Hitman: Episode One Review

Hitman Screenshot 1

Hitman is nothing if not ambitious in breadth and pricing. 15 greenbacks lands you a thorough prologue, custom contract creator, escalation missions, and the core fashion show assignment larger than most Hitman: Blood Money stages combined. But that content did not deter people from smearing Hitman as an overpriced demo. While we could discuss Io Interactive’s episodic business model at length, financial concerns cannot hamper this season’s promising start.

Hitman’s opening (speaking of) rewinds the clock 20 years, revealing Agent 47’s initial meeting with his handler Diana Burnwood and the ICA. The cutscenes might be light on exposition, but putting 47 through his paces was all the setup I needed to sate my assassin appetite. Hitman’s tutorial eases inexperienced and returning players into its world of espionage, illuminating such basics as knocking out a mechanic, poaching his uniform, eighty-sixing the body, then waltzing onto a cruise ship.

This introduction also plays up the franchise’s humor. Hitman speaks the language of dubious contract killing, but how do you keep a straight face when shoving someone’s head in the toilet? The ship serves as a prop, too. As Diana notes, the prologue involves a flashback and a simulation. It’s endearing while it lasts. Tarps indicate water, actors impersonate bystanders, and the warehouse walls that house the wooden vessel reside within spitting distance.

Look and touch all you want. Hitman rips off the training wheels in the second exercise, asking you to terminate the same sap again with one of several methods – explosives, drowning, fiber wire, gunshots, etc. A free-form approach to executions gave the franchise its identity, and this season has already fulfilled the potential of a contemporary Hitman game. The “Showstopper” mission sends Agent 47 to the present-day Sanguine Fashion Show, where people must purge Paris of Viktor Novikov and Dalia Margolis.

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I guess we’re on a need-to-know basis from now on, because I haven’t the foggiest idea how Viktor and Dalia’s deaths factor into the narrative yet. They auction off black market intel and manage an international spy network, and yet there’s zero substance to the plot. Go here, kill a person, wait for the next call. Hitman dumps players at the main menu after 47 eliminates Dalia and her associate, letting an unfinished air linger over this debut.

Objectives aside, strolling through the palace’s doors unveils a denser, more distinct crowd than those of Hitman: Absolution. Disturbing one of the attendees won’t attract the eyes of the other hundreds. But causing commotions is easily corrected once you lose pursuers in this winding mansion, a multi-tiered labyrinth of ostentatious wine cellars, private gardens, and Baroque-era offices. Linear environments stifled ingenuity in Hitman: Absolution, so finding fresh avenues of infiltration on a third, fourth, even fifth trip to Paris alleviated most complaints, not all.

How you execute Viktor and Dalia can vary from playthrough to playthrough. In one scenario, I dropped a chandelier on Viktor’s smug head and murdered Dalia with a neck snap. On another attempt, I drowned Vik in the river and scaled a balcony to poison Ms. Margolis. But sights and sounds remain unaffected. Novikov still addresses his audience in front of the palace’s grand staircase, just as Helmut Kruger (a model whose disguise you can “borrow”) poses next to the personal helicopter. In these circumstances, the AI appears more automated than organic, going through the motions until players intervene.

The inclusion of challenges – further divided into assassinations, discoveries, and feats – saves Hitman from a dearth of replay value. Although you’ll adhere to Io Interactive’s rules, igniting a fireworks display, then sniping Viktor and Dalia in ten seconds without blowing your cover is a worthwhile conquest. Discoveries and feats require discipline as well, like escaping the manor’s grounds in a speedboat or equipping every available outfit, respectively.

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Outfits work in a way unlike Hitman: Absolution’s. There’s no gimmick governing their efficacy. While similarly dressed NPCs can identify you as an intruder, most of the riffraff will not bat an eye. Disguises remain integral to the “opportunities,” which marshal Agent 47 through a mission step by step if he eavesdrops on the relevant conversation. You could ignore opportunities or disable them, though they lead to elaborate assassinations and check off multiple challenges in the process.

All three challenge types reward you handsomely. They contribute to your mastery level, which unlocks additional starting locations, smuggled items, and weapons to choose from during the planning stage. A lethal syringe awaited me in the garden shed, though I could’ve requested a lockpick in a stack of newspapers, or demanded that an assault rifle be stored in the attic. If I wanted to spawn in the kitchen with proximity mines, Hitman granted me those options.

I’d almost say Hitman is limitless in light of the loadouts and executions available, and a host of gameplay tweaks support that sentiment. For the crème de la crème, Hitman lets fans thrive on their intuition, not just 47’s. I disabled the mini map and instinct mode that tracks NPCs through walls, and boy was it a bad idea. I gave away my criminal intentions in seconds. You could go a step further, however, turning off NPC icons that convey their rising suspicion, panic, or threat.

You likely have more patience than I do. Even toddlers do. You either blossom or bomb when switching off the HUD’s features, but Io Interactive ensures failure is less discouraging. Hitman lets users generate save files on a whim – a pleasing remedy considering Hitman: Absolution’s unreliable checkpoints. Random casualties seldom impede my plans, though I have friends that consider the job a bust if enemies expose Agent 47 once.

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I prefer to live with the consequences, especially when Hitman is cursed with such long loading times. I stopped scanning the challenge list whenever menus refused to show assassination or discovery requirements for ten seconds or more, and restarting missions wastes upwards of a minute as if there was a medal for doing so.

Player-created contracts are not spared from these technical nuisances, either. The differences between custom assignments and the story’s are your targets and tools of disposal, which may not contain enough variance for the Hitman admirer that seeks out each built-in discovery and execution. You can tag and murder NPCS with any weapon and attire of your choosing, but to reiterate, the Parisian settings remain unchanged. Not even I dig Hitman that much.

Escalations operate in tiers, however, foiling déjà vu. Finish an escalation and you’ll unlock the next level, where the developers tack another objective onto a mission’s demands. I stabbed a runway star with scissors while doubling as his stylist. I was in and out, three minutes flat. Next time, I could be dodging heightened security or cracking a safe before slaying the same targets again. Fun, right?

I thought so. Because the celebrity, bodyguard, and other staff outfits permit entry to particular areas, I spent hours observing AI patterns, using distractions or dropped items to lure fools into traps. The results never fail to entertain.

Hitman’s premier episode indulges the player first, the story second. Okay, perhaps the loading screens come first, but the developers allowed me to work out the kinks as Agent 47 without Absolution’s preposterous plot interruptions. Io Interactive keeps the whispers in your ears to a minimum, solidifying the Sanguine Fashion Show as the season benchmark for exploration and interaction. Even if episode one frivols away the audiovisual novelty of a ritzy French gathering, Hitman means more Hitman. To that I say so far, so good.

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided.

Hitman Review

Hitman’s pioneer episode does right by the Hitman name. Dozens of challenges and user-generated assassinations offer untold hours of replay value, even when the exotic sounds and sights of Paris lose their allure.