Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hitman (2016): Episode One: Paris review

    I'm  a huge fan of the Hitman series. I'm a fair late-comer to the series with my first game being Hitman: Absolution before I went to play the compilation trilogy. I was really interested in the upcoming video game sequel, simply called Hitman. I was curious if this was going to be a reboot or  sequel by the title before realizing, in Hitman, it doesn't really matter.

    The Hitman series is a series without much in the way of plot. As Agent 47 you are told to kill people then go and do it. It's in the title. They tried to mix this up in Absolution which, gave me the wrong impression the series had more character development than it does, but isn't that big of a deal. Much like Mario going to beat up Bowser and rescue Princess Peach, Hitman is about the experience. No one is playing these games for deep and meaningful insights into 47's character. He's not Joel from The Last of Us, he's not even Max Payne.

The yacht level is our introduction to 47 murdering people.
    It's with this attitude in mind I took the revelation Hitman (2016) would be episodic with relative ease. Hitman is a game about killing people in elaborate levels where there's multiple ways of taking out your targets. It's a game tailor made for episodic content and one I have no problem purchasing in bite-sized chunks. I also note the opening pack of the game cost me fourteen dollars, which is well worth the content I got from it. When I purchased Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, I felt cheated for roughly the same content at $40, but this is far more replayability at less than half the price.

    The premise is divided into two parts, at least in this section. The first part of the game is a flashback to twenty-years-prior. Agent 47 has just escaped the asylum in Romania he was created and has found himself recruited by the International Contract Agency. After passing an increasingly dangerous set of trials, he is approved for field operations. We then get a montage of 47's murders across the next two decades (from the previous games).

Diane and 47's bond is explained here.
    The second part of the story picks up in the present day with Agent 47 being assigned to kill a Russian oligarch and his Israeli ex-supermodel wife. Both of them are international information brokers who belong to a criminal syndicate named IAGO (which I assume is our villainous organization for the game). They're having a huge fashion show and it's up to Agent 47 to eliminate both despite the massively public venue and small army of guards.

    Interestingly, I think the tutorial levels are perfectly serviceable by themselves. I think it might have been a good idea to have them be actual assassinations 47 conducts to prove himself to the Agency but they're fun even as simulations. The first target is a gentleman thief cat burglar who is arrogantly believing himself untouchable despite the fact he's taken on a job which threatens global security. The second is a chess master defecting to the Soviet Union whose KGB handlers have been keeping him at a Cuban Air Force base.

Having 47 strut his stuff is hilarious.
    I enjoyed both of these missions and had a great deal of fun killing the targets in a variety of ways but they're really just a warm-up for the Paris level. "Showstopper" is probably the most beautifully designed map in the history of video games and I don't use that sort of praise lightly. It's a massive-massive collection of entrance-ways, opportunities, and NPCs who ooze with personality. There's something akin to three-hundred NPCs in the Paris level and wandering among them shows just how much care went into their use.

    Hardcore fans will perhaps resent the fact the games are toned down in difficulty with frequent save points, a guide to where you can assassinate characters in bizarre but humorous ways, and improved combat systems. As the causal gamer I was, I appreciated this, though. I murdered the targets by dropping chandeliers on them, poisoning them, and even drowning them in toilets. The option to turn off all of the clue systems is present, as well, making the game more like its "classic" predecessors. Personally, I kept all the hints on because I'm a causal gamer.

Dude is about to be drowned in his own toilet.
    The atmosphere of the game is closer to the "International Man of Mystery" from Blood Money and Silent Assassin than the more grindhouse Absolution and that's to the game's benefit. We see Agent 47 as a sort of James Bond gentleman assassin versus the more brutish figure he was in the previous game. I think this fits 47 better and works well for the game where our hero is surrounded by luxury but is a wolf among sheep.

    Hitman has a great system of Challenges which maximize the replay value. The Challenges weren't much fun in Absolution due to the fact the levels were so small but they're very engaging in the Paris level. There's also Contracts and Escalations which are fan-and-developer-produced levels which move the targets to new figures. These missions are timed and offer all manner of new options to achieve. My biggest complaint is they're all timed, which doesn't help the slow and methodical pace the game is going for.

 Choose your plan.
    I should mention the characterization in this game, despite its general lack of story, is actually quite good.  Viktor Novikov and Dalia Margolis are detailed characters with their own motivations, backstory, as well as funny moments spread throughout the story. 47 has a few good moments as well, like when he gets to interact with some of the characters on certain routes. Diana also gets characterized as a former intelligence agent who has too much conscience left to become a good assassin handler.

    Does the game have flaws? Yes, unfortunately it does. The fact the game always has to be on means that it's annoyingly dependent on its internet connection. There's also occasions where I've had bugs occur where Opportunities don't start. Most annoyingly, the loading times for this game are obscene and you'll do a lot of those as you struggle to get your perfect Silent Assassin rating. Even with the save sytem, I reloaded up to a dozen times during every mission replay as I wanted to get my game just right.

Amusingly, 47 can actually attend the criminal auction on the second floor because he's the kind of guy who would attend it.
     I won't lie to you, the game's length is frustrating as three episodes is plenty for an episodic story but this feels more like a paid-for-demo. I understand the financial reasons for this decision but the levels don't have self-contained stories the same way Telltale's episodic content does. Finishing the Paris level only made me want to play more and there wasn't. Despite this, I think this will be the best Hitman period and is well-worth the money to purchase.


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