Wot I Think: Hitman Episode 3 – Marrakesh

The trend for Hitman’s [official site] episodic levels to be grow bigger and more populous with each new installment continues unabated with third map Marrakesh, which is frankly just showing off. There’s just no need to emerge from a vast crowd of tourists into a shop populated by hundreds of beautifully-glowing lamps and, from there, into an even larger horde, this time of protesters raging amid coloured smoke. No need whatsoever. Bless ’em for doing it anyway.

While Marrakesh is clearly more spectacular than previous episode (a ridiculously huge mansion in Sapienza, Italy), somehow it didn’t drop my jaw in the quite the same way. I suspect that’s because Sapienza busted open my expectations after the deflating Hitman: Absolution and the solid but not extraordinary first episode in Paris.

Sapienza was a “holy shit, they’re actually doing this?” moment, as Hitman: Blood Money’s values were not only restored but then made impossibly grandiose too. Now Marrakesh has rolled around, I happily accept that Hitman is really, truly back and it’s not a shock to see how much it does.

I think also, though, that it doesn’t flow quite as well, despite a heightened scale and startling sights. Sapienza was a pleasantly absurd microcosm unto itself: the rich bastards in that impossible mansion, the guiless tourists wandering around outside, the secret, ‘orrible laboratory down in the basement. It felt like a game, not just a level. Marrakesh feels more like a level, despite ultimately unrealised attempts to become a vast, explosive setpiece

While structurally it breaks down into, essentially, biomes too, it doesn’t feel quite so cohesive as Sapienza. You’ve got crowds of tourists looking at hats and lamps in one quarter, a huge mob of protesters right around the corner, a military base a road away, and then a consulate full of bureaucrats on the other side of town.

Somehow these all co-exist, each compartmentalised to their own neat spaces rather than collapsing into the total chaos, as the sight of it all suggests would be inevitable. There’s a lurching sensation as I move between each; an abrupt change of gears and environments rather than a natural segue. The promised revolution never happens: the protestors just loop their routines, the soldiers stroll, unflustered, around the streets, the people in the consulate just hang out calmly, despite signs of frantic file-shredding. We’re shown a powder keg, but not a one of these thousands of people living inside it has a match.

The slight sense of disconnect and unreality is reflected in the AI too, which seems to struggle to obey the hierarchy of Marrakesh. The military are in charge of the place, so most NPCs will let them – i.e. an Agent 47 dressed as one of them – go wherever they wish, sometimes with a polite greeting, sometimes with terrified acquiescence. And sometimes with a glaringly cheerful follow-up in the very next line.

Or they’ll let you barge into their houses without warning, only to react like you just threw a hand grenade at a pensioner if you have the temerity to turn on a power switch connected to a vending machine in a public square.

Or they’ll let any old soldier stride right through all those protesters and on into a heavily-guarded consulate full of VIPs, but if he tries to enter the private club – just a little bar, really – that already has a couple of soldiers in it without an invitation, the bouncer will start shooting. The military runs this town, apart from that one bar.

There’s also this awkward distinction between ‘soldiers’ and ‘elite soldiers’, the latter of which just have an extra flak jacket and won’t let normal soldiers into the military base that, surely, they came from in the first place anyway. As with that damnable bar, the distinction exists to gate the area, to prevent a player from grabbing a soldier suit PDQ then having free run of the place. Understandable, but the way it’s been implemented is distractingly artificial: again, Sapienza had more convincingly flow and a clear internal logic, even if it was gloriously absurd.

There’s some ugly obstacle work too – an infuriatingly impassable shrub to prevent one from dropping into the military base from an overlooking apartment, and arbitrary decisions about what ledges and rooftops you can drop down from and which ones you can’t because the level is clearly terrified of speedruns but couldn’t find a more elegant riposte. The logic problem is most desperately glaring in one of the assassination puzzles. Look away for the next two paragraphs if you don’t want a solution that is, honestly, pretty hard to miss, to be spoiled.

There’s this dodgy Swedish businessguy you have to kill. He’s a bit like Richard Roper in The Night Manager: all charm and philanthropy on the outside, ruthlessness and greed underneath. One way you can get to him is to dress up as a cameraman accompanying a reporter who’s been granted a rare interview with the guy. He sits underneath a giant fibreglass moose for the interview, because that’s the kind of thing people do in Hitman games. There’s a lever which will make that moose drop and squish him. Job done.

