Now that the last episode for Hitman's first season has arrived, it is time to look back and break everything down. Certainly, the game started off in a more sparse condition than it is in now. Even so, there are many things with 2016's Hitman that I'd like to address. Unlike my past reviews of the separate episodes, this one might be a long one. Hold on to your red ties, because we're diving in immediately.
Let's get combat out of the way first, as it arguably is the least important part of the game. This may sound weird, as you are a gun-toting bald badass with a barcode on the back of his head. Truth is, where Hitman has strongly improved its stealth and subterfuge mechanics compared to previous installments, combat took a bit of a hit in return.
It's fairly hard for me to really pinpoint why it feels inferior. The guns just don't feel like they have a satisfying kick to them, giving me the sensation that they're very floaty and easy to miss with. I seem to struggle especially with automatic weapons, as they feature recoil which goes all over the place. With increased missing comes a sense of inferiority, as though this is something 47 is no longer skilled at, and this is a bit disappointing. In previous installments, throwing caution to the wind and shooting up the levels was a legitimate tactic. One that would undoubtedly net you a terrible score, but a viable tactic nonetheless. I remember taking a Light Machine Gun to Hitman: Contracts' Traditions of the Trade level and shooting the place up.
One aspect that can be attributed to this change is the Guard AI. While they are very humorous in nature when reacting to your shenanigans (a largely unintentional shift as I'd like to believe), they do prove to be a better combatant than in the previous games. I haven't spotted them taking cover yet, but they do seem to employ better tactics in taking you down, especially once you're exposed and located. Their barrage of fire is relentless if you're pinned down, and you seemingly take very few hits before going down.
As much of a merit as this is for the Guard AI, it does instill this idea of harsh realism. The days where you could start a mission and mow through it like a psycho, are long gone. And with it goes a historical tactic for completing Hitman levels. And if that change alone doesn't take it away, the lack of an actual Light Machine Gun will certainly finish it off.
Speaking of which, customizing your loadout before entry has always been an ever-evolving feature within the series. Contracts gave you the option to stuff any and all one-handed weaponry and gadgets that you possessed with you. Reversely, you were limited to only one two-handed weapon that would come with a complimentary storage suitcase if it was a sniper rifle. To unlock a weapon, you generally were required to bring it with you to the exit, where it would then be stored on one of three trophy walls in the training level. To me, this was one of the coolest ways a game could implement collectibles, and unlocking more savage weaponry such as the minigun was the tastiest icing on that cake.
Blood Money and Absolution focused on improving a more limited set of weaponry. Almost every weapon could be improved in its own way, generally in terms of adding a laser sight, a red dot sight, scopes, or even simply enabling akimbo on a one-handed weapon. Collecting weapons was always a feature, one that I greatly appreciated. Never had I played a Hitman game where the legendary Silverballers were not a staple in your armory until Hitman 2016.
Yes, you start out the game with a flimsy and unimpressive silenced pistol. It's black, bland and completely the opposite of iconic. Are the Silverballers completely gone, you ask? Not at all. They are a Mastery 10 unlock on the Paris level. But only one, not a pair.
This is what largely sits uneasy with me. Hitman forfeited one of its iconic features, collectible weaponry (and disguises in Absolution) in favor of a boring and uninspired progression system. A progression system that isn't even global but limited to the location. I can understand the reasoning behind this, as it doesn't discriminate potential unlocks for players who don't own all the episodes yet. However, one can argue that that's largely the fault of the game's episodic release system and would never have been a problem had the game just released in its entirety
That said, every challenge you complete in a location counts towards a progression or mastery bar. Every level has an amount of unlocks, which can range from a firearm, gadget, disguise, smuggled item location and starting location. I wish I could say the firearms are impressive, I really really do. But to me they just strike me as bland and mass-produced by design. Their designs are so interchangeable, it's often difficult to tell at a glance whether you're looking at a shotgun, assault rifle or submachine gun. A far cry from the wide variety of weaponry you could collect in the past games. To me, this takes away a certain charm.
There are some unlockable weapons that are very unique. Called Master Crafted, these weapons tend to look unique and often function uniquely as well, such as a pistol that is perfectly concealable and will pass a pat-down or frisk search (but can't be reloaded), or a fully automatic AK-like with a silencer and a red-dot scope. Quite frankly, that's the most exciting of the Master Crafted weapons, and it's certainly not impressive by my standards. None of these weapons can be customized. They simply come as is, although most special unlockable weaponry tends to have a silencer.
