Part of the fun of Hitman is doing bad things to bad people, right under the noses of the general public.
This latest episode helped me realise how much the ‘general public’ plays into that.
At their best, Hitman maps convey a strong sense of place. There’s a distinctive identity to them that makes the time spent wandering around probing defenses fly by. There are interesting things to see and little snippets of the ‘real world’ that you can catch before taking a deep breath, breaking through security, and getting on with the job.
Colorado does not do this. You can almost imagine 47’s weary sigh and eye roll after being informed that, after trips to various popular holiday destinations, he was off to a farm. He hasn’t even bothered to dress smartly.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s still Hitman, and still solid. But herein lies the problem – without that sense of place and capturing the identity of a location, it is ‘just’ business as usual. It’s missing a little something to elevate it.
There are still plenty of inventive and/ or amusing ways to dispatch, avoid or eliminate people, but it feels like it’s breaking and entering into a military stronghold. Yes, yes they are freedom fighters/ terrorists, depending how you look at it, and there’s some intriguing text glitches that, at worse, are horrible oversights on the developers’ part, or at best – given the plot – clever 4th wall-breaking nods.
But there’s not much here you haven’t done in some form before. In fact, if you read that last paragraph and thought “oh, it sounds kind of like it’s doing a weird impression of Metal Gear Solid”, you’d be right on the money.
Without the excitement of a vibrant and exotic new location to distract you, it all feels a little… tired. This map feels like it’s built for cutting loose in Contracts mode, with the lack of innocent bystanders, but it feels like the game’s traded some of its identity for it. You never had Snake trying to find a way to get from a busy hotel reception to a makeshift recording studio in the suites above, all while listening to rich guests bitch about how much of the place has been closed off. Dozens of gaming icons, however, have snuck into makeshift bases in remote locations over the years.
The only real upside to the vague “farm in Colorado” setting is the British and American accents make more sense than in previous episodes. But it’s crucially lacking a strong identity beyond this; Hitman’s finest hour, this is not.
Gameplay’s still strong, though, but – as always – the AI is still easily cheesed. This is either A) endearing and amusing and part of the game’s charm, or B) completely undermines the experience, depending how you look at it. For example, guards will still hear you crowbar a door open, come and look as you hide, then go back to what they were doing without thinking too much about how their ultra-secure location has been more than a little compromised.
My personal favourite AI oddity was the guard who saw me trespassing, and informed me that ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’. Here? On a farm in rural Colorado surrounded by heavily-armed people that aren’t necessarily on the right side of the law themselves?
I decided to assume he was cracking a joke.
Again, all this isn’t to say it’s bad – but the shine has come off a little with this episode. Ultimately, though, it’s here to propel the story forwards. Which it does. Sure, there’s a slightly strange narrative beat at the end I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but long-time fans of the series in particular will most likely get a kick out of this episode’s revelations. Though they may also grimace at Diana swearing – you’ve been warned.
It’s safe to say that this episode is something of a wobble in a long season. For all its faults, though, it sets up a potentially great next episode – especially if it follows through on the threat of a game of cat-and-mouse hinted at by the end of your time in Colorado.