It’s taken three episodes, but Hitman and I have reached a rapport. Obsessive-compulsive to a fault, I stagger through each episode on my first attempt, abusing reloads, committing the AI’s habits to memory, and pocketing any trinkets not nailed down. When I then revisited Paris and Sapienza a second time, my sticky fingers and mind aided flawless executions amid massive environments, where my victims fell prey to a wide array of fatal “accidents.” Now we’re at the climax of this season, where fans can already see the burden of Hitman’s episodic format.
Episode three flies Agent 47 to a rowdy Marrakesh, Morocco, where controversy and animosity surround Claus Hugo Strandberg. As the former CEO of Morocco’s largest private bank, Claus embezzled billions of dollars from the local people. The public wants his head on a stake, but Strandberg retreated to the Swedish Consulate while protesters assembled outside. Breaching the embassy will be a challenge, though not impossible, for 47.
Strandberg’s partner in crime, one General Reza Zaydan, also barricaded himself indoors. With dozens of soldiers under his command, Zaydan enacted martial law in response to the outrage over Claus. In private, however, Zaydan has prepared a coup d’etat that would overthrow the Moroccan government. I’m not sure who’s more evil in this scenario, but players cannot allow these frauds to destabilize the economy – your clients stand to lose millions in building contracts alone if the pair succeed.
That said, the two take no precautions. Strandberg owes Zaydan for his jailbreak from a prison transport, and Zaydan needs Strandberg’s corrupt image to mount his revolution. I’d think both targets would attach themselves at the hip for the time being, though that’s not the case. Claus walks the sterile halls of that dreary, immaculate embassy unattended; Zaydan patrols the city’s crumbling school – now a requisitioned HQ. It would be fascinating to study how both halves of Marrakesh’s populace live, except nothing ever comes of the set dressing.
Despite Diana’s assertions that “the protests are only a stone throw away from full-blown riots,” the rebels seem like a waste of programming. Hundreds of Moroccan residents jeer and pump fists in response to their leader’s proclamations outside the consulate, but they don’t storm the compound. While the legion’s size is a sight to behold, you can’t agitate the rally members, and the mob does not disband when someone fires a few bullets into its midst. The crowds exist to look pretty among the brown and grey vistas.
If the riots had any effect, it’s in the number of armed forces that guard Marrakesh. Zaydan has erected blockades on every street, which officers and grunts pass through without trouble. You can borrow the disguise of a headmaster, janitor, or masseuse, yet the only guaranteed way to approach Zaydan or Strandberg requires some camo and a beret. It’s boring, albeit effective. I could understand Io Interactive testing fans by leaving fewer routes to our targets, but with this season and past releases, Hitman excels when players are afforded more room to experiment, not less.
In that regard, the Hitman rendition of Marrakesh is quite lacking. During my first playthrough, I had to stick to the classics, giving Claus a lethal swirly in a vacant restroom and choking the life from his Army buddy. The gameplay hasn’t lost its touch – it’s still satisfying to pester the AI to monitor what bends or breaks – but it has been dumbed down. The more ingenious kills don’t present themselves as readily as Sapienza’s exploding golf ball or antique cannons.
I’m of two minds on that. Although it felt rewarding staging an assassination that most players might not witness, Hitman derives its amusement from insane executions; walling them behind hours of patient observation will ruffle fanatics that love exploring story missions to their fullest before moving to other modes. Because there appears to be fewer one-of-a-kind murders to uncover, too, I leave it to you to figure out applications for an old printing press, falling toilets, or pay phones. They’re good for a laugh or two.
Marrakesh’s academy and embassy, however, are two sides to a disparate whole; they are too segregated. When I broke the general’s neck and vacated the premises, I never returned to the HQ – for uniforms, weapons, or otherwise. It became a far-off memory, as neither Claus’s nor Reza’s subordinates warn each other when the top brass goes missing, even though the map looks smaller than Sapienza. Sapienza did a sensational job of encouraging players to tour the town, like asking Agent 47 to steal a church-going scientist’s credentials for use back at the lab.
Marrakesh also reeks of a rush to meet deadlines, given its performance issues. I notice minor details, such as 47 climbing stairs step by step – they build immersion. But other warts tarnish Hitman’s character, like watching oblivious civilians slide out of the way when Agent 47 nudges them, or seeing him ghost through people like Patrick Swayze. And I’d advise you not to run in public – sprinting through dozens of bystanders tanks the frame rate. Maybe the bigger crowds explain the inconsistent load times, which range from seconds to minutes once again.
Even so, I am impressed by the degree of detail that Io Interactive coaxed out of the team in a month. The Swedish Consulate juxtaposes a town of makeshift brick, where stall owners hawk their off-brand sunglasses and pedestrians share a public hookah. Marrakesh is a world apart from Sapienza, reminding viewers there are less favorable existences than contract killing.
As for the story (the weakest element of this season so far), the plot begins to escalate at last. Someone has it out for the shadowy organization called Providence, managing to steal untold amounts of information on the group’s operatives. Maybe this mystery man that we’ve seen in previous cutscenes has similar goals as Agent 47 and the ICA. Io Interactive would do well to establish concrete answers before the Hitman season concludes, though I’m anticipating what happens next.
While we wait, I can only reiterate so much of what I love without browbeating your nerves or mine. Utilizing overheard conversations to track down unique NPCs, nick their wardrobes, and stay three steps ahead of your victims, for instance, is an interactive highlight that other stealth franchises should aspire to. I looted the former headmaster’s key to the school, having learned that he kept it for sentimental sake, which helped me sneak in behind the academy instead of announcing my presence via the front door.
Hitman still compensates the curious, sharing experience points for feats like tossing coins in a fountain or masquerading as a fortune teller. While I see many deaths in Agent 47’s future, this season was bound to come crashing down after Sapienza’s soaring achievements, right? Six episodes can’t tie for the best. Unless the developers take praise for their depictions of Paris or Sapienza to heart, however, I predict additional disappointment for Hitman enthusiasts, too.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided.
Hitman manages to retain its strong gameplay core in episode three, despite a couple of setbacks.