Hitman’s Elusive Targets Are The Game At Its Best

This weekend saw the first Elusive Target in Hitman, a limited-time event that drops a new doomed soul into one of the game’s sprawling locations and gives you a single chance to bump them off. Within the modular structure of this Hitman game – which is constantly adding to the content available in its monthly-release levels – that’s not too unusual, but the way Elusive Target bends the rules of the game turns it into something genuinely fresh and exciting.

So let’s talk about my own experience a little to show why. It’s early Sunday afternoon and I’m eagerly ushering the final hungover remnants of last night’s Eurovision party out the front door. Over on Hitman’s menu screen, a clock is ticking down. Two hours remaining to find Sergei Larin, an infamous art forger, and dispatch him in whatever way suits.

The game gives you a very brief briefing – a few lines of background, a portrait, scant seconds of footage showing the target in situ – then drops you straight into the mission. Coming to the level fresh, this narrow sliver of information wouldn’t be nearly enough to succeed, especially given how many of the hand-holding measures introduced in this Hitman game are stripped away for Elusive Target.

Gone is the Opportunities system, which gives waypoint-marked hints on how to set up your target for one of the game’s trademark elaborate kills. The cheat-o-vision Instinct Mode is still present, helpfully allowing you to see people through walls, but the red outline that usually marks out your target is absent. They’re not even marked on the map.

Fortunately, having already done in the two primary targets a dozen different ways then returned for the short Escalation Contract missions, I know the level – a rented-out mansion in Paris, playing host to a couture catwalk show, and its grounds – inside out. So when I see that short clip of Larin bent over a painting in a dust-sheeted room full of statues in storage, I’ve got a good idea of where it might be in this four-storey labyrinth. I’m pretty sure it’s right at the top.

This would be a problem, as each floor has increasingly tight security, but all that play I mentioned has unlocked a whole host of options for how I approach the level, from weapons to disguises to insertion points. The most recent of which – in an incredible stroke of luck – was the ability to spawn baldy killing machine Mr Ian Hitman up in the mansion’s dusty attic. Almost straight away, I’m able to grab one of the dozen bodyguards, pull him into a quiet corner, disrobe him and nick his machine gun.

After just a couple of minutes of creeping around the attic, dodging from cover to cover to avoid the remaining bodyguards patrolling this floor, I get eyes on Larin. And immediately my heart starts pounding.

By this point, I’ve played enough hours of this Hitman that the time can probably be best measured in days. I’ve been in corners much, much tighter than this, but I felt painfully tense this time for having just one opportunity to cleanly snuff out my target. There’s no save button or option to restart. Die, and the mission will just delete itself. Fluff the hit, and you’re stuck with the outcome.

This is an increasingly common part of modern game design, since the crop of roguelikes that followed in Spelunky’s procedurally-generated footsteps. Seemingly every other game I play these days features permadeath or offers an Iron Man mode or is a Souls game, something I couldn’t be happier about. Combining that permanence with a limited window to play, though, is a trick I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. The closest comparison is probably Spelunky’s Daily Challenges, but the relative rarity of Elusive Targets – this weekend’s was the first, more than two months after the game’s initial release – adds an extra spice on top.

Which is why, as I peek round a crate to get a good look at Larin and his personal bodyguard, the controller is rattling in my hands so much I worry it’s somehow going to blow my cover in-game. I methodically stalk the two of them from room to room, until the pressure becomes too much to bear and I have to pop out from cover and empty a full clip from my silenced pistol in the general direction of their skulls.

It’s not exactly the crime of the century, and I’m sure the bodies will be discovered before too long, but in that moment I feel like Jean flippin’ Reno. That only grows as I sneak out of the attic, still dressed in the bodyguard outfit I lifted from that poor chump earlier, and into an unsuspecting crowd of guests. I head to the nearest balcony and fling myself over a railing where – as I learned on one of many previous runs through this level – a drainpipe is waiting to slide me down to safety.

The sense of release I feel as I stroll out through one of the level’s many exits is a remarkable thing. It’s a sensation I’ve only experienced very rarely in my two decades of playing games, and mostly in the final seconds of the very tightest multiplayer games against friends. But this time, there’s no one else there.

There is one issue with the mode so far: none of my friends are even playing Hitman yet, and when I turn to Twitter, wading through the last vestiges of Eurovision gags, there’s a disappointing lack of chat about the untimely end of Mr. Sergei Larin. Knowing that other players shared the hard time limit and single chance, it feels like I’ve participated in an event, but part of the fun of Spelunky’s Daily Challenges was comparing yourself to friends. Hitman’s Elusive Targets are more hollow for not having the opportunity to do the same.

By the time you read this, Larin will be long gone. If you didn’t knock him off this weekend, you’ll never have the chance again – but IO is promising more one-off Elusive Targets in the coming weeks. The more of you join in, the more likely I am to actually have someone to talk to about the next one.

Hitman is out now. You can read our review of the first episode here and the second episode there.

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  1. TheRaptorFence says:

    Jump onto the Hitman subreddit if you want some discussion about the Elusive Targets. There’s quite a following there of people who are interested in how others played the game.

    Mine wasn’t too bad. I found him in a spot that wasn’t yours, decided to be funny and try to drop a chandelier on him. Missed, he panicked and started to run, shot him as he ran outside and his ragdoll took a tumble down into the crowd below.

    That made for quite an interesting exit.

