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Review: Hitman (2016)

Pure stealth games are pretty rare these days. Gone are the days of Splinter Cell, and Metal Gear Solid. More recent stealth games like Dishonored and Assassin's Creed seem to lean more towards action. These games usually have stealth as an option, but don't require the player to play that way if they don't want to. Some have criticized these games for focusing less and less on stealth, and in the process implementing very half-baked stealth systems. The recent reboot of Hitman aimed to bring more traditional stealth games back into the mainstream.

The original Hitman was released in 2000 on PC, and was followed by a few sequels before basically wrapping up its main overarching story in Hitman: Absolution, released in 2012. It seems that IO Interactive wanted a spiritual reboot of the franchise for its 2016 release, as it dropped the original naming scheme and simply titled the next game: Hitman. When I started up the game, I was thrown off a bit by this as I expected this reboot to be focused around a new Agent 47, or take place in a new timeline. However, the story of Hitman (2016), which for the rest of the review I will simply call Hitman, takes place a few years after Hitman: Absolution, picking right back up with the original Agent 47's story.

In Hitman, you take control of Agent 47, a highly trained, expert assassin working for a world-wide organization of assassins called the International Contract Agency (ICA). For each section of the game, you are transported to a large open-ended level and are given a few assignments to carry out. The assignments you receive are usually assassination targets, but you may also be asked to complete other objectives such as destroying secret biological weapons that are being developed by shady organizations.

Hitman and Hitman: Absolution differ in one major way. In Absolution, you were usually given a briefing of your mission before starting, but during the mission you were given many sub-objectives that were clearly spelled out for you to guide you towards completing your main objective. This made the player very aware of how to complete the mission, but some may say that it took a bit of the creativity and player-freedom out of the game. On the contrary, in Hitman, you begin each mission with a briefing, but are then set free to find your own way to complete your objectives. Right off the bat, the game makes it very clear that you can use any avenue you can think of to complete your missions. You are provided with a set of leads to check in on, which will mark certain locations on your map to go check out for more intel, but you can ignore these and proceed how you like. This sense of freedom to choose your own style was awesome, but almost overwhelming to me. It's very rare that games let you take such a free-form approach to playing. I found myself mostly picking a lead and trying to follow that path, as having so much choice actually paralyzed me with indecision. I guess I'm mostly used to following orders from other stealth video games, like Metal Gear Solid.

The huge amount of freedom you are given pairs well with the massive open-ended levels in Hitman. The first mission is set in a mansion with probably five or six floors, plus a basement, and a huge exterior with a courtyard, guest parking, a helicopter pad, and more. Literally hundreds of NPCs litter every floor and the exterior of the mansion, both providing cover to blend in and many eyewitnesses to your nefarious activities. This is where the game provides a lot of its challenge. It's one thing to watch guard movements and try to catch one off guard for a knockout, but it's an entirely different beast to attempt the same thing while hordes of NPCs are around to catch you in the act.

Thankfully, the massive levels also provide you with a huge amount of tools and opportunities to get an edge up in your mission. You can usually find tools laying around to help you out with picking locks or setting up traps. In one mission, I sabotaged a gas-powered heater by creating a leak with a screwdriver that was ignited when my target, a habitual smoker, lit up a cigarette nearby. Sometimes you can find enemy guard weapons laying around for you to use as well. One of the more basic, but very essential, items were the coins I found laying around. Picking these up allows you to throw them to create a distraction or to lure a guard close to you for a take down. After taking down an NPC by choking them out or killing them, you can take any of their items or disguise yourself as them. However, your disguise won't do you much good if you just leave the enemy's body laying around, so you have to make sure to hide your victim, lest another NPC sees them unconscious and reports the suspicious activity. You can hide bodies either by finding a closet to put them in, or throwing them in a river, the latter of which will end up killing them. While you're free to do whatever you like, killing non-essential targets ends up negatively impacting your mission score.

Disguising yourself as an NPC comes with some advantages and disadvantages. Dressing yourself as a guard may gain you access to areas that a civilian would not be able to enter without drawing suspicion. You will also be able to openly carry larger weapons without alarming other guards. However, some guard NPCs will be able to see through your disguise. These guards, called enforcers, will appear with a white dot over their heads if you scan around using your assassin instinct, which highlights key items and shows you nearby enemies through walls. One last thing that can ruin a disguise is getting spotted being suspicious. Once guards catch on to you doing something you shouldn't be, they become aware of your disguise, causing that particular disguise to be compromised, essentially rendering it useless.

Backtracking a bit to talking about the assassin's instinct, I found it an indispensable resource for planning each step of my missions. Holding down the instinct button slightly slows time and highlights specific things (even through walls) that may be useful for you to see. You are able to see interactable items, NPCs, and assassination targets. NPCs are also color coded to help you tell if any of them are looking for you or are hostile towards you. The mini-map also provides you with key information, such as whether or not you are trespassing, and the location of NPCs. Information or lack thereof makes or breaks you in stealth games, so it was nice having the instincts available as well as the mini-map. I always felt like the information I needed to make decisions was available and easily readable.

What isn't very readable is the main menu. After booting up the game for the first time, you are taken through the tutorial training missions. When you complete these, you are shown a trailer for the game and are then kicked out to the main menu. Unfortunately, you aren't given any more information or instruction on what to do next. Looking at the menu doesn't really give you a clear answer on what you should do to continue the story. There is a load icon, but you shouldn't have any saves at this point so there's no use clicking on that. The large icon in the middle would therefore be my next guess (and that is actually what you need to click), but nothing about the icon says that this is the next thing to start. I know it's a very minor nitpick, but in my opinion, a main menu should at least tell you where to continue the story.

When you do play through the story, you don't get much of it. You may get a cutscene at the beginning or end of a mission, and some story information you are able to pick up during missions by eavesdropping on conversations can clue you in on the greater plot in Hitman. However, in the time that I played the game, I didn't really feel I was being led along by a story. What the game does have to keep you coming back is the replayable missions. When you complete a mission, you are given a score that is based on how you completed your main objectives, if you were able to avoid raising suspicion, and how quickly you completed the mission. You are also awarded bonus points for completing certain side-objectives, or for accomplishing certain activities in special disguises. For instance, in the third mission, you can gain extra points by finding a prisoner, disguising yourself as him, and then sitting on the chair in his holding cell.

While being able to go back to previous missions and try to get the highest score possible may be appealing to some players, I never really find myself enjoying this type of game-play. I'd much rather continue on through the story instead of obsessing on a higher score. This is mostly because I have a million other games I'd like to play, so I don't want to spend too much time playing the same mission over and over again.

Closing remarks

What Hitman lacks in an engaging narrative, it makes up for with very dense levels that you can continue to go back to for many hours of game play. Unfortunately, the very open-ended, yet slow paced style that Hitman encourages is a little too slow for me. Sadly, I played through about half of Hitman's missions before I decided I'd seen enough to know that I didn't feel like completing the rest. That's not particularly a criticism of the game, though. I couldn't find anything really wrong with Hitman. It offers a ton of different options for you to complete your missions, and really sets you free to do whatever you want. The game clearly provides you with all the information you need to make good decisions, while not completely overwhelming the HUD with text. If you're looking for a game that has a load of replayability and freedom, play Hitman. However, if you don't like playing the same levels over and over again to get a high score, you should look elsewhere.

Heisengerm Rating = 3/5

Developer: IO Interactive

Publisher: Square Enix

Platforms: PC, Mac, PS4, XBox One

Release date: March 11, 2016 (first episode)

Reviewed on: PC

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