I'm sorry if I come across as a stickler for this, but collecting and customizing weaponry were two features that were my favorite for the Hitman series, and both were done away with. If you unlocked all the weaponry through Mastery unlocks, you'd probably not even have a quarter the amount of weaponry the previous games would provide you.
In an almost ironic way, the gadgets have received a lot more attention. Your iconic Fiber Wire, lockpick, coin and (non-)lethal syringes are joined by various gadgets and melee weapons. An audio distraction with a trigger, two colors of rubber duckies that double as hidden explosives, an explosive phone, and so on and so forth. As for melee, a concealable baton or knife can be unlocked, while you also have access to a combat knife or you can even unlock a brutal looking machete.
It can be argued that, while the shooting aspect of Hitman has severely worsened, so has the non-firearm aspect only improved. The animations for killing your fellow man are vicious and satisfying. Getting up close and personal has rarely looked as good in a Hitman game as it does now. If you fancy yourself an act fit for the circus, almost everything you can hold can be thrown. If it can kill or knock out an NPC by throwing, then chances are you'll see the UI indicate when you'll land a headshot with it. Reliably landing headshots with a handful of screwdrivers is how I've spent an entire hour on a level, much to my delight. I can't reiterate enough: For how poor the shooting feels, the melee feels that much greater.
To round that off, being able to start in different locations with different disguises is certainly a fun mechanic. In Absolution, you could start off with almost any disguise you brought home, but Hitman 2016 took it a step further. Different locations to smuggle an item in, small or large depending on the location. Along with a separate option to smuggle yourself in. This does mean that you can't change your disguise when picking a different entry location, and no disguises are unlocked for use when starting at the default. In fact, the only two outfits you can pick at the start of each locale's progression is a location-specific one, and your suit and red tie. Unless you've been tackling Elusive Targets religiously that is.
If I were to call Elusive Targets anything, I'd say they are an experimental feature that needs a lot of refining and looking into. On paper, it's a pretty great idea. You have a limited amount of time to take out a target (usually about three to seven days), and you aren't permitted to restart after a failure. One shot, give it your best. Like a real assassin. No do-overs or save scumming in the real world!
As I've described in my last review, instead of instilling a sense of urgency, Elusive Targets encourage behavior that abuses the ugly and unimpressive sides of the game and the AI within. The parts where you poke at the NPCs and engine until they break and dance to your commands. That, or you commit mass murder until you get what you want.
And that's a shame because it still is a great idea. Especially the viral marketing influenced mission that had players picking whether they want to kill Gary Busey or Gary Cole as an elusive target. This was certainly a unique ad campaign that got a chuckle out of me. When's the last time you heard someone say they'd stolen a baby from a candy store?
There are two main problems I have with Elusive Targets. First off, they are time limited and permanently disabled after expiration, no matter if your attempt ended in failure or success. This locks out content for people who decide to purchase the game later, and no mention has been made as to whether these targets will make a return when the game is truly and finally complete. I understand the gimmick and the importance of keeping it as a gimmick as the seasons go on. Still, I would appreciate if Io-Interactive would confirm or deny once and for all whether we can revisit these targets at a later date. If only to enjoy shooting Gary Busey in the leg as he cowardly hops away. Eh, virtually, I mean. I think he's actually quite funny in real life.
Secondly, there are rewards for completing a certain amount of them. Every one you complete gives a Mastery bonus for the location, but after a certain amount you'll start unlocking 'iconic' suits. The suit and red tie you can pick instead of a location-specific one? It lacks the iconic gloves, and even the shade of red feels like it doesn't truly belong. However, completing elusive targets grants you the outfits from Absolution, Blood Money and the current signature suit, but with gloves. That doesn't sit easy with me, especially as 47's gloves were part of his professional approach to murder. Gloves leave no fingerprints behind, advice that he apparently has thrown off into the wind now.
If anything, what I dislike the most is that Elusive Targets force you to go back to the game if you care about the rewards, even if you don't feel like it. To me, Hitman isn't a game that I once in a while dig into. It's an experience that I'd prefer to experience as a whole when the mood drives me for a stealth assassination game. However, with the episodic release and me intent on not letting our readership down for their reviews, I suppose I'm out of luck on that.
Speaking of episodes, we're all well aware now of the business model. Buy the starter package to get the introduction and Paris with the option to buy the later episodes separately, or buy the complete experience from the get go. As I've said just now and countless times in past reviews, I disagree with this business model because the Hitman series has always been one where levels gradually train you for the last and final mission. Having a lengthy pause between episodes means you'll more often end up having to refamiliarize yourself with the controls and common tactics, which always proves to be a jarring experience.