    • Vesuvius says:

      Found him and his bodyguard alone in a room. Snuck behind the bodyguard and let fly a throwing knife straight at Mr. Larin. Before it had landed I was already easing the bodyguard into a deep, forced sleep. Stowed them both in the cupboard and strolled out.

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        X_kot says:

        I had seen the overlapping paintings on a previous run through the attic, so I knew which room he would likely visit. I made my way upstairs, nabbed a disguise, and made my way to the room. Larin and his guard walked in, and I knew I had to take them out before they left in order to avoid complications. A coin throw distracted them, and a screwdriver to the gut took down the forger. The animation took longer than anticipated, and the guard noticed me, so he got screwed, too.

  2. unitled says:

    I managed a slightly more elegant solution: Rat Poison in the wine. There was a slight moment of panic as he went to a toilet I hadn’t anticipated (I was glad I picked up the lockpick) and another after I killed him when I realised his bodyguard was standing outside in what was now a restricted area (out the window I went).

    It’s a shame we don’t get to perfect our method as is the Hitman way, and that we don’t get the target’s story unfolding in the same way we did in the main levels. But the excitement makes up for it, as does comparing methods with other people; something we can’t really do with the main game for fear of ‘spoiling’ the level for them!

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    heretic says:

    I enjoyed it but I am pretty sure they will release the elusive targets at some point once the game is fully out.

    There’s some great voice acting when he’s on the phone with his father in law :P

    The cheat-o-vision can still be used to track him down fairly easily it seems, I looked for anyone followed by another person (the bodyguard) and could see that the person in front was wearing an apron, I did lose him though as I had to get to the lower level so there was some tension.

  4. dontnormally says:

    I would be okay with a tiny window of opportunity or an announcement close to release, but not both.

    I’m just frustrated I missed this.

    • Dicehuge says:

      Yeah I was really frustrated to miss out on it, I’m at least hoping they make them far more regular events. Otherwise a 48 hour window every few weeks is a bit shit.

  5. ChairmanYang says:

    I actually hate the concept of Elusive Targets, unless I’m misunderstanding something.

    I don’t mind if I don’t get more than one “official” try that’s permanently recorded. That’s cool. But the content should still be available after that for my own personal runs. It seems crazy to me that it’s instead lost to the void, forever.

    • Ragnar says:

      Yeah, I like games catering to my availability and schedule, not the other way around.

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      Cross says:

      It seems a nonsense to me that the targets won’t return into a set rotation once the game is fully finished.

    • cakeisalie says:

      Totally agree, as limits the experimental playfulness that is one of the joys of Hitman. Plus it’s not quite as they marketed it. You can restart the mission as many time as you like, within the time window, as long as you don’t actually kill the target. Which gives you plenty of scope for preparation and trail runs. Seems more like a half-arsed gimmick to me and totally unfair to those with busy lives. I’d much prefer it if they just added new targets to old maps between episodes.

    • Vesuvius says:

      Agreed- I travel a lot these days, and the idea of missing out on unique gameplay because of a work trip sounds beyond frustrating.

  6. ItAintNecessarilySo says:

    Am quite annoyed :/.
    Ran around the whole map never finding him, then at the top floor made one wrong move peeking to far in a room and all was on fire. Goodbye chance, was fun, or something.

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      X_kot says:

      Something the devs haven’t explicitly stated: you can restart the mission during play (e.g., when you’ve been spotted or nearly killed). It’s only permanent when either 47 is dead or the target has escaped. If you can hit pause quickly and don’t mind starting from scratch, you can go for a flawless run until the event timer runs out.

      • ItAintNecessarilySo says:

        O Wow, nice tip, Thanks! I have a lot of incentive to get the next one’s right :)

  7. zerosociety says:

    Not a fan of Souls-style games. Had no intention of picking Hitman up, but this Elusive Targets thing has definitely made me reconsider.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Hitman is fun! Also not remotely like Dark Souls, if that helps.

  8. Paul says:

    I would like to play these, but god damn first I want to play the full game’s story. So I hope they will do these elusive targets next year as well after the full game is out.

  9. sagarzi47 says:

    Because nobody talks about the third episode of hitman ?? all speak the elusive contract, which is no big deal. They are forgetting the third episode of hitman that should already be in this May.

  10. Mi-24 says:

    Was super excited for this, from the briefing I knew the room on the first floor he was in, started as AV technician and went to track him down. I found him and his bodyguard making offensive remarks about “ugly people” and as he left the room I knocked out the bodyguard.

    That’s where the good bit ended.

    I saw him head upstairs but since my disguise wasn’t suitable I couldn’t head up there. I decided to run and climb out of a window right in front of 3 armed guards and try to climb up. unfortunately turns out the guards guessed what I was up to and promptly shot me dead (took their bloody time about it though).

    Disappointed I fucked it up that quickly, but wouldn’t change it because I can imagine what it would have felt like to do it right, so I’m not sure what I think of suggestions to add them in permanently later, that seems to defeat the accomplishment of the mission.

  11. doorgunner says:

    I am royally pissed that I missed it! The idea is cool but 48hrs window? Hello? There are people with a real life at weekends. At least it should be possible to try it throughout a week or two so everybody gets a chance for a matching weekday. I payed for it and I want to succeed or die like everybody else who found the time. First time i really hate sth about HM. Stupid execution of a good idea – Thank You!