Hitman: The Complete First Season
Despite being familiar with the series, Hitman is never one I was massively into. I first experienced it with a PS2 demo version of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, which at the time I really couldn’t get into – the idea of clever stealth in a game was foreign to me. After brief encounters with Blood Money and Contracts (but not a real attempt to actually enjoy them), I finally bought Absolution for a low price when it came out. And I loved it. Having, by then, become a fan of games that did stealth well (Deus Ex, Metal Gear Solid and The Elder Scrolls to name a few), I got into Absolution in a big way. And when the new Hitman was announced, I was ready for another dose. How was it?
As a fan of sandbox experiences, Hitman is an absolute prime example of one – complete freedom to complete its contracts however you want, and yet densely packed into expertly thought-out places. There is no filler content in Hitman, and no wasted time wading through mundane content to get to the actual activities… unless you personally decide to do so.
And speaking of the thought-out places, it is an absolute pleasure to take different routes through places, discovering all of the happenings of the event you’re at big and small. Individual people completely irrelevant to your contracts will have certain conversations, go to certain places, do certain things, and while a lot of it might be irrelevant to your current target, they might occasionally drop a tiny little bit of information that helps you out. In the Paris fashion show mission, you can eavesdrop on a woman hiding in the bathroom, as she phones her colleague and lets them know about a key she’s hidden to a useful resource. In the Hokkaido spa, you can take out the VIP patient in the room next to yours, disguise yourself as him, lay in his bed and call for help as him. There are so many things that happen in each level that it is incredible fun just to replay them again and again, finding every tiny thing you can do and hear. And when you run out of scripted ways to kill people, there are always more dynamic methods you can employ, such as shoving them off of a balcony or blowing them up with a remotely-triggered bomb duck.
There is a lot to do in Hitman. Each of the levels contains a main mission, which features between 1 and 4 targets to kill and maybe a single extra objective (collect or steal something), and you can breeze through the entire game in a small handful of hours if that’s all you choose to do. But there are also huge amounts of challenges to complete independent of contracts, as well as lots of bonus contracts too (including quite a nice 6-pack of them if you play Hitman on PS4, the “Sarajevo Six”). And to expand even further, you can create your own contracts and download other people’s, complete with certain restrictions you might have to follow, such as completing the hit in a certain disguise or using a particular weapon or mode of death.
Hitman looks great too. At this point, the graphics wouldn’t really be jaw dropping, but it runs smoothly on PS4 and I found myself thoroughly impressed with the game’s atmosphere – Marrakech in particular contained dense crowds of people in the market area, and it genuinely felt like you were in a crowded place being there. It manages to look good in every way too – each level features a unique aesthetic, from Paris’ glamorous mansion to Marrakech’s middle-eastern desert, to Hokkaido’s futuristic spas and hospitals, and even the tutorial level’s fake ship in a fake sea in a massive hidden training bunker.
While I personally don’t care for episodic gaming, Hitman suits the format and handled it well. While it has an overarching story, each of the levels is pretty much self contained, feeling like a set piece in a single Hitman episode. Each one also comes with an array of extra contracts and challenges unique to it. And, thankfully for me, after each episode had been released, it also came out as a complete game – just like a TV box set would. Perhaps the only weak point I can see is that it takes a little bit of getting used to the controls in the game – and if you were playing other games between each episode, it might take a bit of relearning each time to reacclimatise yourself. Not a problem for me since I waited for the whole game to come out on disc.
The online aspect of Hitman just felt like it did nothing but get in the way. With the Complete First Season retail version, if you don’t have an online connection, you can only play the story mode, and only in a linear fashion. When you get an online connection, the game stops recognising anything you did in offline mode and lets you access all of the extra options and the contract/story selection. Since Hitman is so intent on separating the two and making the offline mode such an inferior experience, I’d suggest that the game is only really worth anything if you do have a stable, unmetred internet connection. And I fear for the game in a few years when Square Enix decide that keeping its servers online isn’t cost-effective – it won’t be as catastrophic as Steep becoming a dead disc, but a huge amount of Hitman will die on the spot when that happens.
Presumably also a hangover of the online were a number of massively irritating design decisions. Outside of the Story contracts and a select few other contracts, you cannot save your progress. At all. I like to approach missions as slowly as I can, collecting resources from around the map, making disguises available and scoping every possibility before I even go near my target. If I spend half an hour doing this and then the internet connection drops, I simply have to shut the game off, or I make an error that compromises Agent 47’s disguise or gets him killed, it’s all for nothing – no save points means that you can’t resume your game, and you can’t rewind to a previous point. Some people won’t mind that, and good for them – I would appreciate the option.
If you’re only into the main story mode of games, as mentioned before Hitman is very short. Playing the levels slowly, it maybe took me 6 hours total to complete all of the story contracts. Even with all of the excellent extra content that mean I’m still playing Hitman, I’d have liked at least a little bit more. And the “first season”‘s story ends on a fairly weak cliffhanger – not one where you’re like “ooh, I’m excited for the continuation!”, more of an “oh, was that it? Well then.”
And on size, it does feel like the levels themselves are a little short too. I’m not looking for a city by any means, and I know that expanded levels would likely also result in the juicy content being a little more diluted, but it would have been nice just to see a tiny bit more – Paris is just a mansion, Bangkok is one hotel, Hokkaido is the one contained area, and Colorado is a farm – Marrakech and Sapienza are the only two levels that feel like something a little more significant.
I can see why fans of the series disliked Absolution now – Hitman absolutely blows it out of the water with its completely open-ended levels and its plethora of methods to go about your hits. Definitely a game I would recommend grabbing, especially as the box set, but do bear in mind that one day it could all be destroyed at the flick of a server’s off switch.