Alternatively, you can shoot the bolts holding it onto the ceiling, at which point it will fall and… nothing. He just sits amidst pieces of shattered moose, chatting away as though half a tonne of artificial deer hadn’t just slammed into his skull at speed. Because the logic says he’s only killed by the moose if you pull that lever. It’s a bug, clearly, and it’ll be fixed. But it reflects the house of cards here; Marrakesh contains so much space and so many people that, as with the soldier and that club, as with the chaos that never comes, the game can’t always keep up.

OK, spoilers over, as is the griping. There are a few issues and again it doesn’t gast my flabber as Sapienza did, but it’s a vast, technically stunning and flexible possibility space nonetheless. Put Sapienza and the weird unrevolution out of your minds and this is absolutely everything we thought we’d never get from Hitman back in the bad old Absolution days.

In the main ‘story’ mission alone, dozens of options for how to get the job done spin out of exploration and experimentation. There are whole levels of the Consulate I haven’t seen even after two successful runs and one botched one, whole patterns of behaviour and trick kills for the main two targets that I don’t know about yet but have seen hints of.

There are few additional contracts for this map yet, but they’ll come in time, and, importantly, I simply don’t need them yet: it feels as though there’s so much more to be done hunting what’s already there. No, it doesn’t feel as rich as Sapienza or even Paris to some extent, particularly because the military base area feels more rote and we saw something similar in the tutorial map, but God, it’s still a fat, pulsing pinata of exploration and experimentation.

There is, perhaps, a slight sense that Marrakesh has been rushed – as well as the logic issues, that sense of revolutionary promise unfulfilled and unfortunate route-blocking I mentioned, I suffered from a ton of blurry textures – but it doesn’t feel seriously compromised. Not quite the equal of its noble forebear, no, but it’s the most visually impressive installment yet and, as a package, Hitman’s three episodes so far are already providing more game for the money than anything else recent I care to mention.

We can’t know if Blood Money has lost its crown until the series is done. Realistically I doubt it, because Hitman doesn’t do high concept or comedy as well, but hell, it’s in with a chance. 2016 is a good time to be a hitman.

Hitman Episode Three is out now.

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43 Comments

  1. Sinjun says:

    Huh, too bad you got that moose bug. I shot one of the supports and it fell and killed him just fine. Couldn’t even find a lever.

  2. sysop39 says:

    Oh man, it just dawned on me that we’ll be reminded of Hitman again and again for the next couple months until the game is done. Just another great advantage of episodic releasing. For Ubisoft, that is.

    • crépuscule says:

      That’s true, but I think (maybe too generously) that Ubisoft adopted the episodic model in order to incorporate player feedback into level design. If they had released an entire game in the style of the Paris level, the game’s reception would have been fairly “bleh”. By listening to criticisms, it seems they’ve been able to create more of the kind of game that players are really looking for in Hitman.

      • sysop39 says:

        Yeah, I am actually a supporter of Early Access and believe in fixing stuff on the fly. But you can count on Ubi PR to do their part as well. It’s PR genius, really. Just as well as long as customers profit too. Makes you wondering though – if the game doesn’t sell as much as expected, will Ubisoft ‘adjust’ their investment as well? The Spacebase DF 9 fiasco comes to mind where Double Fine declared the unfinished game ‘done’ because it didn’t keep selling enough.

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        Vandelay says:

        There is a chance that this level has been altered to take into account feedback from the Paris level, but there is no way that the previous episode would have benefited from it, which sounds as if it was the best one so far. I would be surprised if even the design of this one wasn’t mostly finalised by the time of the first release.

    • Giaddon says:

      Ubisoft has nothing to do with this game, FYI. It’s developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix.

      Fantastic game.

      • Arkayjiya says:

        Oh thank god I was getting terrified for a second. I don’t buy Ubisoft games and I was waiting for this hitman so my heart just stopped for a second. There’s no Uplay right? Guarantee xD?

    • RobinOttens says:

      Square-Enix & Io Interactive *

      Ubisoft’s assassin has hair and a hoodie.

