Hitman, Part 1: Prologue and Paris (PS4) Review

This is the first in a series of reviews that cover the new, episodic Hitman game across most of 2016. Each episode will be reviewed and scored as it is released.

Check out Part 2, which covers Episodes 2 and 3, here.

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THE SHORT VERSION


Agent 47 is back.

If, like me, you thought the linear Hitman: Absolution was a bit of a letdown - especially following the organic sandbox assassinationpalooza that was Hitman: Blood Money - then fear not! 2016's new Hitman is a bold, if slightly anaemic, return to the franchise's halcyon days.

If, unlike me, you've never played a Hitman game, then fear not! 2016's new Hitman is a fun, if slightly repetitive, venture into the under-utilised stealth game genre, that will have you garrotting and silenced-shooting for hours.

If, also unlike me, you've never played any kind of game before...well, sorry, can't help you there. Enjoy this cupcake, instead.


STORY


What makes Hitman 2016 difficult to talk about is the lack of content and narrative substance. As an episodic game, this is to be expected; The Walking Dead took a good couple of episodes and change to get fully going and reveal the larger scope of its narrative ambitions. With that in mind, take the following analysis with a grain of salt and understand that this and the following five episodes all, supposedly, craft one entire narrative sculpture.

Agent 47, a bald, neck-barcoded assassin who wouldn't look out of place in a THX 1138 remake, joins the Agency as an assassin - or, a Hitman, if you will. His task is to venture to exotic locations around the world and kill people for ridiculous sums of money, managed by his Agency handler Diana Burnwood.

That is, largely, the extent of the plot we have so far. There's a cutscene following the game's extended prologue - which, incidentally, provides the best of the three levels the game thus far possesses - which hints at a possible former Agency employee, with a similar life experience as 47, who's gunning for our morally questionable heroes. Apart from that, it's largely a matter of "go here, kill this person, get paid". Not that the game necessitates a Christopher Nolan-level plot of layers and nuance, but if compelling narrative is what you're here for, you may be disappointed.

If, however, you're here to practice your stealthy assassin skills, well...


GAMEPLAY


...then the gameplay has you well and truly covered.

The new game is a hybrid of some of the best mechanics from previous games, namely Blood Money and Absolution. From the former it takes expansive environments and a plethora of methods to kill your target, and from the latter it borrows the Instinct function, now scaled down into something similar to Arkham Asylum's see-important objects Detective Mode. The maps are large enough that a number of assassination approaches can be utilised, giving you much more choice in your killing than what the limited linearity of Absolution offered.

This iteration is also much kinder to newer players than any of the previous games have been. The control scheme is simple and easily accessible, the tutorial missions run with just enough hand-holding to get you on your way before blowing out into full-on assassina-fun. The inclusion of Opportunities, an optional game mode where objective markers tell you where tools and costumes for specific kills are, means those who aren't keen on organic discovery can still find lots to enjoy. The shortness of the levels prompts a lot of replay, trying different tacks from the previous assassination attempts.

However, part of the game's problem is that brevity. While it's reasonably priced for what you get as a start - and, though I can't speak for the as-yet-unreleased future episodes, well worth following on if the ending of Paris is any indication - I feel that the game becomes repetitive very quickly. It's to be expected with only three maps, but it'll mean you'll breeze through the main game without much of a pause for breath. The game's staying power resides in challenge modes and user-created assassination missions, going over each map repeatedly to find all the secrets, complete all the hidden objectives and, potentially, make your own mission that is ludicrously difficult to pull off; with that last one, I experienced a featured user-made contract that involved sneaking into a mansion - without the appropriate garb - and stabbing a stationary target in the middle of a crowded corridor, without being seen. That contract maker is probably now burning in hell.


VISUALS


Functional. At times the frame rate noticeably dips, especially during the Paris level itself with the sheer flocks of partygoing NPCs on display, but overall it looks pretty good. There's less fine detail on display than in Absolution, but there is still enough there that it looks very pretty. If I have any major issue, it's that the colour palette is exceedingly limited. Everything feels muted in dark tones of blue and black, creating a sterile feel; even the garish fashion event at the Paris mansion feels oddly and colourfully sedate, more resembling a sub-zero vodka bar than a real catwalk event.

Despite this, the background environments are gorgeous. You may not be able to leave that Paris mansion, but at least the surrounding backdrop makes it feel like an organic part of the world.


SOUND AND VOICE ACTING


Actually, surprisingly, not that good. David Bateson still continues his fine work as the taciturn 47, yet all other dialogue feels stilted and badly written. NPCs chat about things almost as if they're programmed rather than having an organic conversation.

There's also a complete lack of region-specific accents and dialogue for each mission; yes, the tutorial missions in Australia and Russia may be training missions, with the presence of training staff acknowledging the lack of nationality, but I didn't hear a single French-speaker during the Paris mission. Everyone is as American and cheeseburgery as Absolution's antagonist. There's a sly joke about American colonial attitudes that could've explained that deficit of French, a joke which sadly goes unacknowledged.

WRAPPING UP

 

It feels good to be back in 47's comfy killer shoes; despite some hiccups and a lack of meaty content, Hitman's intro pack is still a good start for Square Enix's new episode game.We'll see how well future content unspools, but for now there is plenty to like about 47's return to the assassination business.

- Chris





The prologue and first episode of Hitman are available now for digital download on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Square Enix.

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