REVIEW: Hitman (XBox One)
THE PREMISE: Step once again into the signature suit and polished dome of the enigmatic Agent 47. Travel the world, killing people in exciting new ways! Unravel a conspiracy! Drown a guy in a toilet and steal his clothes! It's got everything you could ever want, you terrible little monster.
The game's on an episodic release schedule - a new area is made available every month-ish, with the complete first season set to release on-disc in January. So if you're the type that's shy about that kind of release structure, you may want to wait until then.
That said, I've probably played this game more than anything else on my XBox this year. At the time of this writing, there are two training areas and four bigger maps available, with the next one dropping on the 27th and one more rounding out Season 1 before the end of the year. You can pay for the whole package up front (you unlock a couple exclusive items and bonus missions if you do), or you can buy it a la carte. This is the sixth game in the series and while it's not a reboot in the literal sense (the training missions show 47's initiation into the ICA, but the rest of the game takes place several years after 2012's Hitman: Absolution), don't be worried about missing out on anything if you're new to the franchise.
THE PERFECT CRIME: Each mission takes place in a big open map. You choose your gear from a variety of concealed handguns, explosives, and other devices you unlock as you play, and go about your mission however you see fit. As you explore each area you may be clued in on certain opportunities by listening to NPC chatter or finding notes lying around. You can take advantage of these opportunities, or wing it and do your own thing. The game offers guidance for those who want it in the form of markers that show up on your HUD once you learn about a certain opportunity, but if you're a Hiitman purist you can ignore these or turn them off completely (along with virtually every other method of assistance the game offers - it's very customizable).
If you're playing it straight, your goal should be to only kill your designated targets and to do it without getting found out. This typically involves some combination of diguises, sneaking around, and hiding bodies where they won't be found until long after you've escaped. The developers have included dozens of challenges for each stage to keep people playing, ranging from killing targets in specific ways to finding certain easter eggs or escaping in a different way. The more of these challenges you complete, the higher your Mastery level for each stage gets - and the more planning options and gadgets you unlock.
For example, when you first play the Paris mission (taking out two targets during a fashion show in a French mansion), you have to start outside the main entrance posing as a guest. As you play and complete it a few more times and in different ways, you unlock the option to start the mission undercover, posing as a member of the stage tech crew. This gives you more options in the planning and execution of your mission. The ultimate test of skill for each mission is the "Suit Only, Silent Assassin" challenge, where you complete your objectives without ever getting spotted, with nobody finding the bodies, and doing it all without changing clothes.
There's also a big online component to the game in the form of Contracts, Escalations, and Elusive Targets. Contracts are basically missions where your target or targets are certain NPCs in each stage (other than the main targets for the story missions). You can make Contracts super easily; you just play a stage in Contract mode, tag your preferred target, and then kill them and exit like a normal mission. The weapon you used to kill them will be added as an optional requirement when your Contract is played by others.
Escalations are like HORSE, but for murder. Most of them have five levels that you have to play through in order to complete the whole Escalation. For example, there's one in Paris where the first level is to kill a specific target with a saber and escape. Level two has you kill the guy with a saber, kill a second target in any way you see fit, and escape. Level three adds a third target to the mix. In level four you have to kill them all within 60 seconds of each other, and in level five you have to do all of that AND find a randomly located disarming device before you can escape because this time there are proximity mines located at all the exits.
Elusive Targets are one-time-only missions with special targets created by the developers. Once they're available, you have a limited amount of time (typically a few days) to undertake the mission. Once you start the mission, you must finish it - if you're killed or otherwise fail to take out your target, they're gone forever. Elusive Target missions can't be replayed (once you're playing one you can restart the mission, up to a certain point), so you must plan and execute very carefully.
So even once you complete all the challenges for the main targets, there's tons of other content available to mess around with. I don't typically like replaying stuff over and over for a better score or what have you, but there's something darkly satisfying about finally managing to pull off the perfect hit.
I only really have one big problem with the game, and it's the load times. They average in the 20 to 30 second range, and sometimes even longer than that. It's particularly frustrating when you save during a mission before trying something risky, only to get caught and have to reload again (and if you're going for a perfect run, you'll be doing this a lot). There's also some random 10 to 20 second loads when you're switching tabs in the pause menu during a mission. I get that the mission areas are all huge and densely populated with a lot of stuff to keep track of, but it seems a bit extreme.
There's also the whole episodic release structure thing, but that's probably just a sign of how much I enjoy the game that I want more of it to play right now.
IN CONCLUSION: If you've played and enjoyed the older Hitman games, this is kind of a no-brainer. If you're new to the series and want to check it out, the intro pack (including two training areas and the Paris mission) is $15, and you could do a lot worse than this for $15. Some technical quibbles might get under your skin from time to time, but whipping a fire extenguisher across the room into the back of someone's head is never not fun.
SCORE: FOUR (4) proximity-activated bombs hidden inside of rubber ducks out of 5.
+ Highly replayable
+ Loads of difficulty options
+ Fun online component
- Load times and some other minor technical issues
- Episodic release schedule
- I could only kill Gary Busey once.