If the third episode of Hitman does one thing really well, it’s create an atmosphere.
The Marrakesh map manages to admirably capture the real city’s hustle and bustle, as well as its striking marketplaces and peaceful rooftop terraces. It even manages to allude to the city’s unique clash of old and new – both in terms of architecture and society at large.
The crowds add a vibrancy and life to the markets, while the protest adds a potently agitated backdrop to your actions. For once, it really does feel like one wrong move could kick off something major. Something with consequences far beyond a load of nearby people shooting at you.
It’s the most fun I’ve had just exploring a Hitman map for a long time.
If anything, all this just adds to the disappointment of the military-held school section. Here, the atmosphere drops away and it just feels like business as usual.
Of course, “business as usual” still involves a huge range of ways to kill people and plenty of fun in stalking your prey. But this area feels comparatively lacking in imagination compared to the other major parts of the map.
Taken as a whole though, this episode seems to include more ways to strike or distract guards than ever. There’s a huge number of moving parts to exploit – I for one got a buzz when finding out that, unlike in Paris, using a fire alarm actually seemed to do something beyond make the public panic a bit.
And this joy of experimentation and discovery remains the game’s other great strength. It certainly feels like there’s plenty more to discover yet, thanks in part to the continuous stream of community-created hits and live missions.
Updates to the game’s back end mean that everything runs in a much more stable manner than at launch too, though there is still the odd little hiccup while loading. This latest update even – finally – rejigs the layout of the save screen to something more intuitive.
All we need now are options to bring back some of the fun touches from the Beta – like, say, slow motion headshots if the kill’s seen, or the vast smoke clouds and huge noise from shotgun blasts – and we’re laughing.
So, we’re more or less half way through the series and things are looking good. Hopefully, the next maps can continue to build on this strong foundation.
Though a thought did occur on the story front. It takes a huge back seat, providing a vague set of reasons for killing these people and little else in the way of pay off. We’ve not seen anything like the series’ previous unsettling, dark touches. Yet.
The Meat King mission. The Budapest hotel’s murder scene. Absolution’s underground lakes of offal. We’re doing bad things to bad people, sure – but we’re just being told they’re bad and having to trust Diana. Beyond Sapienza’s lab and Marrakesh’s protest, we’re not seeing much evidence of their naughtiness.
Usually, this would be a criticism – but I guess that’s just the nature of things when you kill for money. So it oddly makes sense here.
And the game definitely has its moments of unsettling darkness still.
Marrkesh has some of the biggest crowds seen in a Hitman map. Considering recent events around the world, trying to keep calm as you walk to an exit through a vast group of people with an assault rifle slung low suddenly seems to carry much more weight than it ever did in previous entries in the series.
Especially when you have a military uniform on, troops are looking for you, and you see a soldier between you and the exit, surrounded by innocent people.
You realise how much power – and responsibility – you actually have.
Suddenly the old shortcuts that scream “bad guy alert” like the Meat King’s lair seem almost… cheap. We’re not some avenging angel. We’re the darkest thing here. The biggest baddie the series never had.
Again, I guess that’s the nature of killing for money. And an example of how the game’s shifted the narrative away from Absolution’s spoon feeding, and onto a framework we can hang our own stories on. It’s stronger for it.
So you press on, mission complete, secretly hoping you don’t have to open fire again. Not here. Not now. You’ve nothing against the people here, but the place feels like a powder keg, and you could very easily be the one to set it off. You don’t want to think about what happens after that.
Just get out. Get away clean.
Like I said earlier – there’s something about this Marrakesh episode that makes you feel more connected to broader events than before. Hitman games have always given you the option of hurting innocent people, but I didn’t want to, and for once it was for reasons beyond the fact it might hurt my score.
That’s probably this episode’s third biggest strength. Not to mention the biggest compliment I’ve ever paid to the emotional complexity of a game about contract murder.