The upcoming latest installment of Hitman, simply titled Hitman, is going to change up the formula a bit. IO Interactive has decided to break the game up into an episodic experience, with a new level hitting every month after the game’s initial launch in March. For a release like this to work they really have to ensure that each and every level is replayable as can be, offering a ton of diversity in how you achieve your hitman-ly duties. It’s never been a problem for the series, which has always encouraged freedom in how you kill your marks, but this new Hitman may be the first to really make you want to try every single way.
In what seems a direct response to complaints about the linear structure of the last installment (Hitman: Absolution), Hitman really embraces the sandbox nature of the game. Think about how effective Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes was at encouraging multiple playthroughs and you’ll see something similar in effect here. Each level offers multiple points of entry, tons of uniforms to rip off knocked-out individuals and blend in, and many fun methods to make your kill. You can always simply use a garrotte or silenced pistol for the assassination but generally the environmental “accident” kills are oddly more satisfying.
The Instinct system from Absolution returns, giving you an X-ray view that lets you see people through walls and highlights important items in the environment. You can hold it down as long as you want without worrying about the meter emptying this time, although it's not as useful for blending in and hiding your identity among nosy guards as it once was.
The two levels included in this weekend’s beta make up the literal training levels of the game. Set twenty years before the events of the game proper, we see a young Agent 47 (before he even had a number to his name!) going through the ropes before he becomes an official, numbered field agent. This means that the worlds are fake - the getaway helicopter made of plywood, the people on the cruise ship all actors, the bullets knocking people out instead of killing them. That doesn’t change how tense things are (the actors are really good, apparently) and it doesn’t lessen how much of a badass you feel when you finally complete the mission.
The first mission sees you boarding a cruise ship in order to kill a thief who’s about to sell some data he’s stolen. To get on the ship you’ll likely need to knock someone out - an engineer or security guard, for example- and take their clothes as your own. Get on the ship in costume and you’ll be able to hide from most people but the more observant now have little marks above their head, warning you to stay away from them lest they question who you are and start to chase you. As a tutorial mission it holds you by the hand and shows you one method of doing things, but then the game immediately lets you return to it for freeform play, and more assassination methods. Poison, remote explosives, even drowning via toilet bowl can all be used as effective means of (ahem) disposal.
The second level sees you attempting to take down a former chess master turned spy, and is a much more traditional base infiltration. If you want to sneak in here you’ll have to be much stealthier, and while it’s possible to do so while without changing your clothes it will require split-second timing.
This level shows off the new Opportunity system where you can find new methods of murder on site by listening in to the (almost always entertaining) conversations between guards. Check out the video below and you’ll see me discovering my personal favorite one, which involves bringing the target to an airplane and “accidentally” setting off the ejector seat.
In this Hitman it’s much harder to engage in combat. I know this because, as always, I failed the first mission within minutes and attempted to just off everyone in sight. It’s something that happens to me in every single stealth game I’ve played and the Hitman series was usually generous with allowing you to blow everyone away with 47’s hilariously overpowered Hardballer pistols. But not here. A few bullets will take you down for good, so no matter if you’ve got rifles or shotguns and plenty of cover, your chances of escaping alive are pretty much nil. Believe me, I tried...
But the game’s sandbox means that there are SO MANY new ways to go about your mission that you won’t care about replaying the game and taking a new tactic. This game will live and die by its replayablity (there’s only going to be these two levels and one massive level set at a Paris fashion show upon release, after all) so it’s good to note that trying different methods is so enjoyable. That’s aided by challenges that give you clues for new ways to off the target, new items to find, and some hardcore methods for winning.
Another thing that IO Interactive will be doing when the game is released is adding new targets to the world, some of them timed. Imagine having only 48 hours to log into the game and take down a new target - and only one chance at doing it successfully. These new modes will certainly keep people playing over the year if done correctly, and I can only imagine how fun it would be watching videos from friends’ attempts and competing on the leaderboards.
If they can deliver on their promise of a living game that changes and expands month to month, Hitman could be something amazing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have someone to drown in a toilet.
Hitman will launch on March 11 for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.