How do you review a game that’s not complete? The latest instalment of Hitman has released, and it’s promising to be bigger, better and more varied than any other game in the series. It’s also going to have the chapters drip fed at the rate of one a month until August, meaning the story won’t be finished until then. This might work from a longevity perspective, but is no good for deciding whether the game is worth your money or not. So, here are my first impressions on what it offers, what needs to improve and whether Agent 47 can fulfil his potential on the latest hardware generations. Each month I’ll follow up with further information on the other chapters, and the final score will be decided when the game is complete.
If you’re new to Hitman, or have only Absolution as a reference point, the series follows Agent 47 (a highly skilled assassin for hire), as he travels the world eliminating his targets and leaving no trace of his presence or existence. He’s a ghost. A myth. A legend. Your aim is to perpetuate that persona by removing the enemy without anyone knowing it was you. Or better still, make it look like an accident. Hitman returns to its open world roots with this game, giving you a brief then allowing you free reign to complete the mission however you see fit. It’s a daunting prospect initially, but IO Interactive are masters at guiding the uninitiated, and soon the complex murder puzzle becomes an assassin’s playground.
The basics are conveyed in the prologue, and the training missions even have quite a lot of life to them with alternate methods of elimination being available, and encouraged. However, it’s Paris that’s the draw here, and the fact the mission is called The Showstopper sets a precedent for the next five locations when they become available. Tasked with a double execution through infiltrating an elite fashion show in a luxurious chateau in the heart of the city, Hitman states its intentions of exceeding everything that’s come before it. With incredible levels of environmental detail, huge numbers of NPCs, and so many methods of interaction, it can be a bit confusing if you’re not keeping track. Map size isn’t so big that traversal becomes a problem, it offers the right amount of space (and verticality) to facilitate the freeform approach the series is known for. Some might say that it could/should be bigger, though I’d disagree as it’s the wonderful way the environment is segregated that provides the variation in the mission, and not the pure square meterage footprint.
Each area has rules. For example, the basement has the kitchens so waiters, chefs and security are the only ones allowed down there; the dressing area is restricted to models, make up artists and crew; and other areas have their own peculiarities. Disguise is crucial to easily working your way through the party and backstage, and taking advantage of relaxed access tends to reveal opportunities for performing the hits. Opportunities are guided breadcrumb affairs that reveal a step at a time how you might be able to get close to your targets; and they make the most of the environment and behaviours of the AI. You’ll not perform all opportunities in one go, and this is where the single player replay value comes in. Having a checklist of other items to complete gives impetus to return and try out different tactics and approaches – you’ll also have the option new starting locations and weapons stashes, so picking a suitable loadout and adding in the right gadgets can make for some entertaining solutions.
No matter the size of the level though, single player missions cannot fill the time in Paris alone until the next mission unlocks, and this is where Contracts comes in… or rather should come in. Contracts returns with a vastly expanded scope, yet simple to use. Start a level, choose a target, take them down, finish the level, and you’ve set a challenge that can be posted for the community to take a crack at for high score bragging rights. Up to five targets can be selected and executed, and you can choose whether you want your specific conditions like outfits and weapons used to be optional. It’s easy to do, easy to share and being able to title and add a description makes it quite fun, especially if you’re particularly inventive with your kills. Any NPC in the game can be selected, and each has a unique name to add to the immersion.
Sadly, Contracts is also a bit lacking. Whilst creating a contract is easy, sharing with your friends or searching for a particular type is nigh on impossible. The training for Contracts mode shows off two types of assassination so you’d at the least expect these to be filters in the “Latest” section, but no, nothing at all. Looking under “Featured” gives you a list of developer selected missions (maybe 8 or 10 in total), so you can find some quality ones that provide a challenge. “Latest” is where you spend most of your time looking though, and as there’s a limit to the number shown, everything seems to drop off here within a couple of hours (maybe less given lots of people are posting them over launch weekend). Contracts you’ve played can’t be found again, there’s no way to share yours with friends, and because not everyone can get to the same Contracts it renders the leaderboards for each one meaningless. There are also Escalation Contracts where after each successful completion an additional objective is added and you’re sent back into the level. It’s a brilliant idea and one that promotes invention, but there’s only one and that’s for the tutorial mission. There’s a trophy under the Paris section that even references an Escalation Contract for that area, yet nothing is available at the time of writing.
It’s a mixed bag for launch then. Servers have been solid, but disconnecting from them loses you any challenges you’ve completed in single player mode. Playing the main missions are great fun, and the framerate and stutter issues of the beta are nowhere to be seen (especially when you switch the framerate lock on under options). Choice and variety of assassination are second to none, and you can pretty much do anything you want… as long as you can deal with the consequences of your actions. Giving us content over 6 months is great for keeping the game alive, but isn’t necessarily going to win over fans, and I can easily see people waiting for a full retail release. Adding ad hoc assassinations is also great idea, and you’d have thought there’d have been a special target to track for launch weekend, so it feels like a missed opportunity; as is the lack of Escalation Contracts.
It’s both the Hitman game that I’ve wanted since Blood Money was released, and the one I feared we get when I heard about the episodic release – it’s great to play yet unfinished with some missing key features. Let’s hope they get patched in soon or it could struggle to do the business, and we all know how Agent 47 hates to fail.
A review code for Hitman on PS4 was provided by the Square Enix PR team, and the starter pack or full experience are available to buy now on Xbox One, PC and PS4. The next mission is due sometime in April, hopefully in the first week.