The Hitman franchise is best known for its complex stealth-action gameplay, featuring the now iconic assassin-for-hire Agent 47. With the latest iteration, the series has now made its debut on current generation platforms. This time, however, the game comes in the form of periodic episodes instead of a full-fledged release. The first available content, the Intro Pack, includes a prologue that takes place in multiple locations as well as a large open world area. Each of the future episodes is said to feature one of such large sandboxes.
The prologue takes you 20 years back to when you train as Agent 47 during his induction into the International Contract Agency. This is, for all intents and purposes, a tutorial level with the purpose getting players accustomed to mission intricacies. The two prologue areas are essentially training areas set up to simulate actual mission scenarios. It’s a rather short section of the Intro Pack that can easily be completed by following the on-screen instructions. That said, this section of the game sends out a clear message to fans who disliked the more action-oriented approach taken by Hitman: Absolution. Developer IO Interactive has acted upon such complaints with a return to the series’ espionage-centric roots.
Gone is Absolution’s poorly designed and unnecessary checkpoint system, and you now have the opportunity to save at any point during your playthrough. IO interactive has also made it a point to ensure that control is never taken away from the player during missions. Similarly, unlike in Absolution, cutscenes are limited to pre-mission segments and the storytelling doesn’t interrupt the flow of your mission. That said, the game doesn’t really have much of a story to tell in the first place, and most of it is just an elaborate excuse for you to sneak through an area and take out your target.
The second portion of the game, and by far the highlight of the Intro Pack, is the Paris level. Set inside a museum where a fashion show is taking place right in front of a jam-packed audience of NPCs. Here, you’ll find several areas to explore and far more diverse routes to take, such as disguising yourself as a fashion model in order to get closer to your target. It’s here that the game’s sandbox design and interactivity truly come together to create a believable setting. Unfortunately, though, certain aspects tend to draw you out of what is otherwise an immersive stealth experience. For starters, the animations are quite stiff, and they sometimes tend to have a negative effect on your movement and interactions. Secondly, the NPC AI doesn’t always act as intended, often ignoring you as a potential threat despite the odds not being in your favor.
Other game modes available include Contracts and Escalation, both of which give you the opportunity to take on more challenging objectives in the same levels. While this does give the game some replay value, it doesn’t have a lasting effect and things begin to get repetitive after a certain point.
From a graphical standpoint, the new Hitman may appear a little less-than-stellar at first. However, once you see the huge number of NPCs roaming about the Paris level, each engaged in its own AI routine, you begin to appreciate how technically demanding the game can be in these instances. On the other hand, the game is largely serviceable in the audio department. The sound effects are acceptable but lack the extra punch, and the music is unremarkable for the most part.
There’s a lot of promise hidden deep within the new Hitman. When its open world sandbox and stealth gameplay flow in tandem as intended, there’s nothing out there that’s quite like it. However, when the AI becomes a hurdle, the game’s issues stick out like a sore thumb and the illusion of a believably inhabited sandbox begins to crumble. That said, it’s an unfinished product, and it should be interesting to see where IO interactive takes things from here onwards, especially given the crucial feedback it will undoubtedly receive as a result of its episodic release model.
This review covers the PS4 version of the game.