Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, macOS
Hitman, a series I’ve wanted to like since it launched, but still have not found the right game in the series. Well, it’s time to tackle another one. We come to Hitman or Hitman 2016 if you want to differentiate it from the other Hitman game from 2000. This is the IO Interactive’s attempt at episodic content. Let’s see how they did.
I’m reviewing this as it’s one of the three Humble Monthly Bundle Early Unlocks for November 2018. This is the second game I’m reviewing with Hollow Knight already reviewed, and 7 Days to Die coming up next.
Like I said in the beginning, I’ll put my bias on display. I’ve played almost every Hitman game, with the exception of Hitman Contracts, and every time I’ve left disappointed. While Absolution was decent in a lot of ways, I found it also frustrating at times, and didn’t enjoy it fully.
I kept hearing that Hitman is almost like a puzzle game, and that sounds interesting, but previous versions seemed to treat the puzzle style as almost trial and error. Long load times, weak save systems, and frustrating levels have marred my experiences with the series. So I swore off the series, but with Humble Monthly Bundle putting in its Early Unlocks, I must dive back in…. And I’m kind of glad I have.
Now Hitman is actually a great looking series, and it’s the one constant in the series. Hitman 2016 though looks really good. Agent 47, the main character is well detailed and a number of mission-critical characters look great. Though at the same time, the average generic NPC looks very generic. I’m a little disappointed at that, but at the same time, the game gets away with amazing scenes. There are a number of large parties, packed streets, hundreds of people on screen at one time, and the game somehow makes it looks crowded while also not running awfully.
The crowds in the game are amazing, though a bit generic.
Admittedly there’s going to be some trade-offs, but for the most part, I didn’t have any complaints in the graphics department. The game looks very good in almost every area and the environments are quite detailed. Though it is a shame that the detail is only graphical. If an explosion goes off, there’s no damage done to the walls or structures in a room. Throwing a grenade in a small room kills anyone in it, but doesn’t create a new entrance or exit. It’s a shame because it would create an interesting new dynamic to the game, but I also can understand the limitations of the engine.
The story of Hitman is decent. There are really good moments to the game, and the story is ever present. The game starts with Agent 47 (again the main character) being recruited by ICA, who is his agency for most of these games. After two rather great training missions, the player is then taken to the future after the previous games in the series take place, where he has to assassinate a famous husband and wife combo, fashion designers, and spies. Admittedly the game kind of plays fast and loose with a lot of characters in the game. Many characters have deep dark secrets, which would be hard to explain in the real world, but at the same time, it works for the game.
After the mission though, the game shows who set up the couple to be found out by the ICA. It turns out there’s a hidden agent and they are playing the ICA to do his bidding. In fact, this character is a central character in the game, though he doesn’t appear in the game, and only in cutscenes.
Hitman 2016, is also called “Hitman: The First Season” as it’s an episodic game, there are 6 episodes which are really just 6 true levels (ignoring the two training levels as part of the first episode). Each episode is a self-contained level, but they all have a cutscene at the end. In fact, the game allows the player to watch the cutscenes or play the game out of order if desired, but the story will make more sense in order, obviously.
There’s a push for intrigue and spy work here, as well as looking at the shadowy figure orchestrating much of it, but admittedly, the story doesn’t form a full narrative. The fact the episodes were made at different times are apparent and the narrative, when played in one sitting, doesn’t make a ton of sense. Most cutscenes are rather short and quick and while they tell pieces, the puzzle they’re trying to build doesn’t fully form.
Each level though does have a good story, or at least elements of it. There’s just not enough connecting the pieces.
There’s another problem as well. The story is incomplete. I have to spoil this part, the end of the game tries to feel complete for this story, but there’s an ellipsis on this story. The game introduces that shadowy figure, who is a rather strong villain whose motivations and desires are not fully revealed, however, that story isn’t complete and the final mission doesn’t involve him. The game does set up the potential for it but instead turns left and leaves him as one of the unknown villains, likely for the second season. It’s a shame because this could have been a great self-contained season and arc and the to be continued is about a large organization the game hints at, but instead, we get an incomplete story here. It’s not a huge loss, but I wish there was more closure.
It’s important to note that I don’t hate the story, but the execution of it doesn’t work as well as it could and that’s mostly due to the episodic nature and short cutscenes in the series.
That episodic content may actually be what works the best for the gameplay.
Each episode came out with a single level/area. The first one is Paris, and I’ll focus more on that one leaving the others for players to discover on their own. Each level is a different size, however. Most are about the size of a city block. For Paris, you’re looking at a rather large mansion, that includes the surrounding grounds, cellar, a fashion show on the first two floors, and a secret spy auction on the top floor.
There’s also an amazing Italian villa, with a mansion in the second one. Similar idea, completely different location.
Yeah, I did mention this game plays fast and loose with reality, but it works as there’s a lot to do in this mission. There are really two ways to approach Hitman, trial and error, or following suggested paths. If you’re just exploring the game yourself, the player can play around with the environment, location, NPCs, and try to kill their targets or achieve their goals with minimal help, and this is what Hitman has always had available. It works, but the player often has to know what is doable with the characters.