As for the locales themselves, I find myself rather troubled. Part of me wants to say that, while locales such as Sapienza and Colorado are great, they don't impress me as much as the levels in the past games did. I'm not completely certain whether that's a genuine impression or nostalgia talking. For all the praising I do for my favorite level Traditions of the Trade, the level is actually somewhat shallow if you break it down. That said, most of them are very beautiful to explore. Marrakesh is a good example of a layout involving copious amounts of NPCs, while Bangkok showcases are more limited but also luxurious setting.
The best I can call it is a responsive ecosystem of NPCs that wait for your input to continue in their stages, this is particularly obvious in a locale such as Hokkaido. Every NPC has a routine assigned to them that they are doomed to repeat ad infinitum until you throw a wrench in it. Classically, that means killing them or someone near them. But when it comes to more notable NPCs such as targets, you often have an opportunity to talk to them in a specific disguise meeting a specific condition. This usually results in their routine breaking and seeing them lead to a location where they are more vulnerable to your murderous intent. In many of these cases, it is possible to intentionally fail (read: refuse) to kill them, upon which they'll return to their normal routine and completing the encounter. This showcases that the developers did think beyond murder, which is a vital detail to help players who wish to create contracts of their own.
An expected design choice regarding these levels is, of course, the stealthy approach. I would lie if I said Hitman's stealth system is hard to master. Unless you're in a fight with them, stubbornly trespassing or not paying attention to who can see through your disguise, the enemy AI will give you very little trouble. Unless you're up close, a guard won't spot you immediately, and being suspicious does not immediately mean that your cover is about to be blown. Furthermore, if you can shake someone who is chasing you on grounds of being suspicious, then you'll suffer very little consequence. You'll be called a coward or something to that effect, and then the AI goes back to their routine.
The game keeps you well informed on whether a current disguise has had you exposed while wearing it, and switching has never been quicker. This results in being able to shake even the tenacious of stalkers, even in combat, as long as you can find a new disguise and change into it out of their eyesight.
Leaning into cover, jumping into hiding boxes or fridges that can double as body storages, and you may notice that giving a Hitman game the level scale of Blood Money but the mechanics of Absolution makes the stealth options of the latter very overpowered. You slowly but certainly become conditioned to it too. After all these months of playing these episodes, I've gotten used to seeing a convenient box or closet near to a location where the routine of an important NPC passes through. It's in general very important to hide your bodies, but once in a while I just notice a storage box and internally tell myself that's only there because an important or useful NPC passes through here.
While you can argue that the challenges are what makes the game more challenging, the convenient placing of these boxes and other items will always make a challenge that much easier, even if the goal is more difficult or complex. All in all, it feels like my hand is being held in one way or another. Which is a shame because, as my Episode Reviews may tell you, the locales are generally very beautiful and vivid. They truly form one of the best aspects of the game.
That also means there is a place reserved for my least favorite. The DRM is a troublesome aspect, a persistent presence that truly befuddles me. Truth is, back when I first tackled the Paris episode, I had a few disconnects that were quite infuriating. I suppose that's what happens when you have a new release and require every player to always be connected to the servers.
It seems they took this failure to heart, because after that I've found disconnects to happen far less frequently. If your internet has a hiccup, you'll still notice a disconnect happening, but the option to reconnect tends to resolve that fairly quickly. Still annoying, but far better than at launch. But I find myself reiterating the point that was made back at launch as well. What if the servers go down? What if, a decade from now, it is decided that the game will no longer have servers support them because it's no longer feasible? As it stands, this would mean that you'd have no more access to any saves made online. This uncertainty is very unappealing and I do implore Io-interactive to give us an answer or at least consider this for the future.
It bares noting that the November update has partially alleviated one of the gripes players have with the always online DRM. As you can read in this news piece, it is now possible to use any unlockable items during offline play that you've unlocked online. Despite that victory, it doesn't resolve the worry I described above. When the servers go down permanently, any new purchasers of the game will be out of luck and be deprived of a large portion of content. It instills a worry that Io-interactive isn't planning on supporting the game years down the line. Something I'd love to be proven wrong on.
When it comes to the story, it seems to be following the negative trend the series has been slowly but surely suffering. I noticed this as I spent some time looking at 'Cinematics Movies' on Youtube, you know the sort where someone records and cuts together all the cutscenes in a game. Hitman: Contracts made an effort into establishing both character and atmosphere. Not to mention that it was very confusing for someone younger of age, which I was back when I finished it. A wounded 47 suffers flashbacks as he crawls his way into his hideout, retelling his older missions in his mind. These missions were also reworks of some older ones in the previous installments, already banking on that nostalgia that long-time fans had without alienating new players.
