Io has made some pretty incredible Hitman games over the years. As the series has evolved, we’ve seen a game that has grown increasingly complex, with seemingly countless ways to tackle any given mission. Players have been given complete freedom to carry out Agent 47’s tasks in a wide variety of locations. Fans of the stealth genre know that there’s not many better than some of the previous Hitman games. This new Hitman game stays close to home in a lot of ways, leaning on the many core features of the previous games that fans love. It’s chocked-full of challenge and variety. It looks great on new consoles. It’s also being released in a way that has never been done before for this series, and a way that is uncommon for today’s AAA-release. What fans lining up for the day one experience for Hitman 2016 will get is very little, very promising, but just a small taste of things to come.
If you haven’t heard by now, Hitman 2016 will be released episodically, sold in a variety of ways. You can purchase this first “intro pack” which includes the prologue (this is exactly what was in the recent beta for the game) and a new map in Paris. This is $15. Other locations can be purchased for $10 a piece, and in total, there will be seven. If you like the Intro and want to spring for the rest of the game, you can also upgrade for $50. You can also opt for the “Full Experience,” a $60 “investment” right out of the gate as for what’s to come. New maps are set to arrive in April and May, with others arriving before year’s end. Yes, there are a lot of options here and it all feels completely unnecessary. Furthermore, this first episode feels a little underwhelming, especially if you played the recent beta for the game as Paris is the only new content here. It does feel promising though.
Each level in Hitman is dense. Many NPCs on screen may seem like old hat and expected at this point, but this new Hitman game fills its levels with persons seemingly carrying on with their lives as you stalk your target. There’s plenty to explore in each level, conversations to eavesdrop on, stragglers to knock out and impersonate, booby traps to set. Think about it kind of like Metal Gear’s recent prologue, and you’ll have some kind of idea what to expect. You can certainly pound through the three missions here in just a short time, but there’s a ton of replay value if you want to discover all of the different opportunities for a given level. You can get incredibly creative in Hitman, and Io is banking on the fact that you’ll want to play these situations many times and master these locales. Plus, community created challenges are back. These contracts can be taken and must be performed to the creator’s specifications. Which again, add some replay value to this short experience and can certainly be the main draw for some players.
As little as it may be, what’s here feels really good. As a fan of the Hitman games, the gameplay feels great even if it isn’t a huge evolution from previous games in the series. Stealth is still the primary focus, and Agent 47 uses numerous disguises to stay unnoticed. Through exploration or via an in-game helper you can find many different opportunities to take out your target. The stealth here can be brutal, even the smallest indiscretions can get you tripped up, and with so many different approaches to try, completing your objectives will include some trial and error. Pulling off the perfect hit is still very rewarding. Snagging that waiter’s outfit to sneak into the kitchen and poison the food, only to follow your target into the bathroom as they are puking their guts up and then drowning them in the toilet? I mean, c’mon that’s priceless stuff, and there’s a lot of random things like that to do in Hitman — even in the few locations that are currently available.
Extrapolate the size and scope of these first three levels out to the rest of the season and this could very well be a great Hitman game. It’s just a small piece of one right now, that will undoubtedly have some players chomping at the bit for more levels. I can see there being two types of people who purchase this game, well three, really. The first is one that isn’t interested in replaying levels again and again until the new ones arrive. This person might be a little disappointed with this first episode and might be looking for a little more meat when it comes to the story. As it stands, there isn’t much. The second, is the one that wants to explore everything these levels have to offer, try different tactics, and become a master of each. This person will likely be very pleased with what’s here, and could be entertained thoroughly until more maps arrive. The third, is the person that already dug deep into the beta. That person is going to feel a little bored, a little quick, as there’s only one new environment to play in. I guess I’m falling into that third category as I played a good bit of the beta so playing those again weren’t all that exciting.
The good news is, there’s more to it with this full release. As previously noted, the Community Contracts mode can be challenging and entertaining, though mileage may vary. However, the size of the map in Paris for example features some 300 simulated NPC characters, contract creators can chose to make any of them Agent 47’s target. You can also be forced to do things in a specific way, with a specific weapon, or wearing a specific costume. A new mode called Escalation also adds some replay value to levels currently available and seemingly going forward with the new ones. These are developer made contracts which force you to master each level, modded much like the community created ones. The only difference here, is that every time you master one of these challenges, the difficulty escalates, adding new elements to the contract making it harder. Another unique feature is Elusive Targets, but we didn’t get to try this aspect out. These targets are time-limited, who will only appear in the game for limited hours of real time. You have a single chance to make the hit, otherwise they’re gone for good. Io tells us that these will be released on a regular basis in between the new maps. Apparently, these targets will need to be tracked down by the player, and they can only be found by doing a little detective work, listening to conversations and finding clues. This sounds like an interesting and dynamic way to shake things up while folks are waiting for new maps, but without getting to try it myself, I can’t really say.
Despite knowing all about the episodic nature of this latest Hitman game, I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting more of it NOW. That’s kind of a good sign. It means there’s something compelling here, and they’ve dialed in the experience from a gameplay, presentation, and feature perspective. Time will tell if this episodic-AAA release thing catches on, but I sure hope it doesn’t. I most certainly would not mind having the full thing to explore on day one. Io does a good job of throwing features out there to keep you busy, with massive maps, community created content, and a steep mastery curve. However, there are some areas which feel completely underserved, such as the story. Hitman 2016 feels like it has a solid base to build from. Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to wait for the full game to release on disc in 2017 or for all maps to arrive by year’s end, fans of the series have no other way to experience what might end up being one of the very best and most feature rich games of the series.