Like many fans of the franchise, I walked away from 2012’s Hitman: Absolution disappointed. That outing’s not even particularly bad, it just lacked the creativity and variety that past entries brought to the table. After two well-received mobile iterations, though, IO Interactive thawed Agent 47 out for last year’s episodic Hitman. Running throughout 2016, this new approach not only served as a reminder about how a solid stealth game should be crafted, but also was a demonstration of how a spaced-out release schedule could be beneficial. With another season scheduled for the future, Square Enix has brought together all six episodes in the physical Complete First Season package.
Hitman boils the long-running franchise down to its best elements. At the outset of each of the five missions (plus the training mission), you’re given the location and the targets you’re sent to eliminate. You have the option to alter what items you have on you at the start, specifically what gun you carry and what other side gear (wire, coins, lockpick) you wish to utilize. From there, you’re dropped into your location and essentially given free reign to approach the mission as you wish. You could make your way directly to your targets, or you can choose to sneak around in order to stumble upon some alternate ways of handling the challenge. What this ends up leading to is a feeling that no two runs are ever the same, even if you try the same approach twice in a row.
Like the best entry in the series, Hitman: Blood Money, Agent 47 has a staggering amount of ways to complete his job here. Let’s say in the Paris mission, you want to eliminate mogul/spy Dalia Margolis by poison. If you want to, you can enter into her massive estate, locate some rat poison, sneak into her room and poison her drink while she’s on the phone. For the more creative killer, though, you can seek out 47 look-a-like/Margolis operative Helmut Kruger, steal his identity, walk up to Diana’s office with little trouble and lace her drink with cyanide. These are two similar, but still distinct ways of approaching the mission that fit whatever style of play you have.
This variety is the result of the work put in by IO Interactive in creating the locales Agent 47 visits. Since the game is only comprised of six levels, the studio was able to make each one feel completely different. The NPCs are unique to where they’re stationed, both in design and personality, which makes the constant costume changing never feel redundant. Almost every level, from the advanced hospital of Hokkaido or the gorgeous coasts of Sapienza, is expertly laid out and jammed full of inventive ways to take out your target.
I say almost, because one of the missions, the late-stage Freedom Fighters, feels like a misstep from IO. Unlike the others, this one has Agent 47 sneaking onto a military training ground in Colorado. It succeeds at being a very tense mission of espionage, but it lacks the variety and creativity that’s overflowing in the other levels. It stifles your imagination in a way that feels like it almost came from an older version of Hitman or even another game completely. None of the missions are explicitly terrible, but when you only have six missions in total, one being of even slightly lower quality sticks out like a sore thumb.
Being on the high alert military base did reiterate one of main reasons for loving Hitman, though. It’s a stealth game that truly emphasizes being stealthy. Agent 47 is a high-level killer who’s proficient with any weapon available, but he’s not a bullet-sponge. So, if you get detected by anyone, you’re going to have to flee more often than not. This gives the game a sense of danger that, in turn, makes it more enjoyable to play.
While it would be easy to describe a title that only contains six levels as short on content, Hitman defies that description. For something that seems short from the outside, the First Season package includes a staggering amount of gameplay. Before even getting to the optional missions, you can easily mine 5-6 hours from each of the main missions just by figuring out the unique ways to dispatch each target. Mastering each mission, which is accomplished by figuring out every special kill, as well as completing other tasks, opens up new spawn locations and add-ons for each stage.
Once you find yourself comfortable with each mission, you can then begin targeting other side-quests. The Escalation Missions are a blast to play, as IO not only tests your ability to memorize patterns, but also your ability to adapt to unique challenges. The constantly updated Elusive Targets are kills that are supremely challenging (you only get one chance at each one), but provide a substantial reward upon completion. And if you happen to finish all of these side-missions, as well the included Bonus Missions and PS4-exclusive Sarajevo Six series of targets, you can still hop online and download new Contracts from a deep database. There’s easily 40+ hours of content here, and with the promise of more over the coming months, it’s crazy to think how much has been crammed into one episodic package.
There is a storyline running through all six chapters of Hitman, but it failed to generate any interest in me. In this season, Agent 47 works with the ICA (International Contracts Agency) in order to eliminate different targets that at first seem separate, but are soon revealed to be linked. Storytelling has never been the strongest suit of the franchise (why they made two films out of it, I’ll never understand), and that doesn’t change here. The next season seems like it could look into 47’s past, but I honestly hope it doesn’t. I don’t need to know about the childhood or love life of my bald, super-assassin, thank you very much.
The jump to current-gen consoles has done wonders for the visuals of the series. Agent 47 looks great, even if he’s not the most expressive character. What’s really impressive, though, are the levels. They’re not only stunning, but they’re all filled with excellent details that truly give them life. It would be also be a mistake to not point out the Niels Bye Nielsen composed soundtrack, which frequently moves from suspenseful to mysterious, which perfectly suits the titular assassin.
When the release plan was first unveiled Hitman: The Complete First Season, I was concerned. The move to episodic releases seemed like an odd fit for the franchise, and it wasn’t clarified as to how much content each part would deliver. As we approach the one-year anniversary of Episode 1, though, it’s clear to say that this experiment was a success. The franchise has been completely revitalized thanks to perfectly-paced missions and a stream of content that should continue to run for the next few months. With the disappointment of Absolution being forgiven, I’m excited to see where Agent 47 goes from here.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us.
With the exception of a late episode misstep, Hitman: The Complete First Season is a perfectly designed showcase for the skills of Agent 47, as well as an excellent demonstration of the benefits of an episodic release structure.