HITMAN is a strange experiment in incremental content and aggressive monetization. It was billed as a “World of Assassination,” but its world is smaller than any the franchise has ever seen. While I’ve managed to enjoy every prior entry in the series, this one eluded my best efforts.
I feel like a disappointed father looking at the shamefaced disaster wrought on his house in the wake of an ill-advised party thrown while the missus and I were out for the weekend. Even as I prepare to hand out judgment, I express my regret: “This is going to hurt me more than it does you.” And it will, and does, because like so many of the ardent fans of Io-Interactive’s Hitman franchise, no one wanted HITMAN to succeed more than me.
I’ve been a Hitman devotee since the inception of the series chronicling Agent 47’s lethal career. The cold-blooded calculation of Io-Interactive’s contract murder simulator has continued throughout the years but rarely evolved. Its best moments were those that truly immersed you in the role of an emotionless assassin, taking out the only human beings that could reasonably argued to be worse than you. But it was never about killing the bad guys, not really. For 47, it was just business.
The last iteration of the franchise fell somewhere between “Max Payne on sleeping pills” and “less-flexible Sam Fisher in a classy suit.” It wasn’t a bad game per se, but neither was it really Hitman. Even so, it still had moments that made you feel like a lion stalking a gazelle, the deadliest threat in a seedy world brimming with them.
From the debut of this reimagining’s first trailer, I hoped that this version of the game would bring us back to the halcyon days of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin or the pitch-perfect recreations of Hitman: Contracts; a return to form. An “absolution,” if you will.
In fact, if review length was any indicator of a game’s content, this one would be over already. But rather than belabor a simple point, allow me to make things very clear: in its current state, I cannot in any way recommend you purchase HITMAN. Furthermore, I can do nothing but warn you against pre-paying for the agonizingly slow drip-feed of content planned for the game through the remainder of 2016. For those of you who need a simple answer, there it is. The rest of this review is for those who want to know why.
Your opinion of HITMAN will boil down to how much you enjoy the meager content it offers. The first hour of the game is recycling the beta’s simplistic single dimensional content, and the second is found in the new Paris fashion show scenario. Two hours might stretch to three if you really take your time, but by and large you’re paying for an extremely narrow slice of gameplay. If you like it, great; you’ll be replaying that exact content over and over again if you want to get all of the in-game achievements.
All of the Hitman staples are present. There are environments to sabotage, distractions to trigger, and several ways of offing your target. But the levels are very small, and efficient solutions are few. The only reason to experiment with other approaches is for your own amusement — not many feel tactically viable. And to be honest, whether you’re snapping a target’s neck, choking them with razor wire, or drowning them in a toilet bowl, it’s all very much the same thing: follow your prey while wearing an appropriate costume and kill when no one is watching. The enemy AI putters around between various glaring opportunities in their checkpoint patrol of the environment, so there’s no real urgency to the situation.
Worst of all, the game seems to have forgotten — much like the protagonist — exactly who Agent 47 is. The central approach to Paris involves doing something that makes absolutely no sense for an assassin whose invisibility is his most touted asset. Yes, you can pose as the functionally identical fashion icon at the event, but what happens when the man you’re impersonating eventually wakes? 47 has just paraded around in front of hundreds of people and had his picture taken dozens of times. It’s a bizarre breach of character, and when you include the Zoolander jokes, comes across as a hammy joke by people who aren’t remotely invested in the character.
Paris can only be defined as a “hub” in the most literal sense. There are lots of people there milling around, and should you care to, you can return to it to kill any number of additional target NPCs. But the wording suggests an openness and freedom that simply isn’t there, and at best you’ll be repeating gameplay that falls short of any prior entry’s standards.
The graphics remain largely unchanged since the beta, with character animation that is laughable by today’s standards. Getting makeup put on in the dressing room area looks like a mannequin is karate-chopping your head over and over, and somewhere a designer thought it would be a good idea to slide in for a close-up of that action. It would be funnier if it wasn’t so cringe-inducing.
That’s par for the course, however. Characters bump and hop and slide about on a regular basis. During my playthrough of the Paris mission, every single person I subdued fell directly through the level geometry. Some of them hung there, bouncing in and out of the floor. Others just fell into the infinite void beyond. It made them easy to conceal, but not in a good way.
You can create contracts for other players to fulfill as well, but it’s little more than choosing an NPC and some optional conditions for their demise. It’s hard to imagine many people participating in user-created retreads of broken content that’s already tiring after the first go-around, but the option is there for those who wish it.
Perhaps future content will be better — it’d have to be a lot better — and there will eventually be a reason to participate in what feels like a misguided monetization experiment. But series regulars are going to be deeply disappointed by what’s on offer, and newcomers are going to have a hard time understanding why so many of us enjoyed the games so much in the first place.
In the end, you’re given a fleeting glimpse of another man, and the suggestion of a wider, but no less predictable, story arc. It’s a cruel irony that he seems to inspire exactly the sort of icy dread that 47 once epitomized. It feels as if, quite out of nowhere, someone has come along and quietly taken a bit of piano wire to the game I once knew.
Editor’s note: This review is based on the PC version of HITMAN, which was provided by the publisher.
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