    • Javier says:

      This is the second time I’ve heard someone imply this game was developed by Ubi. I really wonder how people are getting that idea.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Yeah, I really hate that they are getting exactly what they want here, massive amounts of free coverage as the gaming media cover each level as though it’s a new game every time they drip-feed another one out.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I don’t know, I’m really enjoying reading reviews of each individual level. It’s fascinating to see a game analysed like that. Begrudging Square/IO the increased coverage seems like sour grapes when the game is this good. Also, you don’t have to read and comment on every etc.

        • Raoul Duke says:

          Well, I guess I’d say to that that RPS could easily write detailed stories like this about each level from other games that don’t set out to drip feed/nickle-and-dime us to death. And I also see each article about a game like this (or the 2000 articles about each Overwatch/Street Fighter character) as a lost opportunity to read about a different game.

          I suppose I have always loved this site for focusing on stuff that the big commercial gaming sites tend to ignore, and these articles to me are the type of ongoing hype maintenance (by the publisher, not RPS) that those sites deal in.

          In the end, I’d much rather read one review of Hitman and 9 reviews of other games than 10 reviews of levels from Hitman.

          • unitled says:

            I don’t really see how this is ‘nickle and diming’? The full levels are being released at £7 (£11 for the intro pack) a go for ~5 hours of play (I’ve actually put more in per level I think), and added up the cost of the whole game will be ‘just’ the price of a standard release. It lets you try it out before you invest too much, cherry pick the best levels if you want, and you get access to a load of ‘free’ live content.

            I mean, if they were charging for suits or weapons, I would get you, especially if it was needed to progress in the game. But this is just the price you’d pay anyway split up into a different model? Were Telltale criticised for this model of release in the same way?

          • Raoul Duke says:

            I think they are, because they are releasing “new” instalments at full retail pricing over and over again. Whereas many (most?) people would typically buy a complete game like this when it drops down to $20-40 for the whole game.

        • Toadsmash says:

          Yah, but they do exactly that with the high quality games that they know a lot of people are playing, too. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Overwatch, and Dark Souls 3 got many many articles of coverage — it’s just not divided up by level necessarily, and at that point this seems like an argument of semantics.

  3. sweenish says:

    Does the first episode not present itself as a tutorial level? I see all the complaints about the first episode, but it just sounds like a tutorial level to me.

    The strong dislike may be a side-effect of the episodic release structure on a game that was not necessarily intended for it.

    • Giaddon says:

      There are actually two separate tutorial missions. “Paris” (aka Showstopper) is the first real mission. It’s actually really great.

      • Gibster says:

        Yeah, I thought Paris was pretty great also. As much as people complain about the compartmentalization, I actually quite like it because it gives me more chances to mess around with the AI and come up with my own silly kills and shenanigans.

  4. Ethaor says:

    Did they added some sort of armory to collect/unlock weapons/tools to choose from at mission’s embark yet?

    • Vesuvius says:

      In THIS hitman, as you play / replay levels and accomplish achievements in them, you gain “mastery levels”. Those levels unlock 3 types of things:
      -alternate start points (and starting disguises) for the level
      -agency stash locations in the level (you can select one at the start to hide an extra item)
      -weapon / item unlocks for any level in the game. So far we’ve had alternate pistols, sniper rifles, smgs, shotguns as well as noisemakers, motion sensitive explosives, remote detonate explosives, poison, sedative, and melee weapons unlock.

  5. Asrafil says:

    I always liked Hitman 2 more than Blood Money, especially for its gigantic levels. Although Blood Money was a VERY close second.
    This new Hitman seems like a mix of 2 and Blood Money. Which makes me anxious for the full release of the game. I hope they mantain this level of quality throught the episodes.

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      XJ220 says:

      Same here. Silent Assassin just has this certain atmosphere throughout. Jesper Kyd really outdid himself here, IMO. Not that he ever delivered anything less than great, but still.

      Plus, Agent 17’s appearance makes for an interesting twist on uh… game design? I mean it’s normal for enemies to look alike to some degree, in 2002 much more so than nowadays, but here an enemy looking almost exactly like you was a really striking experience for me when I first played the game (hadn’t played Codename 47 before).

