When Square Enix first announced that the next game in the Hitman series was going to be episodic, it was received with quite the skepticism. Fans, including us, were worried if this was going to be yet another attempt at milking the consumer by yet another big publisher. And rightly so, since the previous entry in the series, Hitman: Absolution, got tepid response, and was widely regarded as a dumbing down from the previous entries in the series.
Turns out, we could not have been more wrong. The episodic format has been a very effective means for the way the new Hitman game is crafted. It furthermore gave players a reason to keep coming back,not only for future episodes, but also for a regular outflow of free DLC challenges, and made the game a subject of conversations throughout the year.
The game starts off with a prologue set prior to the series, that establishes the origins of Agent 47 and brings to context the people involved around him, including Diana Burnwood, his handler, and Erich Soders, the Training Director at the international Contracts Agency.
The plot then shifts to 7 years after the events in Hitman: Absolution, where Agent 47 is taking out specific targets across the globe at the behest of an unknown client. While the story in itself is nothing exceptional, it’s good enough to keep the plot moving along. It’s the missions and the design around them that are outstanding. The locations are varied, with the targets ranging from leaders in the fashion industry to influential bankers, and even rockstars.
You start off (once the prologue is over) in Paris, where your target is the head of a fashion label, Sanguine. You have to infiltrate a fashion show, making your way through multiple levels, all intricately woven together. The multitude of choices you have in order to deliver death upon your targets is absolutely satisfying. Exploring the level, taking up disguises, stalking your target for the right opportunity to reveal itself, and eventually striking at the right moment feels exciting, and tense. Multiple challenges come in your way, like needing the right outfit to enter certain areas, or specific tools to access others.
However the highlight of the show is the number of ways you can assassinate the target, from something as simple as poisoning their drink, and sneaking up on them as they throw up in a toilet, to making a hospital AI go rogue, in turn killing the patient (who’s also your target) she’s operating on.
The locations are varied enough to keep feeling fresh for all the six episodes, with each having their unique set of challenges and approaches. The game gives you enough freedom to get creative, and getting creative is rewarded as such. The game also has a high replay value, and jumping back into missions to tackle the objective in an entirely different manner leads to opening up new paths you may not have seen or even anticipated. This was one of the reasons why I absolutely loved the episodic nature of the game. If this had been a usual complete package, I may have blazed through the missions one after the other and be done with it. However, since every mission can be done in a couple of hours, i kept going went back to discover new ways of taking the targets out.
The levels have been careful designed to provide multiple solutions to each problem. The focus is primarily on stealth, and getting into a gunfight will hardly ever lead to success.
The missions are then complimented with added content like Elusive Targets and Escalations. Elusive Targets are timed missions, where targets appear on the level for a set period of time, adn will disappear permanently once that time is past. You also get one attempt to take them down, and failure to do so is also permanent.
Escalations are contracts created by developers with multiple stages, wherein as you keep clearing stages they throw new challenges at you, including killing targets with specific weapons/objects, and the levels keep getting increasingly difficulty.
The game also looks good. It’s no Witcher or GTA, but all the locations have their own look and feel to them. Lighting in specific areas are rather well done, making the game look really pretty at times. The missions themselves take you to underground caves, science facilities, resorts, and more, all of which look very different from each other. The game will not get stale, I promise. There’s honestly a lot here.
IO Interactive has shown how well episodic content can be done, and added to that with the regular flow of content between episodes. While this may be essentially a sequel to the previous games, it truly feels like a new start for the franchise, with nothing but good to be expected of it in the future.
For more news and reviews, keep checking back at Gaming Central.