“Hitman” wrapped up its first season in October with the release of the sixth episode, a murderous romp at a secret hospital in Hokkaido, Japan. The last episode capped off an excellent game that almost perfectly executed the monthly release format and brought the series back from its “Absolution” nadir in 2012.
Briefly, “Hitman” puts players in control of an assassin-for-hire tasked with taking out a handful of targets in any number of situations and locales. The goal for any level (or contract) is to blend in and take out each target with as little fuss as possible, to be a “silent assassin.” The Hitman series spans 16 years, six full-fledged games, two mobile games, and two ill-advised films.
“Hitman” came out in March with only one level and a “season pass” plan mostly untested with this sort of game. Publisher Square Enix promised “major content drops every month until season end.” To their credit, they stuck to that schedule. The 2016 version took players all over the northern hemisphere, covering four continents in the process.
Players can enjoy the game basically any way they want. Want to play as a proper hitman? Turn off any sort of hints. Like your murder-for-hire with a bit of hand-holding? Turn on “Instinct” mode and have everything useful highlighted. You can go in guns-a-blazing (or shurikens-a-blazing or screwdrivers-a-blazing). Or you can take out your targets with finesse, using poison, or a sniper rifle, or an exploding golf ball.
However, “Hitman” shines as a game of orchestrated accidents. A botched surgery, exposure to a virus, a car mishap. This requires plenty of trial and error. Yet the need to reload doesn’t grate. The satisfaction of successfully dropping a chandelier on a target walking the runway at a fashion show vastly outweighs the frustration of a fourth (or sixth or tenth) reload to get the timing just right.
Completionists and obsessives should love (or loathe) the latest edition of the famed “disguise and murder” series. Story missions feature at least a dozen ways to take out targets, with accomplishments opening new equipment and disguises. IO also gives players “Escalation” contracts that offer increasingly difficult complications. In addition, players can create their own contracts for the rest of the Hitman community.
This sort of game lends itself to a staggered release schedule. This encourages players to explore every nook and cranny of each level, something a more casual player might not do if the next level beckoned. The game is almost infinitely replayable, and you’re almost forced to take advantage of that. Game developer IO Interactive also stayed with the Hitman community in between releases, providing additional contracts, a bonus episode, and game patches. They continue to support the game six weeks after the final episode, with a Christmas-themed take on the first level out this week. Another bonus episode should arrive in January.
While immensely enjoyable, “Hitman” has its flaws. It is frustratingly and confusingly an online-only game. You can play offline, but the game severely limits your progression. It is also a digital-only game for the moment. The soundtrack for this iteration is the least memorable and most repetitive of the series (or perhaps this player looks back on Jesper Kyd’s compositions with rose-colored headphones). The voice acting seems limited to four or five actors. “Hitman” also built up an intriguing story only to end the season with very few answers, with an ending more focused on building to a second season.
But these are minor issues for a game that executes (get it?) everything else so well. Fans of action games, stealth games, and the Hitman series should enjoy this game plenty. Few games offer more bang (heh) for your buck. You can download the full season now or wait for the physical release in January 2017.