Hitman is a disturbing game. Disturbingly entertaining to anyone who has some sort of emotional attachment to IO Interactive’s intricate series of murder simulators. After all, how many games are there that allow you to pursue a single target with the relentless nature of a corrupt president cleaning house, of any ministers who have a bad habit of showing too much integrity in parliament?
Hitman’s opening level, a debut episode for an entire season of homicidal missions, is a strong start that smacks of classic Hitman while keeping an idea or two from the underrated Hitman: Absolution in play. This time, it’s less about having to survive an assault from a cadre of killer nuns dressed in latex and more about knowing your target, environment and calculating the most efficient way to snuff a life, or at least the most entertaining method possibly. Something that Hitman pulls off effortlessly.
It’s a meaty example of what IO Interactive is capable of, a massive Parisian level hustling and bustling with lowlife make-up artists and annoying fashion designers, all book-ended by grisly fates for your marks. It’s the art of assassination, distilled into a product that feels fresh and nostalgic, and will finally give Blood Money fans a reason to shut up and focus on a different Hitman game for a change.
Want to poison your target with a quick syringe to the spine while they aren’t looking? Done. Drown a spymaster in a toilet filled with his own vomit and rat poison? That can be arranged. Drop a chandelier on top of your target and a bunch of fashion snobs who probably deserved to be crushed under a few tons of overpriced glass and haute couture? Yes, this is an option. Just one of many in fact.
As a simulator where cold and efficient murder needs to be calculated and planned, Hitman is a winner. There are plenty of chances to off your target and send them to the great beyond, opportunities which can be tracked, exploited and acted upon. It’s also a particularly meaty level, that feels more alive than even the Chinatown mission from Absolution.
The Paris Showstopper is a fantastic level, a multi-tiered mansion of opportunities that encourages exploration, chokeholds and disguises. Infiltrating a high-stakes auction, assuming the role of a German supermodel as you work your way through a plot from Zoolander or mixing an obtuse cocktail. This is where Hitman shines at its best, because working your way into a position to make your mark pine for the Fjords is the climax to some utterly engrossing foreplay.
It’s no longer about that single kill, but exploring the level and using your brain to pick up on audio cues that will work to your advantage. It’s a far more scripted approach, make no mistake, but an entertaining one at that for anyone who wants to take a dip into their gameplay setting s and turn the difficulty up to 11 in pursuit of a perfect Silent Assassin ranking. There’s a sense of crucial timing at play here, as you work not only Agent 47 into place, but your target as well.
But it’s not all perfect.
There’re several annoyances, which detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience. A pause screen takes far too long to load, the AI occasionally manifests X-Ray vision while you’re silently choking the life out of some hired help and the inevitable task of reloading a save game so that you can nail a perfect kill takes far too long. Various challenges can be a blast, but only if you’re online and if certain key elements align like a solar eclipse during an appearance of Haley’s Comet.
That being said, it’s a gripping first episode for Hitman. There’s a lot to do here, a lot to explore and the episodic structure may actually end up being a boon for the return of Agent 47. There’s plenty of hours of play here even with just your two primary marks, and a lot more with the prologue, challenges and planning your contract. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if I can kill a couple by shoving them off a balcony during a fireworks display.