I’d love to trip a character on the stairs and have them fall down smashing their head on the floor or wall as an accident. This is not possible, nor is weakening a railing for someone to lean on and fall to their death. However, I can walk up behind someone and push them off the railing, or stab them with a poison injection rather easily. The game tries really hard to give the player the feeling that they can do anything they can think up, and a lot of interesting features synergize well.
A perfect example of what is and isn’t allowed is if you wanted to drown someone to complete a challenge, or as a needed kill for a contract. An easy trick is to inject or drug someone with emetic poison to make them sick, have them go to the bathroom and drown them in the bathroom. What about dragging someone’s unconscious body to the bathroom, bath, river, or sink and drowning them that way. Sorry, that’s not allowed. Pushing someone off an overlook into the river? That’s not drowning (you snap their neck). There’s only one way that I know of to get credit for “Drowning” someone, that’s the poison and bathroom trick.
This is one of the more frustrating parts of Hitman, the fact that there’s not a really solid way to know what is possible or doable without knowing the information ahead of time. The good news is this version of Hitman has a couple of tricks to help players. The game adds “Opportunities” as part of the gameplay. These are chances for the player to get anything from a small amount of help to set up a target for a kill, you might be able to get in the same room as a target, or up to a specific floor with them, but even if they don’t give you a full kill, there’s often only one or two more steps to getting a really slick kill out of them.
There’s also a number of opportunities outside of the main game. I was working on an “Opportunity” and as I walked into a house, another target walked into the room I was in, leaving her guards behind. She also didn’t recognize me. Two seconds later, she had a snapped neck and I was quickly walking out of the room, hoping no one noticed me. There were more stylish ways to kill the target, more interesting ways, and I don’t know if that was intentional, but sometimes the game just offers you a chance to make your life easier and it’s worth taking.
The opportunities heavily spell out what you need to do.
Even loud approaches are somewhat acceptable. While you will almost instantly be spotted when you draw a gun and fire it, you sometimes can get away with it, but getting spotted and getting in a firefight isn’t a death sentence here. You won’t be able to take on a legion of enemies at one time, but people have done full clears of maps killing every NPC in an area. 47 is rather adept at combat, and while a frontal assault will usually fail, skill does come into play here.
The game also offers challenges, which helps let the player know information about the level. This can be anything from the ability to find a poison in the level, to a disguise left out for you, to just a small task. Many challenges are unique, though there are a couple that are always available, such as getting an accidental kill (though another challenge usually details which accidental kills are available). There’s a ton of challenges on every level of the game, and each challenge offers XP.
Yes, there’s a leveling system too. Though Hitman actually does this right. Instead of leveling up the uber assassin Agent 47, instead, you level up the map. This unlocks additional items, which can be taken into any level, not just the level you earn it on, but also unlocks starting points for 47, and locations where the agency can stash items on the level for you to pick up. There are only 20 levels on any map, and that can be earned by doing about half of all the challenges, which is a nice touch.
There’s a lot here if you can’t tell, but the main gameplay for a mission for me is as follows. I would start a level, I would often try to find a disguise, as Agent 47 isn’t exactly stealthy in his normal suit. Disguises are the name of the game, and you quickly learn most NPCs are rather dumb that a bald man with a tattoo the back of his neck isn’t conspicuous. However, the game also improves the disguise and detection system. In previous games, if you got close to most NPCs, they’d notice you don’t fit in. Here, only specific NPCs will notice you, and it actually changes depending on the disguise.
You can also blend into where no one can see you with the right disguise. It’s a great way to avoid detection.
If you’re a mechanic, you might have a boss who knows all the mechanics on the ship. If you then knock out a chef and walk back to that same head mechanic, he won’t be able to distinguish you at all. Grab a security guard uniform and you have an all-new set of people who can detect you. Even the targets you’re aiming to kill will often be unable to detect you due to your disguises and this system works rather well. There are limitations, as certain disguises are limited to certain places, such as a waiter might have to be frisked to go up to the third level of the mansion, whereas the crew for the fashion show has no access at all, and the security guards are given full access, but that’s part of the puzzle of Hitman.
There’s also the instinct system that has been a part of the series. In this game, there’s no penalty for using it. It’ll allow you to track people in other rooms, items that blend in with the environment, and more. It doesn’t simplify the mission, but it does help you identify where your target is especially over long distances.
As I said this is a lot of information, and tackling a new level is usually a little hard, but after dropping in a level and playing around with it for an hour or two, I usually have learned many of the loopholes. There’s a number of rules, a number of locations where no one can see me, and some rather simple maneuvers that can be used to get me full access quickly. It usually takes a long time to learn and beat a level the first time, even with the opportunity system.
After that first playthrough which will take an hour or two of trial and error, I’ll earn a number of new weapons from challenges I complete along the way as you don’t have to beat a level to earn the credit for each of them. These challenges will also open up the new starting locations and some disguises allowing a new way to tackle a mission the second time.
