Hitman Episode 1 Review: Just One Target at a Time
The latest entry into IO Interactive’s long-running Hitman series has finally arrived and is simply titled: Hitman. The succinct naming of this most recent entry rather accurately reflects the nature of the game itself. This is the Hitman series in its purest form; it is many years and many games worth of refinement, fine tuning, trial and error – this is the Hitman gameplay that fans have been waiting for, wrapped up in an interesting package that also makes it a good point of entry for series newcomers.
The draw of the Hitman series has always been about executing the perfect assassination. Everyone has their own idea of what the perfect assassination looks like and what made the Hitman games so popular was that they were great at accommodating to your vision. Do you want to snipe your target through a window from a mile away? Maybe you would prefer to pose as a waiter and poison their meal at a restaurant? Or perhaps subtlety just isn’t your style and you would prefer to blow up their house. The tools were at your disposal, it was up to you and your creative ambition to do with them as you choose.
This is still very much the case for the latest Hitman game. Gameplay-wise, this feels like classic Hitman remade for the modern gaming era in almost every aspect, and one of the best examples of this is in the level design. Levels are still elaborate sandboxes with complex event schedules and intricacies - only now they are bigger and far more intricate. There are more intertwining stories and events taking place, more intractable objects throughout the environment and a ridiculous amount of NPCs littered throughout the maps. All of which is only possible with the power of the latest generation of consoles.
Having huge open sandbox levels with plenty of ins and outs is all well and good, but if you aren’t given a good reason to explore and experiment with your surroundings, then the marvel of the intricate level design might be wasted. This is where one of the best new features of Hitman comes in. Every level has a huge list of optional challenges that can be completed for various rewards. These challenges range in difficulty; some may be simple, one-step tasks such as “Kill the target with a headshot”, whilst others may require multiple steps such as “Subdue the bodyguard, enter the kitchen, subdue the waiter, poison the champagne, kill the target with the poisoned champagne, take the target’s phone, escape on the helicopter” etc.
Completing these challenges rewards mastery points for that particular level, which is effectively just a leader board system. However, some challenges unlock additional perks or weapons that can be used when replaying the level. It’s a great system that offers a huge amount of replayability to the game, yet you have to be the type of person that doesn’t mind playing through the exact same level numerous times to really enjoy it.
And this is where the big issue lies with this latest Hitman installment. The game has been broken up into seven episodes to be released over the coming year, with each episode featuring a new level. The base game costs $15 and includes two tutorial levels and one mission (these tutorial levels are huge and almost as dense as the main level, complete with their own long list of unique challenges). So as it stands, if you want to play Hitman right now, all you can do is play the same levels over and over again until the next level is released later on down the line. A full, disc-based retail release is scheduled for Q1 next year so if the prospect of piece-meal Hitman sounds unappealing to you, it might be worth waiting.
However in my opinion, this episodic system sounds perfectly suited to the Hitman series. I really enjoy taking my time with these games, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the levels and then exchanging anecdotes with friends about the ridiculous ways we completed different challenges. This scrupulous poking and prodding at the game can be taxing, and having numerous levels to do this with all at once could feel overwhelming and exhausting, so the idea of having a break in between levels so that these conversations can still happen and be relevant is very appealing.
On paper, one level per episode may sound as if Hitman is light on content, however I’d argue that it’s fair for the price of entry. There are a few other modes included such as the “Featured Contract” and “Elusive Target” modes that are unique spins on existing levels, and there’s also an interesting mission creator/editor mode that allows you to create your own challenges for the levels and then upload them for others to play. The mission editor is an interesting and simple system to use, which could also provide some neat additional content for hungry players.
In terms of aesthetic design, Hitman looks good overall with decent textures and some really nice particle effects; but when you take into account the size of the crowds and the number of NPC’s that are being simulated, it’s rather impressive that the game manages to remain as stable as it does. I didn’t encounter any graphical issues in my many hours of gameplay, yet I did run into a few scripting and clipping issues that were easy to ignore. However, one of the more glaring technical issues that I encountered were some very excessive load times, particularly when loading into a level for the first time. I also encountered significant load times when browsing through the challenges menu which seemed to be the result of heavy network load (the game connects to an online server to retrieve this information).
I’ve neglected to mention any story details so far, as what I’ve seen of the story has been vague and uninteresting. Fans of the series know that Hitman storylines can get pretty crazy, so I’m hoping that this is the direction that the later episodes take.
Hitman feels like the natural modernisation of the long-running Hitman franchise. It retains the classic feel of the series by blending it’s unique brand of abstract logic-puzzle mechanics with compelling action and stealth gameplay to create a really engaging and cerebral experience that fans have come to know and love. The new episodic structure will be the biggest point of division amongst consumers and there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the coming episodes, however if the quality remains at the level presented in the first episode, then we’ve got a lot to look forward to.
Final Verdict: Play It