At its best, Hitman serves up a brilliant blend of some of the series’ highest points to date. It’s a great murder sandbox that encourages you to spend time prodding and poking its dense, detailed environments to find ways into secure areas, ways out to safety and, of course, creative ways to kill some bad people. And maybe some good people too on the way. You know, by accident.
Hitman Absolution may have split opinions, but it did get some things very, very right. The number of environmental hazards and potential weapons made it feel more than ever like 47 could improvise when things went sideways. He felt more connected to everything going on around him too, thanks to a cover system and – in simple terms – and ability to chuck things around. Both have made the jump to Hitman, as has the wonderfully flexible Contracts mode.
Yet the game has a distinct, and welcome, throwback feel. I spent hours on Hitman 2 and Hitman Blood Money basically just… buggering about. Trying silly things to see a) if it would work, b) what would happen. The AI might sometimes do something daft or a lot of innocent people might get hurt as plans went wrong, but that was part of the dark charm and amusement of it. I’m pleased to say the ability to muck about like this has successfully made the jump to Hitman too.
For example, deep in Hitman’s Parisian palace, I hatched an ill-fated plot to blow up my target using a gas canister. Great. But I hashed up the throw and it caught the waiter he was talking to right between the eyes, dropping him like a sack of spuds. Everyone looked at me for a second. Guns were drawn. It ended badly.
Another time, the waiter saw me throw the canister, sarcastically remarking on my “nice throw” as it landed at my own feet. He then ignored it and went back to cutting carrots before it went boom.
Disguises and interactions with the NPCs all feels natural, even if the odd well-placed cupboard can save your bacon perhaps better than it should. Though on more than one occasion I’ve still, eventually, been caught in these compromising spots, with guards shooting into doorways and ledges and generally making sure I’m pinned in as best as I possible.
Basically, if you’re happy to suspend the disbelief that people can forget a bald guy with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head after he rounds a corner, and every man’s clothes will fit 47 as he changes near-instantly into them, you’re going to have a great time ruining slightly daft NPC’s lives.
It’s not all smooth sailing though. The problem with having this urge – and ability – to explore and exploit the game’s systems currently seems to be the game’s servers. Saves made while online can only be played online, while offline saves don’t count towards challenges or progress towards unlocks. At the moment, it’s only too regular to lose a connection to a server and get kicked back to the offline main menu mid-game. You’ll have to reconnect and sit through lengthy load times again to carry on.
And those load times are long – but it’s easy to forgive, given the big, dense environments. Besides, you’ll always want to experiment and try something else once the game gets its hooks into you.
But it is a bit ironic. Hitman is basically a cleverly dressed up puzzle game that encourages patient play – yet the thing that’ll test your patience most are the servers and load times.
Take this as a compliment about the gameplay, because the rewards are there if you persevere. Besides, these things change as post-release buzz settles and patches get released.
A huge range of unlocks and variations on ways to play the maps keeps things interesting, which is great considering the limited selection of maps. Speaking of which – I genuinely agonised before pre-ordering. Did I want access to three maps now, or wait until everything was out so I could just wade in and explore it all?
My initial reaction is actually kind of positive – I definitely want more maps, so that, again, is a big win for the gameplay in my eyes. And I definitely think that the sheer range of different contracts and unlocks – including tough escalation contracts and regularly changing elusive targets to pursue – will keep me entertained in the meantime.
The issue will be how patient I can be between those new map releases.
(Update: Yep… The patching of all sorts of issues is well underway! Obviously, that doesn’t make the wait for more content any easier. There’s a back-and-forth compliment in that, honest.)