BALD IS BEAUTIFUL. SO IS MURDER.
HITMAN is the soft reboot of the old assassination simulator by IO Interactive from the days of yore. Previously a kind of murderous sandbox containing multiple ways to achieve a bloody goal, Hitman's franchise took a small dive when Absolution was released a few years ago, turning a devious craft into a stealth-based shooter. Absolution looked and operated great, but completely destroyed much of what even made the series great; maybe a fourth of the game's missions actually had you plotting hits, and the disguise mechanics were dreadful. Hitman was, for all intents and purposes, dead with a bullet in its head. Square Enix and the folks at IOI resurrected 47 for an entirely new adventure, and have decided to run the game through a server-based, episodic structure. The reasons behind this release model are mainly about time; the developers have more freedom to design and test each huge stage individually, and players have more time to dive into the richness of said stages. Hitman, I've discovered, is one of the best representations of what even makes a game a true "sandbox" experience.
Within each location in the first season of Hitman, you begin with a very basic premise: assassinate a number of high-value targets (almost always 2) and make your escape. From there, it's up to you to make the use of a variety of tools and atmospheric anomalies to accomplish the mission. The game offers many Opportunities that only appear in your queue when you overhear interesting factoids or see useful items in the environment--you're encouraged to explore as much as possible and take note of literally everything in your surroundings. IOI has done an excellent job building each stage, providing thousands of NPCs with unique dialogue to eavesedrop upon, with even more secrets and narratives than you'd imagine. Most of your prime Opportunity routes will stem from a waiter mentioning maybe a certain recipe, or a guard talking about a chore that needs doing, or an auction that you could potentially crash by stealing a keycard or even impersonating someone. Although each mission comes baked with around 15 or so Opportunities, the Challenges within each stage number around 100 or so, pressing you to be even more creative with your assassination and discoveries. Can you find the vampire costume? How about killing both targets with a chandelier at once? What if you attempt to finish the job even after a safe-room alarm is activated, making things even more difficult? The possibilities that are insinuated are wide-reaching, with a good number of them probably getting ticked off the list just by your own experimentation.
Hitman begins with a literal soundstage recreation of two easy missions, and then begins to send you everywhere from Paris to Italy to Morrocco. With 6 unique main locations and 3 bonus missions, Hitman goes for extreme quality over quantity--and the quality is superb. Hundreds of NPCs have been painstakingly voiced with reams of dialogue and interactions, the environments and structures look beautiful and complex with dozens of layers to investigate, and the number of interactive objects to be used for potential kills is staggering. The game looks fantastic and mostly runs at 30 to 50 FPS on console, which rarely dips and manages to keep up the pace as you skulk around. The amount of time I spent on just 3 stages alone, discovering new things and unlocking even more starting points and tools, was ridiculous.
Although the game's world at large is generally pretty good in terms of AI and real-life behavior, there are moments that crop up that may do anything from amuse you to pissing you off. One opportunity I followed had me accidentally bump into a bystander by accident, leading to them labeling me as Suspicious long enough for a few cops to fucking shoot me in the head for no discernable reason. The save system lets you quicksave almost anywhere just in case these moments do crop up, but there have been a few instances that inconvenienced me due to stupid shit mentioned above.
Hitman does have detractors mainly due to the "episodic" nature of the package--a facet that doesn't even really impact the overall quality of the levels being churned out. If you truly can't get over the fact that a mission-based game is giving you parts a la carte--which adds up to a "complete" value in terms of the monies involved--then try to see it this way: at any point you can stop paying for the experience, and walk away without having spent $60 on a full package. Or, you can just pick and choose the levels you like. In any case, after seeing how creative Season One has been, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't pay upfront for a second or third season. Another online-only, piecemeal game--Destiny--is still played and defended in droves so I really don't see how IO Interactive flubbed anything with their business model, one which was probably designed to allow more focus and testing on each playground. In short, if you really can't stop weeping over what is an actually successful "games as a service" model, feel free to keep posting about it on NeoGAF until you eventually break down yet still buy FF7's 3-part remake anyway.
Hitman's structure is something that succeeds enormously in spite of itself: a serverside, episodic experiment sent forth by piecemeal-enthusiast Square-Enix. IOI has done everything in its power to put a decade of experience towards creating the ultimate Hitman game, one which has been tailor-fit for modernt times with special Elusive target updates, patched content, and seasons worth of content. Season One has been an absolute thrill to play with, so consider this the vote of confidence towards any new Hitman stages slated for the future.
Amazing and topical!