Festival review, I’ll be reviewing the Episodes separately.
Intro Pack (Prologue + Episode 1: Paris) | Episode 1: 9/10, Prologue unscored
This is where it all began. The Prologue is technically three mini-missions, that are recreations of famous ICA targets and assassinations. The first two missions are the same, although the first mission is “Guided Training” while the second is “Freeform Training.” Meaning you have a tutorial explaining the gameplay and afterwards, you are given total freedom in how you can eliminate the target. Not much can be said about it; it’s basic and for good reason, seeing as how new players would be intimidated by the varying dynamics. Teaching new players about the systems in one level, then giving them immediate freedom, where they can choose to follow the same path or give it their own spin.
The third mission is simply called “The Final Test.” More elaborate with no guidance. This introduces in a more unique manner, Opportunities. You also have more varied kill techniques, such as the famous “ejector seat” assassination. While basic in design, these levels mimic the size of Blood Money. You’re also only given one target to kill in both missions, which is exclusive to the Prologue missions. These also take place in 1999, 20 years before the events of the game, but one year before the events of the very first Hitman game, Hitman: Codename 47.
Episode 1: Paris is the true introduction, however. The size of this level alone easily beats the largest level in Hitman: Blood Money, and rivals most “assassination” levels in Absolution. You are given two targets: Viktor Novikov and Dalia Margolis, who are both attending the Sanguine fashion show in Paris, as well as hosting a secret IAGO auction where a list of spies are on offer. The variety both in atmosphere and gameplay is incredible, giving you dozens of ways to tackle your objectives. Become a bartender and learn how to make a Bare Knuckle Boxer for Viktor, or become Helmut Kruger and walk the fashion line. Sky’s the limit and they give you an insane amount of freedom for the first official episode.
Episode 2: Sapienza, 10/10
If you thought that Paris was large, then Sapienza, Italy will make you forget that. The level in terms of scale and variance far surpasses Episode 1 with plenty of alternate routes and different setpieces. You are tasked with killing Silvio Caruso and Francesca de Silva, and eliminating a nerve agent that could very well cause huge ripples in the world. Silvio Caruso has plenty of humorous ways to die, like poisoning spaghetti or killing him with a cannon. You can even kill him with a cannibis joint if you know where to look. de Silva on the other hand is more unorthodox; kill her with the nerve agent or even with her own lover. The amount of variety in costumes makes for a fantastic time in easily one of the best maps in the game.
Episode 3: Marrakesh, 7/10
Marrakesh pulls back a little bit with level scale, but packs the level full with moving NPCs and feels like a large open market. Your targets are Reza Zaydan and Claus Standberg, both equally bad people that could disrupt the political powers in Morocco. Reza and Claus live in a realm of irony, where they can be killed in their own “castles.” Zaydan can be killed by pushing him into a printing press, or simply with a .50 cal machine gun on an APC. Strandberg has a hint of tradition with his kills; like shooting down a giant moose and crushing him or snapping his neck while disguised as a masseuse. The level is technically impressive and is full of interesting choices and beautiful level design.
Episode 4: Bangkok, 7/10
Thailand gives you so much more interesting choices with your two targets. Although the smallest by comparison, it gives you a lot to do. Your targets, Jordan Cross and Ken Morgan, have a lot of traditional kills about them. Jordan Cross can be killed with a poisoned birthday cake or with falling coconuts, and Ken Morgan can be killed with an exploding Tuk Tuk or by Cross himself, should the circumstance arise. The level itself is dangerously tight, making you need to improvise or be masterfully good at sneaking around in trespassing areas to succeed. That said, it’s not as interesting as Marrakesh, but still fun regardless.
Episode 5: Colorado, 6/10
Colorado is a lot tighter than Bangkok, and has twice as much to do. This time, you have four targets, and all of them have their own unique ways to go about killing them. This mission itself is also more closely styled after Hitman: Absolution, where the level has an end-goal. That said, it’s probably one of the worst; very little variety in kills for all four targets, despite all of them having quirks, and the level is disastrously difficult to navigate because of how many different sections of trespassing there is. It also is entirely Hostile, which means that doing the mission “suit only” is incredibly dangerous. Not my style at all, but it might strike someone else’s fancy.
Episode 6: Hokkaido, 10/10
The final mission in Season One is actually the best one. Tons of variety for your two targets with one particular difference; one of your targets is actually always immobile. Erich Soders and Yuki Yamazaki are full of classic, traditional kills, while also blending new kills in the process. Soders can be killed without ever laying a hand on him, and Yamazaki has some of the funnier ones; like killing her during a yoga session, or poisoning her sushi with fugu fish. All in all, this level is just crazy fun, and full of variety. All in a very easy and understandable manner. You can even kill your targets all in a ninja outfit.
Bonus Mission Pack: The Icon, 6/10 | A House Built on Sand, 8/10 | Holiday Heisters, 8/10 | Landslide, 7/10
Along with six episodes, you’ll have four bonus missions with a theme around them. They aren’t plot-based and change around the design of the levels. Every level, except for Holiday Heisters, minimizes the level down to a core section and completely overhauls it. The Icon has you killing an actor with plenty of set-disaster opportunitites. A House Built on Sand has you manipulating your target’s paranoia in different ways, featuring an absolutely gorgeous night scene in a gorgeous level.
Holiday Heisters is a Christmas-themed level with references to Home Alone, where you have to stop two thieves, Harry and Marv, from stealing a bunch of items in the Paris mission. You can unlock a Santa outfit and wear it in any mission, which is just beautiful. Landslide has you taking out a mayor in Sapienza, with a few nice classic kills blended with new ones.
All of these levels in general are beautiful and full of small details, making Hitman never look better, and the loading times are long initially, but loading a manual save is slightly less; about 45-60 seconds.
The music is cleverly paced, with dynamic shifts based on what’s happening. There was also a very slight ARG during Episode 4, where they had a music video for in-game band The Class, which all three songs from the band can be found on various websites including SoundCloud or even Bandcamp. The voice acting for just about every non-important NPC is also done by one man and woman, which seems unorthodox but is something you can get used to.