Metro Weekly

Big Hit: Hitman (review)

Hitman brings the deadly franchise back to relevance by breaking it up into bite-size chunks

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Rejoice, stealth fans, as everyone’s favorite follicly-challenged, contract killer is back! Yes, Agent 47 has dusted off his bald head and returned once more in this latest outing of the popular murder-em-up.

For anyone turned off by 2012’s Hitman Absolution, which sought to make the franchise more accessible for new players, fret not. Gone is that entry’s linear, simplified gameplay and in its place is the grand, freeform, sandbox gameplay of old. Hitman (starstarstarstar) takes the franchise back to big, dense worlds, letting players find their own ways of killing the various targets they’re given.

Some things have changed this time around, however. For the first time, Hitman won’t have all of its content available from the outset. Instead, it will be released episodically over the course of 2016, with new cities, contracts and targets being added with each update (these will be free if you shell out for Hitman’s equivalent of a season pass). That’s a bold move from Square Enix and developer IO Interactive — and one I’m not sure entirely pays off. That said, what’s here so far is more than enough to engage both seasoned killers and newbies to the art of contract killing.

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Players will have access to two training levels, plus the Paris location. If the first two are impressive, it’s the Parisian fashion show that truly stuns with its scale. A huge, sprawling building, on my first few passthroughs I found myself easily getting lost in its maze of doorways and corridors and cordoned off sections. And that’s the beauty of the Hitman series, it compels you to return, over and over, learning its maps and trying new ways to take out your target.

It’s entirely possible to move through a location at your own pace, sneaking past security guards, blending in with smaller crowds, subduing a waiter and stealing their uniform, until you take out the predetermined target (or targets). But there are dozens of ways to accomplish your task: Do you drop a chandelier as they stand on the runway? Perhaps poison a glass of champagne and pose as a bartender? Maybe eavesdrop on a conversation, learn that you look like a famous model, subdue said model and then pose as them to access the target? Hitman revels in offering players every possible route to success, then stepping back and allowing them to make their own way.

It helps that, at least technically, this new Hitman is an impressive beast. As well as the locations being much larger — around 6 or 7 times bigger than Absolution’s — they’re also dense with bodies. Levels apparently accommodate around 300 characters, but as you move through them it’ll feel like a lot more. The danger of being spotted at any moment is heightened when there’s crowds round every corner, adding a delicious twist to the game, a greater focus on remaining hidden in plain sight than ever before. The crowds will also chatter incessantly. Partygoers will speculate on your target’s whereabouts, security guards will absentmindedly discuss important security details, the target themselves will often move through rooms, offering further information on ways to end their life. Oh, you like to drink? Let me slip some rat poison in your wine glass, if you don’t mind.

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To boost replayability — this is, after all, only three levels — Hitman offers Contracts, player-created missions that can be shared online for others to try. Choose a target (any of the 300 characters), set the parameters (perhaps players can only take out the target with a specific weapon, or wearing a specific disguise) and then let the community have at it. In addition, Hitman will be updated with developer-added contracts: Escalation Contracts increase in difficulty each time you play them, and Elusive Targets appear in-game for just 48 hours — with only one chance to take them out. They add even greater challenge and variety to the gameplay, but only to a point. Once you’ve learned every passageway and method of attacking the yacht, air force base and Parisian fashion show, and murdered your targets in as many ways as possible, it’s going to become pretty apparent that episodic maybe wasn’t the right way to go.

One big irk, though, is that all this extra, internet-dependent content demands a rather annoying caveat: you must have an internet connection to play Hitman. Not to access the contracts, but to play it at all. Your achievements, your unlocked items, even your saves — all demand an internet connection. For some, that could be reason enough to walk away.

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However, niggles aside, Hitman is a game I can easily see myself dropping into every month or so when new content is added. There’ll be a new location, new targets, more snippets of the game’s throwaway story (honestly, don’t even bother), and another week or so of enjoyment. Maybe spreading out my planning, my executions, my pathfinding and chandelier-dropping over an entire year is better than condensing it into a few short weeks and moving onto the next game. Maybe Hitman is just the right amount of game, at just the right time. Whatever it is, though, it’s a thoroughly polished, thoroughly enjoyable return for Agent 47.

Hitman is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.