Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hitman (2016): Episode Three: Marrakesh review

    Hitman (2016) is my pick for the Game of the Year. This is a pretty high praise given the game has only released three out of its seven episodes. Nevertheless, each of the three settings have been impressive in terms of scale, design, and flexibility. Despite having only about an hour's worth of content each episode, the replayability means I've usually got many more hours before I finished.

    Marrakesh, more properly named, "The Gilded Cage" brings Agent 47 to the country of Morocco. A Bernie Madoff-style con man named Claus Strandberg has made off with seven billion dollars of the local economy, causing it to crash, and has taken refuge in the Swiss embassy. This was at the behest of a Morrocan general named Reza Zaydam.

There's just an amazing amount of detail this time around.
    General Zaydam wants to embarrass the government to the point he can justify a military coup. To facilitate this, he even arranged for Claus to escape police custody with the help of his disguised soldiers. A international building contractor, of all people, is less than pleased with Zaydam's plot and has hired 47 to eliminate both men in order to deescalate the situation.

    This is a more complicated plot than the previous episodes but not so much it's difficult to follow. One of the things I like about the new game is that it's not afraid to treat 47's adventures as a vessel for deep storytelling. Many reviewers have stated the rebooted game world has a John LeClair vibe and that's not a bad description. Gone are the gonzo sci-fi elements of clones, super-soldiers, and mad scientists working out of Germany to be replaced by topical plots of military coups justified by foreign business malfeasance.

47 continues to tourist his way around the globe.
    It's a striking change and one which I have to give IO Entertainment credit for. I liked Hitman: Absolution but its grindhouse feel of dominatrix assassin nuns, sleazy redneck crime bosses, and mentally challenged Greasers felt at odds with the international man of mystery vibe 47 feels like he was always meant to possess. The games have taken a level in classy and it really plays like someone wrote some excellent airport fiction (which this level hilariously lampshades at one point).

    The characterization remains strong in the episodes with the targets, even if 47 remains a cipher. Strandberg is a smug snake who is confident of his plans to make off with billions and live in Argentina, even as he has plans within plans to escape whatever threats might come. Unfortunately, these plans can be used to kill him as there's no better way to get to him than get him to flee the embassy he's mostly safe in.

I love the suit for this level.
    One nice little character moment has Strandberg called by his daughter who he stole the inheritance of and who he thinks is there to provide him emotional support. Instead, she's with the vast crowd of protestors outside, holding a picket sign reading, "String him up." A pity you can't find her and use her as one of your Escalation targets.

    General Zaydam, by contrast, is a macho wannabe dictator who is completely unaware of how little his men respect him and how loathed he is for his conspiracy. One memorable scene in my game was 47 turning on the intercom behind two soldiers as they badmouth him for being a self-important thug who bought his way into a generalship. I would later take advantage of this to drop a toilet on Raza's head while he chewed out the soldiers for their unintentional honesty. I also enjoyed blowing him up with his own APC.

    Marrakesh is a beautiful city which is packed to the rim with citizens. It's actually too packed as it's almost impossible to do missions without being scene by someone. I enjoy varying levels of difficulty but the game moves a bit too much in this version. One character, a photographer, needed to be mugged for his uniform and he's surrounded by two soldiers, a female restaraunteer, and a random passer-by for much of his movement structure. I ended up having to take down most of them and hide their bodies to get his outfit.

The level does feel like a bustling city but one compartmentalized.
    By contrast, the abandoned school section of the level is more like Splinter Cell than Hitman. There's dozens of soldiers in the decaying ruins of the building which they've been using as target practice. The soldier's attire gets you only so far as there's varying ranks which provide you with varying degrees of influence throughout. Despite being able to eliminate the General with a toilet, I have to say I felt there was a bit too much "difficulty for the sake of being difficult" here as well.

    Both of these contrast strongly with the Swedish Consulate level which is cultured, refined, cool and uninteresting. Honestly, I think Io Entertainment tried to cram too much into this level and it would have been more interesting to only have either the embassy and the bazaar or the bazaar and the school. It feels compartmentalized so there's little connection between the rioting crowds, the enthusiastic shoppers, and the people Zaydan has kicked out their homes.

The embassy isn't very interesting, to be honest.
    A small complaint about the game is the accents are very distracting. Rather than attempt to do Morrocan or Swedish accents, everyone sounds either American or British. I got used to it but it was quite distracting. I also think the level suffered from a little TOO much seriousness. There's some kinda funny ways to kill people but nothing like the Vampire Magician or Medieval Plague Doctor. Maybe something like drugging Claus with LSD and causing him to jump off the roof thinking he's chased by the ghosts of Christmas Past.

    Fans hoping for more insight into the game's heretofore absent main plot will find out this episode that the Illuminati-like Providence is apparently the main villain. The fact they're under attack by a mysterious agent called the Shadow Client using 47 as a catspaw means little, though. We don't have any real insight into either Providence or the Shadow Client. Given the game is almost half-over, I'd like 47 to actually become involved in all this. Frankly, I think the game could have been done without either element and just had it be episodic gameplay.

    In conclusion, this level has a lot going for it but it's not quite as awesome as the previous two levels. This a matter of degrees rather than kind, though, as this is still my favorite Hitman game of all time. I'll definitely be here for the next installment and hope they continue with this level of quality.


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