Agent 47 is returning next month, as the Hitman franchise makes its debut on next generation platforms. The long running series has seen many changes throughout its history, but it’s easy to argue that the new episodic release structure of the upcoming installment is the biggest change yet.
Release structure aside, I recently had time to explore The Prologue section of Hitman. This beta portion of Hitman took place 20 years prior to the previously revealed Paris Showstopper mission. This is an interesting section of time for fans of the Hitman series, as this is the first instance Agent 47 meets his long-time handler Diana Burnwood. Agent 47 must prove his worth to the International Contract Agency during two missions set within the ICA training facility, which feature Agent 47 tackling previously conducted missions in order to test if he is able to rival previous successful contracts.
The first mission tasks Agent 47 to take down a target known as The Sparrow, who is located on a large boat. At first the beta introduced me to a series of new mechanics, some of which may be familiar to those who played Hitman Absolution. For instance Agent 47 can (as always) steal attire from unsuspecting individuals, making it easier for him to infiltrate certain areas and utilising the newly acquired clothing to blend in unseen. Like Hitman Absolution before it each uniform is not foolproof. For instance, if you steal the uniform of a mechanic some other mechanics may question who you are if you get too close, making the importance of shedding your attire along the way even more important. Agent 47 can also utilise his Instinct – another gameplay mechanic similar to what was included in Absolution. This ability allows 47 to utilise his “instincts” to see through walls, find the location of his target and see items of interest with ease. Of course these abilities are completely optional and those wanting the authentic hardcore experience can turn these abilities off.
After stealing a police uniform and taking out The Sparrow with a quick snap of the neck, I was then able to retry the situation with a lot more freedom. This is where Hitman truly opens up in true Hitman fashion, with a multitude of entry points, a variety of options and multiple ways to make The Sparrow cease to exist. Utilising my knowledge of events from my original run, I knew The Sparrow would be meeting a client in his office. Using this information I snuck aboard the vessel, utilising multiple uniforms to gain access to The Sparrow’s office, where I decided to plant a bomb. Making my way off the ship I saw The Sparrow enter his office, and when he was in position I set off my deadly weaponry blasting him out of existence. In this instance I had no trouble slipping away and ending the mission, but this was only one of multiple ways I could tackle the situation.
Remember that client Sparrow was meeting? Play your cards right and you can steal his attire and become that client, making no location on the ship outside your bounds. Utilising this new skin, I was able to get The Sparrow alone and utilise 47’s trusty garrote to get the job done. You could assassinate your target in many ways, but Hitman wouldn’t be Hitman if it didn’t have some unique and memorable kills. In this instance if you found a bottle of rat poison and were able to spike The Sparrow’s drink, your target must now deal with a troubled stomach. As The Sparrow enters the lavatory to clear his problem, it only seemed fit to enter the bathroom and drown the target in the toilet he so greatly desired.
Unique assassinations can be found by merely messing around with different uniforms and items, or would be assassins can get hints towards these set pieces by checking out the Challenges from each mission. These small tasks hint towards unique assassinations that some players may miss, or simply ask the player to push the envelope of their abilities. I found these Challenges added a lot of replayability to each mission, as I found myself motivated to succeed and assassinate in every unique option available.
Agent 47’s next task was to assassinate Jasper Knight, a Soviet Spy, housed within a Cuban airport. This mission also introduced Opportunities, which are multi-tiered sequences that lead to eventful assassinations. Opportunities are acquired by listening to conversations, or even finding documents; whether you decide to follow that Opportunity to the end is your choice, as Opportunities can be switched on the fly. One of these Opportunities had me take on the disguise of one of Knight’s commanding officers who was in charge of receiving a radio signal from Knight’s wife. Utilising this new uniform and Knight’s love of his wife, I led Knight to a room where he would receive the call – leaving us alone. I ended Knight’s life as he attempted to speak to his mistress, before exiting the facility. But as always, this is only one of the many ways this assassination could have been committed.
I had found one other Opportunity during my first exploration of the facility, one that seemed to deliciously vicious to ignore. I had overheard two mechanics discussing the safety protocol of the plane Knight was to use to escape, which was located on a clipboard within the facility. Acquiring a mechanic disguise and my trusty wrench, I tampered with the ejector seat of Knight’s plane. Following my sabotage I led Knight to the plane to conduct my own safety protocol walkthrough, as I told Knight to strap himself into the seat and utilise the ejector switch – which sent Knight hurting through the facility roof and into the night sky above. Hitman doesn’t avoid these over the top assassination sequences and these moments left me curious as to what other memorable assassination Opportunities will be available throughout larger and more intricate levels.
Hitman and stealth fans alike will be happy to know that Hitman will once again avoid utilising instant fails when players are spotted or their plans go pear shaped. Players have the ability to save the situation and utilise their skills to get their mission back on track, or simply die trying. But that’s the fun of it, being able to learn from your mistakes and possibly save the situation. Rather than being told you did this incorrectly, Hitman emphasises experimentation. This emphasis is made ever clearer due to the ability to instant save at almost any moment, which incentivised me to alter my play style and tackle moments differently, as I knew I could simply return to this instance with ease.
I’ve been a fan of Hitman for as long as I can remember. Growing up alongside Agent 47 I have seen the franchise evolve and improve along the way. Following my hands-on with the PlayStation 4 Hitman beta I’m happy to say that gameplay-wise Agent 47 is in great hands. The beta left me anticipating the memorable assassination possibilities going forward, and how these multi-layered Opportunities will take place during some of the larger upcoming levels.
Although the episodic release structure of Hitman still has me uncomfortable, I’m happy to know that this release format has not affected Hitman’s ability to produce smooth stealth gameplay. Not to mention the plethora of unique and memorable ways to successfully remove your target from the land of the living – leading to some interesting post-assassination discussions with other players.