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By Kyle Holmer. This is LOAD FILE, where we understand that the key to being a successful assassin is really just about stealing other people’s clothes.  This week Kyle sneaks into a Paris fashion show in the first episode of IO Interactive’s latest ‘Hitman’ game, published by Square Enix for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Personal Computer.

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I was definitely late to the Hitman franchise; although I spent a few hours with Blood Money, at that point in my life I didn’t have much patience for a game that gave you a gun but was willing to punish players for using it.  However, with the release of Hitman: Absolution, something in my head finally clicked and I began to understand (and even enjoy) IO’s peculiar brand of stealth gaming. While it is considered one of the weaker entries in the franchise, Absolution served as a perfect entry point for the series, and I appreciated the variety each scenario offered without ever feeling overwhelmed. However, fans of the series criticized the game for exactly that reason: the maps and missions were bite-sized compared to previous entries, and players were no longer given as much freedom as they had come to expect from the series.

IO Interactive set out to rectify those transgressions with this latest entry. The newest Hitman game, confusingly titled Hitman, completely ignores its predecessors, and instead serves as the proper follow up to Blood Money (insofar as gameplay is concerned). Each mission again has countless, elaborate assassination opportunities and the smaller, more focused story sequences that were peppered throughout Absolution are completely absent from this game. Unfortunately, that may not have been the wisest decision.

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CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN

I should probably just say this outright, there’s essentially no narrative throughline in this latest Hitman game. While IO made a huge push in Absolution to create missions tied together with a cohesive narrative, we’re now given just a few scant cutscenes at the beginning and end of every mission that attempt to offer a little background (more often, just an explanation) for this portion of the game’s events. The game opens with a flashback to Agent 47s origin, and this really only serves as an opportunity for a prolonged tutorial; creating a narrative excuse to put 47 in a series of exercise rooms. After that you’re given access to the actual core of the game (or the missions that are currently available), which is all loosely explained with a few incoherent cutscenes. All of that being said (and my own narrative expectations aside) this series has never been known for its strong storytelling, so it’s difficult to fault IO for staying the course.

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APPARENTLY YOU CAN GET POISON JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE IN PARIS

It’s impossible to talk about this game without talking about the new release plan Square and IO have adopted. While fans of the series will appreciate the increased scale and complexity of these new missions, there’s a caveat in that not all of it is available currently. As of launch, players are given the option to buy an intro pack for $14.99 which includes a prolonged tutorial sequence and the first of the game’s six missions, an upgrade package for $49.99 (which includes the remaining five missions), or the entire package outright for a traditional price of $59.99. If players are desperate to play the newest Hitman game, all that’s currently available is a tutorial, a mission, and a multiplayer mode.

Fortunately that mission happens to massive. There are countless paths to pursue in assassinating the mission targets, and each of those paths has even more diverging from it.  The amount of options available is sincerely intimidating and you’ll have to put around ten to fifteen hours into this single Paris mission if you want to see all that the campaign offers. Each completed challenge adds additional options (weapons, costumes, and access points) for repeat playthroughs. Once you do absolutely everything on the in-game challenge list and take a step back, you begin to see how the machinery works, but it’s still entertaining nonetheless (there’s just not a lot of incentive to replay the game after finishing all of it).

As mentioned there’s also the return of Absolution’s Contracts mode, which serves as a competitive multiplayer game. Players are dropped into one of the currently available maps and given free rein to kill whomever they want (in any way they want). Those actions are recorded and put online as a challenge for others to complete. It’s a relatively simple premise that should sate fans until the eventual release of the next mission. IO also offers a series of custom contracts that create additional rules or mechanisms to the multiplayer mode. These are definitely the best of the best, and as far as I can tell they’ll be releasing a few each week. Unfortunately, even at its best, neither the player-made or IO contracts bare any resemblance to the core game. There are no multi-step executions; there’s no real planning required beyond finding a custom and a gun.  

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NO ONE EVER THINKS TO LOOK AT THE BALD DUDE WITH THE BARCODE TATTOO

So Hitman definitely has some problems: it’s a little buggy, the graphics are dated, and for some ridiculous reason, you have to be connected to the Hitman servers at all times (and just like every other online game, the servers at launch aren’t great). But the majority of this game is still undeniably fun. There’s just so much to explore here; so many different brutal ways to annihilate people that if you spend the time with it, Hitman will reward you in kind.  

This series has always had a very specific fan base, like a cross between a strategy game and a stealth game, it caters to a unique audience. This latest entry is definitely not the entry that will convert the masses to this series (as Absolution attempted), but it definitely serves as a return to form: an unbelievably comprehensive assassination simulator. We all just need hope that the remaining episodes end up being as enjoyable as this first sequence.

Developed by IO Interactive.

Published by Square Enix.

Directed by Christian Elverdam.

Written by Michael Vogt.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

8 out of 10

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