Hitman Episode 1 2016: Paris Review

Paris is episode one of seven, with Italy, Marrakesh, Thailand, America, Japan and a secret finale all following at monthly intervals. Hitman’s episodic structure might only contain one initial level (as well as two not insubstantial prologues) but it’s a perfectly crafted mechanism - full of patterns to find and exploit, and opportunities to create and abuse. For a single playable space, Paris is a many-layered spectacle to unravel, and a chunky piece of game to play with. A huge glitzy party in a palace packed with rich guests, staff and security. It looks fantastic as well, lush and detailed to the point where ‘just looking at stuff’ is a legitimate in-game activity.

The new Hitman makes its debut as the first episode of a complete story. It's where you train as Agent 47 during his induction into the International Contract Agency to familiarize yourself with the flow of missions. It's also where you infiltrate a well-attended fashion show at a ritzy mansion, 20 years later, to assassinate targets surrounded by layers of security. 

Hitman - Season Premiere 2016

He’s given essentially two trial missions before being put into the field, resulting in essentially three missions overall in this fifteen dollar package. The first two are minuscule in size, though, taking anywhere between five and twenty minutes to complete. There are various opportunities to find in the environment, but generally speaking, they aren’t as big as you’d hope for, especially in comparison to other Hitman levels. They mainly result in a single target needing to be killed, both of which are being followed by at least one bodyguard. One is situated in a two-floor military compound which has a spiffy jet that’s difficult to approach and the other is on a small yacht where everyone is partying. Both of these are essentially training exercises for your true first mission. Fortunately, replayability is at an all-time high, at least for the military compound.

After completing the mission, you will be given the option to do various other contracts within that base, like assassinating another individual. After that is done, another objective might be added when you play again. It’s an entertaining concept that could be put to great use in the bigger environments.

The third mission is true to the Hitman name, bringing Agent 47 to Paris where he needs to assassinate two rich targets that are putting on a fashion show as a front for their spy auction in which they sell various secrets from around the world.  Hitman is very much a return to form for the series, going away from a traditional story-based format. This mission feels a lot like Hitman: Blood Money’s ‘The House of Cards’ mission where you are given a multi-floored building that you will need certain credentials to access. Heck, there’s even an important Sheikh you are able to knock out and impersonate as. This mission in general is fairly well done with both targets going about their own distinct routines with various means of disposing of them. In typical Hitman fashion, it’s a time sensitive mission where specific events will trigger based on how long you’ve been in the level. This ensures you will be playing the waiting game on various occasions, following both targets and slowly picking them off in specific settings. Players will need patience to observe their surroundings and best setup a kill. On our first attempt, we were able to freely explore and complete this mission under fifty minutes, with our second going taking around twenty minutes. It’s a matter of experimenting with the numerous ways you’re able to kill someone, be it looking accidental or direct.

Hitman preview

Casually blend in and eavesdrop on conversations between NPCs for valuable information.

 

Once you complete your first run through Hitman's three missions, your job isn't finished; escalation missions appear, introducing new objectives with constraints that dictate new targets, what equipment you have to use, and even what type of disguise you have to wear during a kill. You can also create your own contracts, with full control over the aforementioned conditions and objectives. You simply need to enter a location, mark targets, take them out and successfully escape.

There's no denying that repeatedly revisiting the same locations wears on your enthusiasm, but escalation missions and contracts stave this feeling off for a while with prescribed, alternative objectives. Because Hitman is episodic at the moment, you don't have the chance to move through a campaign and distance yourself from a mission. Of course, there's a lot to do if you're looking for new opportunities, but after your first run through a mission, the initial feeling of immersion fades as you transition into full-on puzzle-solving mode.

Hitman Preview

 Hitman is very much a return to form for the series, going away from a traditional story-based format. The formula is rock solid, having Agent 47 being able to disguise as virtually anyone within a certain parameter. They also reworked a similar feature from Absolution: the suspicion meter. Here, instead of having a meter that will fill over time to avoid detection, there are specific people in the environment that don’t know who you are and will become suspicious of you. This is tied to certain classes of people; for example, guards or officers in more managerial positions will take notice if they don’t know who you are, whereas standard enemies won’t bat an eye unless you literally get in their face. The combat system has also slightly changed, with hand-to-hand battles being more quick-time oriented and the gunplay being difficult (to say the least). Gunfights in general are highly ill-advised as Agent 47 will go down almost instantaneously.

As you poke and prod at Hitman, looking for new ways to complete missions and take advantage of your options in a given environment, you also start to notice gaps in logic that allow you to circumvent AI. Reaching from behind an enemy to grab something on a table in front of them won't necessarily get their attention; as long as you're close enough to trigger a button prompt without passing through their field of view, you're in the clear. You can also act like a total oddball, bumping into targets or crouching suspiciously near them without triggering concern. Hitman presents itself as a stealth game that can be as hardcore as you want it to be, but its AI fails to connect all the dots on a semi-regular basis. Should I be able to exit a mission after gunning down people in a packed party? You wouldn't think so, but somehow the guards manning the exit don't always get the memo when there's a madman on the loose. You can choose to ignore these moments or use them to your advantage, but you can't dismiss how they detract from Hitman's proposed tension.

As a debut for an episodic series it’s a confident and enjoyable start that bodes well for the subsequent levels (one a month for the next six months). Hitman's opening act isn't ground-breaking, with a host of tiny problems lending it a dated feel. When you drop a body into a freezer, there's no animation connecting the process together; there's a hard cut from dragging the body to hiding it. Load times are frustratingly long, lasting just under a full minute when reloading saves. This alone is especially disappointing, given how fun it can be to iterate on your methods by reloading saves and experimenting, a process that's tainted by extended downtime. However, Hitman's a veritable playground that will delight you with its open-ended design, comical NPCs, and contract creation tools. These qualities, and the flexibility to be as hardcore or laid back as you want, are much appreciated, even if they don't disguise Hitman's lesser qualities.

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