HITMAN has reached the halfway mark of its planned episodic release. I phrase it that way because Square Enix has used terminology like “first season” to describe the six episodes that make up the game. Io-Interactive gets a big round of applause from me for releasing quality missions every month. The fact that the game still must head to Thailand, the United States and Japan before conclusion makes the imagination run wild.As much coverage as we provide on this game here at R.A.G.E. Works, I am constantly asked if the game is any good. I figured it with half of the main story content being out now that it was time to answer that question. Here is a piece by piece analysis.
DIG A TRENCH In my initial review, I explained that the story begins before any of the Hitman titles. It then jumps ahead twenty years to present day. At the time, we could easily dismiss that as an excuse to setup tutorial missions. Agent 47 does essentially have to “graduate” the ICA initiate program before you truly begin the game. As players proceed through the contracts, it becomes clear that something is up. After the final exam, an unknown man narrates the exploits of 47 and he seems upset. I suspect that we will not know what about until at least episode five. This same individual seems to be at or near every location that 47 visits. At the end of the Marrakesh episode, it looks like his goal was information, but a person like does not seek knowledge for its own sake. The fact that he is seemingly aware of all that 47 has done over the past twenty years suggests that he has it out for him and/or the agency. Io cold not have done a better job building suspense if they used LEGO pieces with precise instructions.
MASTERY LEVEL 20 What is probably the most frustrating aspect of HITMAN is also what makes the game a lot of fun to play. The tutorial teaches you how to control him and you get really good by the time you have accomplished all of the feats and beat all of the challenges. Then you move to the next destination and it is like you never played the game before again. The element of surprise and need for discovery keeps the game fresh over and over.
Now I will not go on record as a supporter of episodic release. I like being able to have the whole game in my hand right away. That said, I cannot see HITMAN having been released any other way. Specifically for this title, episodic release, in my opinion, adds an element of realism and helps deliver the story to the player. The main game itself is not long at all. If a person only completes each story mission once they have done nothing wrong but they will not get the full benefit of HITMAN either. It is the challenge and satisfaction of the different assassination methods that keep us coming back. The replay value is what increases the play time of the game.
On top of that, you add Escalation and Featured contracts. Escalation contracts really teach you the layout of an area and develop your skills. Having to accomplish multiple hits sometimes against a clock or with everyone seeing through your disguises with explosives all around makes you get extremely creative. Featured contracts allow the community to come up with their own scenarios and some of them are truly amazing. The PlayStation 4 benefits from the addition of the Sarajevo Six side story which adds weight to the main story and gives you more challenges to complete. The crème de la crème comes in the form of Elusive Targets. I said before that the episodic release adds an element of realism to the game and these specific contracts take that to the next level. Your insight ability cannot help you locate the target. If you either fail the mission or miss the time window, the target escapes forever. You have to pay attention to the briefing information and use that to locate the target. There are no opportunities presented, so you must make your own. While I am not in the business of killing people, I would think that this is how a real assassin works. Depending upon how good you are at the game, I would say that HITMAN currently has at least twenty to thirty hours of play available and the game is only half released. Make of that what you will, but that is what I call bang for your buck.
SHOWSTOPPER Tell me the last time that you saw an ugly game from Square Enix; don’t worry, I will wait. HITMAN has been an utter “eyegasm” going all the way back to when the beta was released. The ICA facility is bland and full of drab colors because I don’t know what else to expect from an abandoned missile silo in the mountains. Even then, the game had beautiful textures and character designs. When the first episode released, we got to see Paris and the Sanguine fashion show was damn near flawless. There are rare instances of glitches where people are inside one another (get your mind out of the gutter) but it is nothing like previous games. The option to set the framerate to a locked 30fps or variable 30-60 has kept the game from having any slowdown or freezing issues. This is necessary because the Paris level has well over one hundred NPCs moving about the Palais de Walewska. Sapienza lowered the NPC count, but went crazy with lighting effects, draw distance and water effects. Episode 2 of the game is possibly the most beautiful game setting to date. The only downside of which is how under-utilized the buildings in the area are. Io-Interactive dropped the ball with the placement of the second Elusive Target, but that is a different discussion. Marrakesh takes the cake so far. It is not as big as Sapienza, but there may be more people than in Paris and the bug fixes implemented before the update have made (almost) everything run smoothly. There is still the issue of ragdoll bodies that magically snap away as Agent 47 is dragging them. Please try to fix that Io, thank you. There are few games this year that look this good and have so few technical issues at the same time.
If you were to read Square Enix’ forums for HITMAN, you would see a ton of complaints. Most of them are from people who in their entitled minds think that Square Enix must kowtow to their every demand. There are of course legitimate complaints. Yesterday when the Marrakesh update launched a lot of customers who bought the full experience were being asked to pay for the new content. The thing is that Square Enix is actively reading and addressing these complaints. Many of the technical issues the game had at launch are now gone. The “pay for already paid content” issue was resolved within a few hours yesterday. Hitman is like another Square Enix title Just Cause 3 where you need to be connected to the internet to get the full gaming experience. Yesterday, the servers were down in North America, making a lot of the Hitman content unplayable. That issue was fixed within an hour. Yes, just like any other title, this game has its flaws, but there is so much more that is great about it. The stealth element keeps it challenging and also keeps the replay value high. The graphics and music are amazing. The NPC chatter is often very funny and it is nice to see that the game does not take itself too seriously. Even though I am just beginning to get my feet wet in episode three, I cannot wait to see what comes next. Once again, I am not signing off on the episodic release, but everything about the presentation of HITMAN will have you hooked. If you have not purchased it yet, you are literally missing out. Buy the full version because the individual episodes will cost you more. If the remainder of the game were terrible (which I don’t see happening) you already get your money’s worth with the first half. This is one of the titles of this gaming generation that no one should miss.