It has been a long time since we’ve had a proper Hitman game, and when we say “proper,” we’re talking about the traditional, methodically-paced game fans have come to know and love. Hitman Absolution was an exciting action game that focused on a more linear progression while giving players semi-open environments to play around with, but it ultimately upset those who were expecting an evolution on the assassination format. IO Interactive has gone back to the drawing board to create a seemingly familiar formula, although they have added various twists to it in the process. While it may control and feel like old school Hitman games, it has now been positioned in an episodic format, rolling out content over time rather than giving players the bulk upon release. In a sense the format seems perfect for Hitman, having new jobs and tasks to accomplish as time progresses, but there are some shortcomings to take away from the overall experience. It’s not just how it is being broken up that may have fans baffled, but the numerous online functionalities that can sometimes hinder the enjoyment.
Hitman is essentially a reboot of the franchise, starting off twenty years in the past, showing how Agent 47 was recruited into the program. He’s given essentially two trial missions before being put into the field, resulting in essentially three missions overall in this fifteen dollar package. The first two are minuscule in size, though, taking anywhere between five and twenty minutes to complete. There are various opportunities to find in the environment, but generally speaking, they aren’t as big as you’d hope for, especially in comparison to other Hitman levels. They mainly result in a single target needing to be killed, both of which are being followed by at least one bodyguard. One is situated in a two-floor military compound which has a spiffy jet that’s difficult to approach and the other is on a small yacht where everyone is partying. Both of these are essentially training exercises for your true first mission. Fortunately, replayability is at an all-time high, at least for the military compound. After completing the mission, you will be given the option to do various other contracts within that base, like assassinating another individual. After that is done, another objective might be added when you play again. It’s an entertaining concept that could be put to great use in the bigger environments.
The third mission is true to the Hitman name, bringing Agent 47 to Paris where he needs to assassinate two rich targets that are putting on a fashion show as a front for their spy auction in which they sell various secrets from around the world. This mission feels a lot like Hitman: Blood Money’s ‘The House of Cards’ mission where you are given a multi-floored building that you will need certain credentials to access. Heck, there’s even an important Sheikh you are able to knock out and impersonate as. This mission in general is fairly well done with both targets going about their own distinct routines with various means of disposing of them. In typical Hitman fashion, it’s a time sensitive mission where specific events will trigger based on how long you’ve been in the level. This ensures you will be playing the waiting game on various occasions, following both targets and slowly picking them off in specific settings. Players will need patience to observe their surroundings and best setup a kill. On our first attempt, we were able to freely explore and complete this mission under fifty minutes, with our second going taking around twenty minutes. It’s a matter of experimenting with the numerous ways you’re able to kill someone, be it looking accidental or direct.
Hitman is very much a return to form for the series, going away from a traditional story-based format. The formula is rock solid, having Agent 47 being able to disguise as virtually anyone within a certain parameter. They also reworked a similar feature from Absolution: the suspicion meter. Here, instead of having a meter that will fill over time to avoid detection, there are specific people in the environment that don’t know who you are and will become suspicious of you. This is tied to certain classes of people; for example, guards or officers in more managerial positions will take notice if they don’t know who you are, whereas standard enemies won’t bat an eye unless you literally get in their face. The combat system has also slightly changed, with hand-to-hand battles being more quick-time oriented and the gunplay being difficult (to say the least). Gunfights in general are highly ill-advised as Agent 47 will go down almost instantaneously.
The game itself feels far more streamlined in the old Hitman format than ever before. For example, there will be opportunities scattered around the environment for Agent 47 to find, and by doing so, he is able to track a set of tasks. This will place an icon on the map for where our protagonist should go next, instead of having players figure things out on their own. This is great for those who want to know exactly where every possible viable execution leads, allowing for a more direct pathing being shown, although it feels a little easy to so. This is also tied to a new leveling system for each mission where experience points will be handed out for completing certain feats. For example, you may need to kill a certain individual with a piano wire, shoot someone while they’re on stage, or dress up in a certain outfit. You will also be able to unlock new starting points where Agent 47 will already be in disguise and various drop off points for items. There’s a mess of options to dig through, especially for those looking to play through the main mission more than once.
Unfortunately, while there’s a lot here to like, there’s a lot of technical hurdles that IO Interactive has to overcome. Easily the biggest and most aggravating issue with Hitman is the exceedingly lengthy load times. Hitman goes back to its roots where you are able to save as many times as you want (or at least in the story missions as there are some where this is disabled), but the load times are excessive. Timing it, getting into a mission takes roughly a minute and a half, with loading mid-game ending up between 45 seconds and one minute long. For a game where anything can go wrong in an instant and you’ll want to poke and prod every situation, these load times are unacceptable. It’s so bad that you’ll want to have something else nearby to entertain you, be it a phone or a computer. Suffice to say, you will be looking at load times and menus more than actually assassinating targets.
It doesn’t stop there, though, as the second issue with Hitman is its online connectivity. For whatever reason, if you’re logged into the online services for Hitman, which happens when you start the game, you will always need to maintain a connection. For a multiplayer-centric title, it makes sense, but for a single player experience with some online features such as this, there’s no reason for there to be any such function. This is poor decision making because if you get disconnected, you will instantly be brought back to the main menu with no save point given. This combined with the most nail-scratching load times creates a terrible mess, at least on PlayStation 4.
IO Interactive has setup something potentially more impressive for future releases, with gameplay we’ve come to love and a taste of what feels like infinite possibilities spread throughout a single scenario. Unfortunately, it all comes down to a value proposition. The prologue is short and its follow-up “The Final Test” is just as minuscule in its approach. The mission you will actually be paying for, the one of which takes Agent 47 to Paris, is well done in its execution, offering up the ability to truly explore a massive, multi-layered environment while your targets go through their lengthy routines. The biggest problem, though, is situated in the systems outside of the gameplay. Load times are just horrendous while the forced online functionality had us kicked back to the main menu numerous times, something that shouldn’t occur in a single-player centric release such as this. It’s these various setbacks and the short experience of the first episode that make it difficult to recommend Hitman as it is. Things could get better in the future, but the opening to Hitman is a rough one.