“Awaiting Activation”

Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: March 11, 2016
Copy purchased

Everything was in place, all that was left to do was wait for the perfect moment to strike. As an elaborate fashion show continued a few stories below me, I emerged from the shadows just as one of my two targets took the stage, removing my silenced weapon from its concealment, I readied my aim. Viktor Novikov had no idea he was about to meet his death, and neither did the security detail prowling the premises all night. I’d slipped in disguised as a member of the stage crew, making my way to a vantage point where I then orchestrated a plan to complete my mission. I was already making my way to the next room when Novikov’s brains splattered across the fashion runway to the horror of the crowd below. Screams erupted from the lower levels, but I paid no attention as I pushed towards my next target, Dalia Margolis. Dalia was going to be trickier to eliminate if looking to avoid collateral damage, for she was guarded by quite the daunting escorts. After changing into a disguise from a nearby bodyguard, I waited for the opportunity to get her alone. The longer I waited, the more restless I became. In a reckless move I breached the room where she was settled with her bodyguards, taking them all out in an act of swift violence. It was messy, but the job was done.HITMAN (Braxton Haugen) 1 IO Interactive’s new Hitman title makes its season debut as an episodic game, with the promise of releasing new locations and missions as the year goes on. The first episode, which can be bought standalone for $15 as ‘The Intro Pack’, includes a set of missions that follow Agent 47 during various points throughout his career. The story begins in a remote training location as 47 gets acquainted with the International Contract Agency, more commonly referred to as ICA. Right from the get-go you’re thrown into a set of elaborate training scenarios that task 47 with completing various staged assassination contracts. The most interesting aspect of these training sections is their location, set completely on an soundstage with actors and fake bullets to boot. Here, we’re shown the basics of gameplay, from distracting enemies, to blending in with a disguise, to executing a perfectly designed assassination. It’s a fun set of levels, made compelling by the unique setting and solid gameplay that drives them. Even in these small slices, the variation represented in this introductory iteration of the Hitman series is quite vast. Do you simply takedown your target with a well placed bullet, or opt for a more methodical approach, such as poisoning their cocktail of choice? This satisfying gameplay loop is what keeps Hitman’s debut feeling fresh, even when it fails to keep its momentum.

The bulk of the intro pack is set at an extravagant fashion show in Paris, where 47 has been contracted to eliminate two dangerous people in the game’s only significant chapter. Titled Showstopper, the mission is rather straightforward, with the only two objectives being kill and exfiltrate. In this sense, there’s not a lot of scope to your tasks as Agent 47, but judging strictly off the mission briefing would be a huge disservice to the mission’s actual brilliance. Perhaps most impressive, the map in which the mission is set is a gigantic, intricately realized sandbox, overflowing with twisted and effective possibilities to eliminate your targets. By my fourth or fifth time through the mission I was still discovering new pathways and elaborate assassination opportunities. Wandering about the floors of the publicly packed show, Hitman’s stealth elements truly shine. This isn’t your average behind enemy lines stealth game, you’re forced to take into consideration the public nature of the mission, utilizing disguises and distractions to your advantage. It’s a fun loop, but it doesn’t last long enough to satisfy more than its short duration. The tenth time Viktor Novikov laid in pool of blood before me, wasn’t as shocking or satisfying as it was the first few go arounds. This leads to the most worrisome problem with Hitman’s release model. It doesn’t embrace the episodic formula, feeling rather like a glorified slice of an unfinished game.HITMAN (Braxton Haugen) 2In terms of extras, Hitman offers a set of side content in hopes to encompass longevity. However, as fun as some of these options may be, they’re mostly user created rehashes of the main content. There’s nothing fleshed out or all that compelling to participate in, once having completed the main story. Instead, Hitman falls back on a messy leveling system that contradicts much of its variety driven intentions. When coupled with sluggish menus, prolonged loading, and easily exploitable, yet unpredictable enemies, Hitman sometimes feels like a chore when trying to get to the heart of its content.

Conclusion: The more time I spent with Hitman’s Intro Pack, the more enamored and appreciative I was of its gameplay intricacies. However, at the same time, the longer I spent sneaking about the gorgeously realized environment of Paris, the more I became closely acquainted with Hitman’s shortcomings. There’s simply not a lot of meat to chew on here, and while this issue promises to resolve itself with additional episodes down the line – what’s here now feels a bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot this new incarnation of Hitman gets right. Chief to its strengths is its unfettered ability to embrace variety. Tackling the same mission–sometimes with slight variations–over and over again, sounds trite. Nevertheless, the flexibility and openness to different layers of strategy kept me coming back for more. Hitman’s return certainly isn’t without its quirks, with the likes of technical interruptions, inconsistent AI, long load times, and some repetitive hoops to jump through, but Agent 47’s first mission back shows potential in evolving into something greater. Today’s just not the day.

Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on HITMAN – Intro Pack. Find me @BraxHaugen.