Save for Colorado, it seems Io-interactive is hellbent on making the players of Hitman feel like tourists at worst and pampered guests at best. With a little side of murder, of course. The latest episode, Hokkaido, rounds up the season and is no exception to that rule. A private hospital boasting not only advanced surgery techniques, but amenities more befitting a spa as well, such as a traditional Japanese hot spring and even an organic sushi restaurant. Whether you're here to relax or be remade through modern medicine (canonically, it would be both), there is no doubt that the stage is set for another set of murders.
As far as first impressions go, Hokkaido's private clinic looks like a daunting level to conquer. While your starting apparel permits you access to a large portion of the level from the start, you won't get anywhere far without a different disguise, unless you're the purist sneaky type. Which is something that should be possible, as it has been an attainable challenge achievement throughout every episode of Hitman so far. That said, the mountain area surrounding the hospital only adds to the environmental beauty, and the coming winter certainly doesn't make it hard to imagine the windy cold.
While seemingly complex at first, the level does return to that pitfall of having the 'perfect' disguise. In this case, the surgeon outfit is relatively easy to attain and permits you access to any of the places you needed to be. It was the disguise I ran around with, for the most part, switching only to the Yoga Instructor disguise to lure my final target to an untimely and accidental death.
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Wherever you go, death is sure to follow. As usual, your targets are quite high-profile. Eric Soders is an ICA Board Member - the very company you work for - and has been discovered to be a recent mole for the elusive and mysterious Providence. Suffering from a condition called Situs Inversus, which means his internal organs are reversed, he is in need of a rare right-sided heart transplant. Before this happens, he is first treated to a pre-surgery regenerative stem cell treatment.
What this ultimately means is that Eric will be a stationary and clearly visible target. At all times during the level will he be undergoing treatment while tended to by surgeons, making it appear as a challenge to get to him. However, as there are plentiful methods to sabotage both his current or prospective surgery, it will eventually turn out to be a far easier challenge than it would first appear. I have to admit, I felt a little disappointed by it, but I could still appreciate the work put in.
Your second target is Yuki Yamazaki, a Tokyo Lawyer that works for Providence and is rumored to be one of the best. Stories go that she managed to let an entire family of Yakuza run out of court free, despite damning evidence, no doubt leaving her with powerful allies. She will prove to be a more typical target, roaming around the level with a guard detail right behind her.
I feel like a broken record with saying this, but a veteran Hitman player should not have any trouble tackling this level. The complexity is only skin deep and the opportunities for murder are plentiful and often very obvious. It is for this reason that I decided to finally tackle an Elusive Target. As you may remember, Elusive Targets are one-off missions where you need to murder one or two specific NPCs that have been purposefully added. The problem, however, is that you practically have one chance at completing it. If you die, the contract will remain closed forever. And once you've started completing your objectives, you can no longer restart the level.
I've found it to be a unique experience. At one hand you truly are challenged to call upon all your dormant assassin skills to complete your objective. On the other hand, 'cheesing' out the level becomes far more appealing, as you can see in the screenshot above. It's a tactic that I name "kill rooms", where I use a somewhat unpopular room to operate from in a certain radius and slowly kill and stash every NPC I run into, effectively depopulating the level as to reduce any uncontrollable variables.
There are two side-effects to this. Firstly, it makes painfully obvious that your final score matters in no way when it comes to an Elusive Target. 76 non-target kills I would round up along with a score of zero, but in the end, I did complete the level successfully and reaped the rewards from it.
Secondly, it hilariously and perhaps painfully shows the odd behavior guards have when dealing with a mass murder. As long as you're not caught in the area when the bodies are discovered, the only thing the guards will do is body bag every corpse and drag them off one by one. Which looks pretty hilarious when you have multiple kill rooms of which some have been discovered.
It also shows the disconnect with any immersion. Realistically, if even one murder was found out, legal authorities should be called and the area locked down while the police figure out who the murderer is. In Hitman, the AI has no real defense against a single murder, let alone a genocide. The bodies get moved to a different location, and then the guards resume their patrol or task. At times, it even gave me this sense of a power fantasy. As long as I didn't get shot down and could shake my pursuers, I could run back to where I remembered I left a non-compromised disguise and be on my merry way.
Going back to Hokkaido, I have to say that the level looks delightful but probably has left a few opportunities lie. For example, there is an AI called KAI that is integrated into the entire complex. But in large part, the AI simply serves to automatically open doors for you based on what disguise you're wearing and to assist in Soders' surgery. It would have been interesting to deal with the idea that you had to fool the AI on a basis further than mere disguise. Certainly, a complex AI can handle menial tasks such as cameras and storing their recording. But instead, cameras function as they always have, requiring you to delete their recording if you happen to be spotted by one.
A recurring impression I have is that the episode's main mission serves more to show the potential complexity in the level so creative players can create their own contracts. In the end, Hokkaido is nothing too special on paper compared to previous episodes, but it certainly has gone all-in to visually look impressive as ever.
Storywise, the ending of Season 1 leaves you off with a weak cliffhanger. The mole has been taken care of, but the Shadow Client is still rampant. The elusive Providence finally makes contact with the ICA, where veiled words imply much but clarify little. It keeps us guessing, but the prospect of having to wait a prolonged period to understand any of it as Season 2 is being made, does leave an unpleasant aftertaste. If anything, it highlights how the episodic format simply doesn't work for players who are invested in the story. The fact that 47 himself seems to hardly participate in any conversation, even if it involves him, makes a skilled voice actor like David Bateson feel like a waste. I want to hear 47's take on things!
It's obvious that Io-Interactive actively works on the issues the game faces, including some extra features just to make the whole experience a little bit more bearable. For example, after a recent update, you will now see a summary of your targets when initially loading the level. This gives you something to look at and observe while the level quickly loads. It is for this reason that I think it's prudent for me to replay the season in its entirety and see how everything holds up as a complete package, after which I will attempt to write a Season 1 "in perspective" review.
As it stands, Hokkaido is not an episode that disappoints, but so far doesn't seem to surprise or exceptionally challenge the player either. More of the same can be beneficial if it was enjoyable, to begin with. In the end, that may prove to be more of a subjective thing to decide for yourself.
Hokkaido is a beautiful setting that looks far more complex and daunting than it really is. All in all, if a typical Hitman level is what you want, Japan will provide.
- Beautiful Setting
- Complex Pathways
- Great Potential for Contract Creators
- Not Very Challenging
- Missed Opportunities
- Uninteresting Targets