Reboot, reskin, remake.. bringing back old or classic games/films seem to be the thing these last few years and most don't come close to the magic that made the original great: it makes you wish that aping your cherished memories was indeed against the law. Hitman has had something of a chequered track record with some duds which then get overshadowed by gems like the much-loved Blood Money. In 2012 Hitman Absolution arrived to much fanfare and yet for me fell flat on its face, forgetting much of what made Blood Money such an excellent title. So ignoring the spin-offs and mobile games we now find ourselves with a new Hitman game: let's take a look.
The first thing you need to know is that for this new game, simply titled Hitman, the developers have decided to deliver the game in an episodic format: meaning that right now there is only one full level to play. The idea being that new levels will drop over time as well as other content such an elusive targets who are only available for a limited time and once they are gone they are gone. Right now you can pick up the first episode or take a leap of faith and pay for the whole game in advance. I say a leap of faith because right now we have no idea what the quality of the remaining seven episodes will be but I would I again they will be on a par with the Paris level. After seeing ACG (one of the best YouTube reviewers around IMO) give this first episode such a positive review I decided that I would opt for the full game and blimey I am very happy with what I've played so far.
There are some things that are consistent through the Hitman games, like 47's amaranthine blue eyes or the guarantee that someone will soon be having an unscheduled chat with the grim reaper. You have always had the option to grab an assault rifle and take on the guards Terminator style but that isn't where Hitman really shines. You have a target, maybe a few side goals and a playground of opportunities to exploit. In this latest game these systems seem bolder and more refined that previous outings: not only that but they also seem to complement each other perfectly. Blood Money implemented a scoring system that gave you a greater reward the more professional your hit, not being seen, not killing none target NPC's and so on: in Hitman we see this system make a welcome return.
On starting a game like this I always set about testing the systems to see how far I can push them before they break. It is here that I started to see the magic that lies under this familiar hood. I actually spent my first two days in the training levels which take place in a disused oil refinery. On one occasion I had mistakenly left a body in view of a guard but instead of a general level wide alarm going off information now passes around the NPC's organically with sight and sound. I don't ever remember a game replicating NPC communication so well and it makes every situation far more dynamic. If a guard calls something in on the radio then all bets are off but sometimes it's fascinating to see how NPC's react to certain situations. In the final test mission, I pulled a guard from a first story window and after his brief flight landed squarely in front of another guard below. After initial dismay, he called to a few guards in his vicinity who came running, commented on this "horrible accident" and did a quick security sweep. What actually blew me away was that the initial guard was now bagging up his fallen (sorry) comrade and promptly dragging him off to a storage area. A few minutes later I even heard the guards on the front desk talking about the 'accident' and debating whether to see if they needed some help.
Even in these training areas, this level of reactive behaviour is on display. One of my targets found a gun on the floor from a guard I had garrotted and stuffed in a box. The way he panicked and ran off to show it to the solider outside his room was amazing. It's this intelligent reaction to context that I love, like when stealing a high ranking KGB officers uniform troops will then salute when you pass them. Even little details like if you walk in between a cameraman and news anchor they react as you might expect. One of the most important elements for games like this is for the environment and the people in it to react to me with context and this is where this new Hitman has me very excited for what comes next.
The sound quality of Hitman seems to be excellent across the board, from the subtle thud as your sniper round hits a distant forehead to the bigger sounds such as an assault rifle at full tilt. As I have mentioned, listening to NPC conversations is part of the games way of revealing assassination opportunities but the conversations themselves are actually entertaining in their own right. I have also been impressed again and again with the sheer amount of ways an NPC can response to you in the same situation: it makes other games look shallow and fake in comparison.
I also very much like the musical score used by the game, as you might expect it rises in tempo depending on what you are doing and never feels intrusive. I actually think it sounds very similar to the Bourn Identity musical score which isn't a bad thing as this made me feel an extra notch of 'I'm a badass killer you don't want to fuck with'. Sound occlusion is absolutely fantastic and deserves special mention. While in the Paris level there is a booming thump of bass emanating from the central room where the fashion show is taking place, when a few rooms away this is a subtle thrum but when you walk in the music hits you and adds so much atmosphere.
