3-16-2017_11-21-27_AM

Hitman: The Complete First Season Review

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Initially released as a series of digital episodes throughout 2016, the first season of Hitman has finally made it’s way to disk in this compilation. The world’s greatest assassin is back to kill some more shady characters using the series’ trademark stealth and disguise techniques, and he’s in top form. The slow pace and methodical game-play might turn off action junkies, but this is a must-play for Hitman fans, or fans of stealth games in general.

Game-play should be familiar to long-time fans, returning the series to its non-linear roots after Absolution’s foray into more linear design. Each of the games 6 episodes presents a location in intricate detail, gives you a number of targets to track down and eliminate, and leaves the rest to you. The focus is on stealth and planning, but you have a wide latitude in determining your exact approach. Agent 47 can don an array of disguises, allowing him to walk past security and enter restricted areas. He can use more traditional stealth techniques, creeping through the shadows and slipping past guards. He can even go in guns blazing if you really want, though if a shootout is what you’re after, you’re probably playing the wrong game.

The games disguise system has been overhauled somewhat, though the core idea of finding disguises that let you enter new areas where you can find more disguises to enter more areas remains the same. Unlike in Absolution, in which disguises were ineffective against anyone wearing the same outfit, disguises in Hitman work against all character types. However, certain characters, identified by white circles over their head when using 47’s object-highlighting “Instinct” mode, are more perceptive than others and will see through your disguise if given enough time. Keeping out of such characters line of sight, or finding  new disguises that they cannot see through, is a big part of stealth in Hitman. Observation, forward planning, and timing are the name of the game here, and careless players will soon find themselves in hot water.

Keeping an eye on a few NPC’s might sound easy enough, but the task is complicated by the impressive size and complexity of the game’s levels. Every stage is crawling with characters of every type, each working to to their own schedules. Guards, civilians, and targets all move around the map, talk to each other, and react to your actions and appearance. Keeping track of who’s going where, who knows what, and who can penetrate your current disguise can be a real challenge.

The more conventional stealth route is a little less interesting, though still fun. Enemies suffer from the seemingly eternal condition of video game guards: extreme tunnel vision. If something isn’t directly within their line of sight, it may as well not exist. This often makes it a little easier than it should be to sneak past even the more observant enemies, particularly as it can take them some time to see through your disguise and they often see nothing strange about their supposed co-worker creeping from cover to cover to break their line of sight. Still, high security areas make up for individual deficiencies with sheer numbers, so there’s still plenty of challenge to be had if you want to get that coveted “Silent Assassin” rating.

No matter how silent you are though, at some point you’re going to make a mistake and get caught. When that happens, things take a turn for the less thoughtful and more violent. Sadly, combat in Hitman is fairly primitive. A basic melee combat system allows 47 to incapacitate enemies with either his bare hands or a variety of lethal and nonlethal weapons. For bigger fights, he can pull out his gun and start shooting, though this obviously alerts anyone within earshot. Not that that matters too much, because the bad guys really aren’t much good in a firefight. They have a tendency to leave cover, come at you one at a time, and generally act like they’re auditioning for a role as an extra in the next Expendables movie. The AI is only one step above Goldeneye. Of course, you aren’t supposed to be shooting people at all if you can help it, and the game is much more fun if you don’t, but it’s a little disheartening to realize that all your careful planning and sneaking is completely unnecessary, and you could probably just kill all the guards and cut down your target with a fire ax if you really wanted to.

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, this is a game with a lot of choices.  You can adopt different disguises, take different routes to your target, and score kills in a host of ways. As well as an array of guns, poisons, explosives, and other tools that you can use as you see fit, the game also includes a handful of predefined methods, called “opportunities” to take out each target. These are broken down into a set of objectives (find a particular disguise, reach a specific area, etc), which end in a clean, silent kill. It’s not quite as simple as just following a checklist though. Each opportunity starts out hidden, and to unlock it you’ll have to find some key information hidden somewhere in the level. It’s nice to have an incentive to explore and look around rather than just take the shortest route to the target and shoot them in the face, and the game almost always rewards your exploration with something, whether that be an opportunity, a disguise, or just a useful weapon or item.

The large levels and plethora of options give the game fantastic replay value. There’s always a place you haven’t explored, a strategy you haven’t used, or a method you haven’t attempted, so you can go back to levels again and again without getting bored. The game even allows you to switch out 47’s equipment and starting location, allowing you to come at the stage from a completely different angle.

The story is substantially less interesting than the game-play. A mysterious individual is seeking to manipulate the International Contract Agency, 47’s employer, for his own ends in a war against an equally mysterious organisation. His mysterious plan involves using the ICA to eliminate particular targets with mysterious ties to the organisation. It’s all very mysterious, but sadly it never really goes anywhere. You travel to a location, kill some people, watch a cut-scene that delivers some cryptic hints, then go to another location to repeat the process. None of the characters are very interesting, and the overarching plot feels empty and directionless. Perhaps later seasons will develop the plot in a more interesting way, but for now this definitely isn’t a game to play for the story.

Aside from the story issues though, there’s really no excuse for stealth fans not to play this game. It’s possibly the most complete realization of the Hitman formula to date, with huge, detailed levels, endless options, and enough depth to keep you  exploring for days. With Hitman, developer IO Interactive have shown once again that when it comes to assassinating your free time, they’re as good as any ICA agent.

 

Hitman was played on Xbox One



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