Whilst 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was generally met with praise by the critics, many of the series’ fans were dismayed.
It wasn’t that the game was poor, far from it, but it just didn’t quite feel like a Hitman game. Out was the focus on tight sandbox environments where you had to observe and study your prey, devising effective strategies to make your move and escape without anyone noticing. In was a more action-hero-like Agent 47, with a game focused more on set-pieces and story than strategy. Whether it was poorly marketed, didn’t resonate with consumers, or just put people off because of the lack of the classic Hitman gameplay, it didn’t meet sales expectations, and so here we are with an appetiser for what’s in store with Hitman (2016); developer IO Interactive’s attempt to satiate the fans it upset and hopefully gain a bevy of new wannabe killers along the way.
It’s no secret that Hitman’s release plan has been riddled with some setbacks and confusion, but here’s how it is: right now you can either buy the “Intro Pack”, which includes the initial slew of tutorial missions for the game, access to the contracts and escalation modes, live content which is due to arrive in March, and the first of many locations to come, Paris; or “The Full Experience”, which is essentially a season pass. At the moment, buying the The Full Experience doesn’t give you access to any additional content not included in the Intro Pack, but priced at £44.99 it allows you to commit yourself for what’s to come at a reduced price versus buying the Intro Pack now for £11.99 and then upgrading to The Full Experience later on for an additional £36.99. There’s also the option to buy each of the upcoming episodes as they’re released for £7.99 a pop, but of course, that is the most costly way to go about it. For those that like to have something they can hold in their hands for their money, a physical release containing all the content is currently planned to be available in January 2017, but that’s a long time to wait if you’re a devout Hitman fan.
For £11.99 then, the Hitman Intro Pack lets you have a taste of what IO Interactive is cooking up to serve over the rest of the year without laying all your cash on the table, and whilst initial impressions are largely very good, there are certainly a few aspects that disappoint and one major issue that definitely needs some attention going forward. So, with that in mind, let’s go over the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak.
Essentially giving you access to two “proper” story missions and environments, it’s very easy to be underwhelmed by the Hitman Intro Pack when you first delve into it. You quickly realise though, that between the story, contracts and escalation modes, as well as a large number of challenges, there’s actually a hell of a lot of gameplay here for you to sink your teeth into. The joy of Hitman games prior to Hitman: Absolution was carefully exploring and studying each small sandbox environment, watching your targets and their actions in order to come up with a plan as to how to dispose of them without being caught. In this regard, Hitman doesn’t do much to disappoint. Whilst there are only two real story levels to complete, it’s easy to lose hours in finding new ways to get close to and eradicate your targets. You’re rewarded for redoing the levels in different ways too, with the introduction of challenges that will test your assassination and exploration skills as well as your ingenuity. Completing the challenges isn’t just for bragging rights either, as by completing them you’ll open up new options and possibilities within the levels such as starting with a different disguise in a more opportunistic location or having access to new weapons that wouldn’t normally be available. Also new are the multiple “opportunities” within each level, which are usually discovered by eavesdropping on conversations or reading sensitive documents. These opportunities allow to you track a unique killing opportunity right from their initial discovery to the final, murderous act, often with efficient and amusing results, making discovering them all an interesting prospect.
Once you’ve had enough of or just want to take a break from the story levels, the contracts and escalation modes are there to eat up even more of your time, and trust me, they will. Returning from Hitman: Absolution, contracts mode allows you tackle assassination jobs created by users around the world, as well as create your own devious challenges for others to attempt. Without the ability to save you progress mid-mission, these user made challenges can be a great deal trickier to complete than the story missions, but that’s the point; only with practice and skill will you be able to truly conquer them and rise up the leaderboards. Escalation mode on the other hand has you completing a preset challenge, once again without the ability to save, but every time you complete it it gets a little more complicated until you’ve beaten all it has to throw at you at level five. At the moment, both contracts and escalation modes are limited to the two environments available, but as new locations are added each month the number of contracts and escalation missions available will just grow and grow.
So now we’ve established that the good part of Hitman up to now is the quality of breadth of the gameplay on offer, what’s not so good about it? Scripting was perhaps one of the most irritating bugbears during my time spent playing, especially when tackling user made contracts. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with killing a target that just repeatedly walks between two points no matter how long you stalk them, and whilst some players may see this as an added challenge, it just ruins your immersion in the game. I mean, do these people never need to go to the toilet or seek out some peace and quiet to make a phone call? Another issue is that some animations, like hiding bodies in storage lockers or chests, feel like they’ve been ripped straight out the of the Hitman games of old, making them feel out of place and disjointed. Elsewhere, new features like the Instinct Mode (which acts much like Assassins Creed‘s Eagle Vision) and ability to save anywhere and as many times as you like during story levels may irk Hitman purists, although you don’t have to use them. Finally, whilst Hitman generally looks great and runs smooth, loading times are long which is more than a bit annoying.
All those issues are pretty minor compared to what I believe is Hitman’s real ugly spot however: it practically requires a constant internet connection. Whilst you can play Hitman offline, you’ll be pretty limited as to what you can do. So limited in fact, you’ll find that all you can do is play the story levels. Gone will be your access to the contracts and escalation modes as well as your ability to peruse the challenges, and even worse, when playing the story levels you won’t be able to use the rewards you’ve unlocked. It wouldn’t be too bad if you just had your internet connection to worry about either; at launch there were server issues to contend with, and whilst everything seems fine at the time of writing this review they could always rear their heads again. The real kicker though, is that when your connection to the server gets dropped for any reason, you’re unceremoniously thrown out of your game and dumped back at the main menu, losing any progress. Totally not cool.
Overall, Hitman shows a lot of promise for the future, but unless the prospect of saving £3.98 right now seems thrilling to you, buying The Full Experience is a bit silly at this point. Investing in the Intro Pack however, despite its problems, is something that I highly recommend. Enabling you to try IO Interactive’s future vision of Hitman that takes it back to its roots but then builds on those solid foundations, the depth and richness of the gameplay on offer means that you’ll certainly feel like you’ve got your money’s worth. Only time will tell if the game’s server issues are truly eradicated and the troublesome online requirements are relaxed in any way, but if they are, and each of the upcoming episodes proves to be as good as Paris, then the full Hitman experience could prove to be essential. If not, you’ll have spent only £11.99 and will still have access to the core experience that will quite possibly meet all your murderous tendencies for the near future. When you think about it that way, what is there to lose?