Portfolio of death
So each level is a stage in which many scenarios can be acted out, side goals can be added and targets chosen. While you can simply make your way to the target and kill them the game will present opportunities to you via conversations on which you can eavesdrop. These are actually a great way for the game to showcase various methods of dispatching your target as well as other mechanisms you can use in other jobs. Each level also has various feats and discoveries which again prompt you to play the level again and try new ways of approaching your mark. Some of these are as simple as dispatching your targets from range with a sniper rifle but others I have found surprisingly inventive. On top of this, you can also try escalation missions which essentially run the same mission over but each time adds a new element to consider, such as having to hide bodies you create or never changing disguise. Are you still with me?
What we have here is a very slick system that absolutely drains every last drop of replay from a set piece: but while ratcheting up the difficulty it still keeps the experience fun and rewarding. You can even turn off the hud and be totally reliant on your own ability to spot threats and opportunities. I love it and now that I'm looking at the delivery method of the content it totally fits. If we had been given the entire game in one package I like so many would have blazed through the missions and possibly never returned to ace each one properly. However if we are drip fed these missions, each one can now be savoured and mastered entirely.
Agent 47 is a killer, one who has mastered the art of taking life like a master sculpture or painter. This game absolutely allows you the player to take the role of 47 and peel away the layers of each hit. You learn the levels secrets, the weaknesses in the security systems and then use your tools to craft the ultimate kill. There is a deep sense of satisfaction when your casually walk out of the Paris level leaving your two targets dead and nobody even knows you were there.
Is it PC?
The PC version of Hitman looks and runs substantially better than the console versions. The biggest problem that seems to be plaguing the PS4 and Xbox One version of the game is load times. Players are reporting waiting 2-3 minutes for each time a level loads in, which is a long time. Considering how many times I have restarted a mission while learning how to sneak my way around, I honestly can't fathom how this seems acceptable on any platform. In addition, even when accessing the menu to swap weapons on console you are hit with a 2-6 second wait and just moving around the menu looks like a lag-fest. On PC load times for myself have been between 3-10 seconds, I'm using a fairly fast SSD, my rig is running on an i7 4GHZ, 16 Gig of Ram and a Nvidia 980 GTX (and Windows 7). The menu and interface are super fast to navigate on PC with none of the issues mentioned on many PS4/Xbox forums. I honestly think given the amount of time you spend in menus when planning hits or reviewing contracts these problems for me would be deal breakers on console.
As for engine performance the game runs beautifully on ultra settings with a solid frame rate of 60FPS. Even in crowded areas like the Paris fashion show the Glacier engine performs admirably with hundreds of well-animated NPCs on screen at any one time. I have again seen plenty of reports of choppy frame rates on console with the whole game freezing for a few seconds when anything big happens: having installed an SSD seems to improve this. As far as I can see the game looks gorgeous on PC when running in ultra but it is not so much the static visuals that impress but how much it going on at any given time, I think this is where the limited RAM on console is why they experience so much lag.
Just be aware that the game does have some problems no matter what system you are playing on including some line of sight issues where NPC's can see through walls. I have not seen anything like this but a visit to the official forums indicates there are problems that need to be fixed. There has also been some discussion regarding the save system in Hitman because saves you make when online do not work offline and vice versa. This was initially thought to be a bug but now it has been confirmed by Square Enix this is intentional and will remain the same. Last;y just know that any time you load a save game all feats and challenges you have completed in that mission can then no longer been given: this has not been made clear at all and has cost me a good deal of time.
So do I recommend you take a chance on this new Hitman game or wait to see how the remaining pieces fall into place? I like to give credit where it is due and based on what I have seen I think that unless something goes spectacularly wrong I'd be happy to recommend this game. The developers have really gone right back to the DNA of what made the Hitman games so good and then added its own special sauce. Of course, if you have any doubts why not just buy the first level? It includes everything that has been released to date, the only difference being getting the full game now will save your money down the road.
I will, of course, be covering the new content as it becomes available as well as doing some playthroughs on YouTube. Please follow me @riggedforepic and subscribe to my YouTube channel under the same name. Thank you for reading my review of Hitman, if you feel there is a game I should be reviewing please drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.