Blood Money showed the first signs of becoming slowly unhinged. With Contracts fitting in the middle of the story, 47's story is slowly told in a conversation between a journalist and a crippled former FBI Director. However, while the main plot of the story revolves around 47, the sub-plot that rides just underneath it tackles this weird topic of cloning-conspiracies that ties back into 47 as his bone marrow supposedly carries the key to perfecting cloning. It feels disconnecting, as though the writing desperately wanted to drag 47 along and made him the metaphorical hunted veal. What made the game get away with it were the meticulously put together levels that had become absolutely iconic to the series, and something that Absolution largely failed to capture. But we're not here to discuss that.
As far as I'm concerned, Hitman: Absolution was the worst transgressor in terms of unhinged lunacy in the story. The story can be summarized as 47 running away like hunted game while trying to keep a genetically modified (or something to that effect?) school girl from becoming a trained killer like he is. All as a request from his former handler Diana that he killed but didn't actually kill, which was supposed to be some kind of hamfisted plot twist. The biggest disconnect that I felt with the story was the moment a rich redneck faux-cowboy falsely framed an unconscious 47 for the murder of a cleaning lady. For that crime, the police is immediately there and ready to chase you while the building is on fire. Doesn't matter if you spent all the other levels completely massacring the NPCs.
Compared to that descent, Hitman 2016 seems to be content with telling a story that for the most part pretends to be completely disconnected from 47. The cutscenes allude constantly to an organization called Providence while an unnamed man currently called the Shadow Client by fans wreaks havoc upon it using the services of the 47 and his employer, the ICA. It isn't until the last two missions that the plot speeds up and almost hamfistedly connects 47 with the Shadow Client in a very vague manner.
It seems that constant pretense of vagueness instills this kind of disconnect, almost a disinterest in the story. Maybe it's subjective and more tied to how I appreciate a story in the Hitman franchise, but it simply feels like 47 is being treated as a tool that's always recognized whenever it's convenient for the plot. It's unimpressive, dull and annoying and I sincerely hope that Season 2 picks up the pace as the ending of Season 1 promises. In my opinion, players are thirsting more than ever for a 47 that acts, reacts and feels like a true badass.
It does bare noting that, however I may feel about the story itself, the delivery has always been above acceptable for these games. No other games show the skilled the delivery of cinematics that Hitman 2016 does. Especially in the last and final cutscene for Season 1, the delivery is impeccable. From the soft spoken man with rich intonation to Diana, the fact that I can almost tell that her normally stoic and professional character for a moment slipped and gave a small hint of emotion in her voice. It's perfectly subtle and I actually missed it the first few times I saw the cinematic. That attention to detail that these voice actors bring to the games might also be one of the pivotal reasons that the Hitman series has lasted as long as it did, with this one being no exception.
In the end, it isn't exactly easy to summarize this game. For what Hitman 2016 mechanically does wrong, it certainly does many things right. When I make an internal balance, I do feel a little bit more sour than happy about the overall experience. Then I think on how long I've had to wait for a new Hitman game with settings the size of Blood Money, just as many of us asked for. The system is by no means perfect, but as long as you're not in combat, it's perfectly serviceable. And like I said, while the story isn't impressive, it's not going against the degrading trend the series has been undergoing. In other words, I can't think of many people that bought a Hitman game because they wanted a good story. A cheesy one may perfectly suffice.
If anything, it should show that Hitman serves better as a mechanical game than a tool for storytelling. If you enjoy the aspects that it does well and don't care for those that it does poorly, then Hitman is certainly a game you'll want to experience. It's a shame that Paris didn't impress me as much as, say, Sapienza. As a first level that comes with the basic purchase, you'll want a level that showcases everything perfectly and leaves them wanting more. Season 2 should provide Io-interactive the opportunity to improve the aspects the game fails at, and chisel the ones it does well to perfection.
Hitman Season 1 as a whole is a delight for new players who enjoy Hitmans' method of play, and veterans who can make do without a challenge. Even with its faults, the base formula that made the series great can be found here in all its glory. This doesn't mean the game does not have flaws and, depending on how you value the aspects it fails in, may eventually prove to be a downer for you.
- Superior Stealth & Subterfuge
- Excellent Voice Acting
- Impressive Level Detail
- Carefully Crafted Cutscenes
- Unsatisfying Firearms
- Unimpressive Story
- Always Online DRM
- Disappointing Weapons Customization