Most missions in this game will take a couple of hours, but then I can run the same mission in a new way and often beat them in under 30 minutes, and a couple I’ve been able to break 10 minutes or less. The fact is the game isn’t that hard, it’s more understanding the pieces of the level that takes the majority of the time here.
Of course getting a great score is another story.
Once you’ve mastered a level however you want to define that, the game offers you a lot more. There’s “escalation” challenges, which are missions to kill a target usually in a specific uniform or way. Escalations have five levels. Each level adds a new step, whether it be a second target, a new limitation, whether it be time, outfit uses or dealing with being spotted, and more. They’re interesting additions and people who want to get the most out of this game will definitely find a lot of content there, though I only played a couple as they are somewhat similar and weaker than the main game, there are a lot of them.
There are also user-created contracts, and those are about what you expect. The engine here is rather well done and it’s easy to make contracts, but ultimately those tend to be for the person who ran out of escalations and the escalations already have a ton of time attributed to it.
Finally, there are the Elusive targets. These are targets that appear once every two weeks, they appear in maps that the player hopefully has already played. They have a little backstory and a unique pattern to how they move, as well as no marking on the instinct system, at least the one I was successful at didn’t. However they’re “single” play, or rather if you die or kill them, they disappear, so you can’t replay the same mission twice.
It’s a really interesting idea, but I’m not fully sure I understand the difference between Elusive Targets, user created contracts, and escalations contracts fully. It seems that you can only kill them once (or die once) is the big difference but it’s a shame because they’re interesting, but don’t have a huge impact on the game, and are only available for two weeks, which I believe they only have one final contract remaining, unless they restart the order a second time.
There are also additional missions. There are four free missions that reuse locations but completely change the entire game. Since I’ve been talking about Paris, there’s a new one in Paris where you play as Santa Claus (or 47 in a Santa Claus outfit) and take out the look-a-likes of the famous “Wet Bandits” From Home Alone. There are three other missions over the course of the game, and I have to applaud IO Interactive for this, free content is always good, and honestly, I played two of the four and found them to be very interesting and engrossing as they fully remake each level.
You also can do quite a bit to prepare for the mission. Choosing a perfect location, and a loadout will help quite a bit.
Obviously, I’m being extremely positive to this game, and I’ll be honest, I’m kind of surprised because I came into this game thinking I was going to hate it. The fact is overall the game is quite good. There, however, is some stuff that still needs to be talked about.
The save system is a little odd. I’m not exactly sure what triggers an autosave, or I am sure, but I don’t know why it doesn’t work all the time. Spending a large amount of time, or waiting for an alert to clear seems to autosave, but that could be time-based. Completing objects or finding important items seems to autosave, sometimes just getting access to a room or build autosaves. But none of these are constant, for every time I autosaved after killing a major target, I know there’s another point where I didn’t autosave in the same situation. I found that I learned to manually save whenever I wanted to try something dangerous, which is good advice.
In addition, the disguises and detection system works really well, and it’s a little biased against the NPCs, as the player can cheat the system sometimes. However, 47 isn’t able to see who can hear or see him at any point. I’d love to be able to use my instinct and get a quick count of eyes on me. The problem is, I would often make a really stylish kill only to find that there’s a person two rooms away, that just luckily had a line of sight to me. The sight was valid, but it’s hard to really tell who can see you at any time so some of the stealth didn’t work exactly right.
Aiming with a controller, especially the steam controller seemed a little off. Perhaps something was trying to emulate the mouse instead of the right stick, but I switched it to the right stick and still had issues. This might not be a problem on consoles, or maybe even work right on the 360 controller, but I had a bit of trouble and I would have loved an easier way to pull off stylish kills, maybe even getting the ability to do tag kills like in Splinter Cell would have made me feel even cooler.
I do want to say that while I really love the episodic content for gameplay, I still am not thrilled with the story here, and it’s a shame because I honestly do believe the episodic content got a bit in the way of the entire game. Much of the development of characters, and plots feel a little too sudden when playing the entire game back to back, and that’s a shame because so much else in this game is good.
Still, I really like Hitman. I’ve been sitting here trying to decide between a perfect score and a near perfect score. At the end of the day, Hitman is close to perfect. It turned around my entire opinion on the series in under five hours, and I played over thirty hours, while barely scratching the surface on this game. This is what I always wanted Hitman to be. It’s got its flaws, but it’s still a tremendous experience.
I give Hitman a solid
I feel bad I wrote off this series, but I’m glad I have been shown the error of my ways. If previous games have put you off, take another look at this series with this game. It’s so good, that I’ll be keeping an eye on the Second Season as well, as this scratched an itch but even after 30 hours, I want more and an all-new season is just around the corner.
Final Thoughts: Everything I ever wanted in a Hitman game is finally delivered. Great puzzle style, excellent action, stealth, espionage, and more. Only a few levels but so many different ways to tackle them.
Stats: 30 hours played, 32/69 achievements earned so far.