When it comes to my favorite stealth action franchises, Hitman always jumps right to the top. But, when I first heard that the newest Hitman game would be broken up into episodes across the year, I admit my heart sank. I was worried about taking a tried-and-true formula and trying to fix something that in my opinion wasn’t broken. Thankfully, after sitting down and beating the entire first season of Hitman, the series’ new episodic direction may be one of the best things to ever happen to it.
In the prologue to the first episode, we see a rare glimpse of Agent 47’s past, specifically when he first meets Diana Burnwood and joins the ICA. After that, it’s back in the present day, and it’s the usual trek around the world for 47 as Diana continues to assign him high-profile targets that the ICA has been contracted to remove. As 47 is doing this, it soon becomes clear to Diana that these more recent assignments were all connected as part of a larger puzzle—and the deeper she digs, the more she realizes a more sinister force may be at play. With 47 being the only person she can trust, the two must uncover a conspiracy that could shake the ICA to its core.
Anyone who has played any of the previous Hitman games should be able to jump into this one relatively easily. By using disguises and unique opportunities in the environment, players will be tasked with knocking off multiple targets in every location, with each new locale in this case also representing a new episode. What’s so impressive about Hitman is there has never been more ways to accomplish your goals on each map. You can go with 47’s iconic suit, tie, and silenced silverballer pistols and try to get the perfect shot off before making a quick escape. Or, you could drop a lighting grid on someone. Or push them into a wood chipper. Or pose as a yoga teacher and snap their necks (I guess that part of the body wasn’t meant to be so flexible). The choices are many and varied.
There is one new feature, though, when it comes to how 47 tackles his objectives now: with Diana in his ear constantly monitoring the situation, he’s able to track kill opportunities. From overheard conversations to intelligence documents found on site, you can piece together exactly what you need to perform the best accident kills the series has seen yet, and actually follow objective markers in the world to pull off some of these spectacular hits. And, if you prefer the challenge of figuring it all out for yourself, you can always turn this option off. Even with all my Hitman experience, I still found this extremely useful considering how large each location is. Although, I do admit, there’s also a sick sense of satisfaction when you piece it all together on your own.
Even being episodic, Hitman still plays out in many ways like a complete game would. Each new location is massive, and throws new challenges 47’s way each time. Paris is likely the easiest of the maps, with plenty of cover, disguises, and opportunities as you crash a fashion show with hundreds of guests. Sapienza, Italy—a fictitious city off the Amalfi coast—gets a little harder, with heightened security and no crowds as you infiltrate a mansion. Marrakesh then puts your two targets in two different buildings with a busy town square between them, while Bangkok boosts the security yet again at a luxury resort hotel. An off-the-grid farm compound in Colorado makes things even harder by limiting cover and disguise opportunities and making you take out four targets. Finally, Hokkaido, Japan, removes all weapons and items before you start the mission inside a hospital for the wealthy. This escalation between episodes—from both a gameplay and narrative sense—coincides both with what you would expect from a game, as well as the heightened stakes of any action-drama TV series.
Of course, I believe this feeling was a lot more evident because I binge-played the season over a weekend. That’s one of the difficult things about episodic content: with weeks between game episodes, it can be harder to carry feelings over from chapter to chapter unless you replay a previous episode before starting a new one. I don’t believe that playing each new Hitman episode as it came out would’ve been able to keep that adrenaline flow I got from doing mission after mission going, whereas I enjoyed the gameplay much more by playing the entire experience in a short period of time.
Although, I do have to say that there are some negatives to playing it all at once. While Hitman does a good job moving things forward, tying up enough loose ends by the conclusion of the season, and leaving a couple of questions unanswered for future seasons to explore, I felt there wasn’t as much of a connection strung between the episodes. Character development and narrative felt very bare bones, and I wonder if this came across more strongly because of my binge-playing, where I was able to see all the new characters’ short story arcs and minimal story progress very quickly.
One definite positive that comes from playing each episode as they come out, though, is the replayability. There’s more content here than ever before—both from the community and from Io Interactive—which keeps people playing each episode, and which no doubt helps keep them fresher in people’s minds. Once again, being able to create your own contract returns, allowing you to share with the community your own challenging hit orders. There’s also escalation missions from Io that add new targets and bump up the difficulty at a player’s discretion.
Even more than that, however, is the new Elusive Targets. These are timed contracts, usually over a weekend, where players are given a single opportunity to take out the most difficult targets given by Io Interactive. Most of these are unique NPCs with their own parameters to be eliminated within, but there has even been guest stars (akin to a TV show) like Gary Busey and Gary Cole inserted into these one-off missions. Whether you succeed or fail, these missions are done after that one attempt and then lost forever, with the game keeping track of your success rate on its stats screen. If you’re playing the game piecemeal as it comes out, these are great ways to keep you engaged. If you’re like me, though, and waited to play it all at once, or are waiting for the disc with everything on it coming in January, you’ll have missed out already on nearly a dozen Elusive Targets. The game still has a lot to keep you coming back for more, with loads of challenges per map and worldwide leaderboards for you to try to climb, but seeing how far behind I am on escalation missions, and the fact I’ll never get a shot at any of the previous Elusive Targets, makes me feel like I missed a huge part of what made this game special by waiting, even with more Elusive Targets coming in the future.
Either way you play Hitman – Season 1, whether all at once or in pieces as it came out, something small is lost from each. Some of the replayability and story enjoyment suffers by binge-playing, but that natural escalation of difficulty and feeling like a complete experience comes through more strongly when playing it all at once. These are minor things all told, however, and when you boil Hitman down, it is one of the most complete and enjoyable experiences we’ve had yet from the series. And now, I can’t wait for Season 2.
|Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: Io Interactive • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.31.16|
If you played it as each episode came out, or binge-played it all at once, something is lost each way from Hitman – Season 1, but not enough to detract from what is as a whole one of the most enjoyable and entertaining Hitman experiences we’ve ever had.
|The Good||Everything you love about the Hitman series has been boiled down to potentially its purest form.|
|The Bad||Depending on how you experience the game—either through binge playing or as each episode comes out—something is lost|
|The Ugly||What’s left of that guy in Italy who “accidentally” fell in the wood chipper|
|Hitman – Season 1 is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|