  6. anHorse says:

    “The trend for Hitman’s [official site] episodic levels to be grow bigger and more populous with each new installment”

    It’s almost like they took a game with the typical, natural progression of expanding as the player learns the systems at play and needlessly chopped it into “episodes”

    • yogibbear says:

      Yeah like that would describe the level design curve of every other Hitman game that was not released episodically too. Pretty funny stuff.

  7. FLoJ says:

    Bought it last week, haven’t had a single regret EXCEPT the all-English voice acting without accents… I understand it must save a few pennies to reuse standard lines but it really feels odd in all the maps for everyone to be American (with I think 2 token English VAs who appear in every episode)

    I think Marrakesh grows on you as you discover more of what’s going on in the middle no-man’s land (I play without opportunities highlighted, so not sure how much is spoonfed) – there seems to be more and more unveiling itself as I just loiter about and catch up on all the conversations.

    • Tetrode says:

      “all-English voice acting without accents”

      Huh? They’ve all got accents. How can someone not have an accent. I know it’s not the correct accent for the place, but they still have one.

    • unitled says:

      Yeah, I’m feeling this as well… I enjoyed it first time through put wasn’t particularly drawn to play again. I persuaded myself to as my fiancee was out last night, and over the course of the day it’s taken root in my brain. Can’t wait to get home and try to crack the Suit Only challenge.

  8. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    Weirdly, this level has been a technical nightmare for me. Dodgy textures, CTDs, awful performance in both dx12 and 11, I can’t aim without the whole world disappearing… The list goes on. Virtually none of these exist in the other levels I played.

    I don’t exactly have an old machine either: i5 4670k, 16GB DDR3 ruining at 3200mhz. The only out of date component really is my gpus; 2x R9270s, but even they have no trouble with everything else I play.

  9. ItAintNecessarilySo says:

    Funnily enough, I actually had my first Blood Money like “mess with the AI” fun in this level. Spent about an hour switching an electric circuit on a busy street on/off, just listening to reactions and watching the next person walk in the electrifying puddle.
    Didn’t care a bit about high score or special kills anymore, just enjoying the best part of Hitman AI :)

  10. Chemix says:

    I’ve been wondering since this came out, is the stealth in this like absolution or blood money.
    Basically, does putting on a costume make you a target for everyone that wears that outfit, or do you have a little time before they figure out they’re not one of they’re own.

    • Mi-24 says:

      Depends, they’ve taken elements of the absolution system and implemented them in blood money levels; when wearing a disguise SOME characters of that same disguise will see through it (ie the person they’re patrolling with / their boss) as will some other npc’s. Generally the target or someone following the target will see through the disguises of their bodyguards / cleaners, which makes sense.
      This seems most heavily implemented in Marrakesh where one of the most obvious ways to get into the embassy is to get a security guard outfit, but the front entrance is crawling with security guards that can see through it, as well as a soldier guarding the stairs to the next floor. apart from this example it is used in relative moderation.

  11. Blake Casimir says:

    Still has DRM? Still not interested.

    But also still incredibly frustrated because the Hitman series is one of the few third person games I enjoy that actually manages to be immersive and incorporate some measure of compelling emergent gameplay.

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      Isn’t the DRM argument just a little bit tired by now?

      The DRM it uses is part of Steam’s DRM and is in no way obtrusive. You can play the game in offline mode (though your saves between on- and offline don’t carry over), so there are no restrictions of any kind; other than them expecting you to have actually purchased the game, of course.

      • Vesuvius says:

        If you play offline, everything you’ve unlocked becomes inaccessible aside from the base levels themselves (meaning no access to other weapons, items, starting locales, costumes, or stashes) unless they’ve changed this?

        • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

          Correct, and not correct. If you unlock something online, you can access it online, but not offline and vice versa. I’m sure that the only things inaccessible are things that require online in general, such as user created contracts, and perhaps challenges. Honestly, I think Squeenix have done a decent job with the compromises.

          • Arkayjiya says:

            I don’t think so. I can suffer through steam as a DRM (although I do not like it, it’s still a factor when deciding to purchase something or not, there are games I have not bought because they were on steam) but not through missing stuff because I chose to play offline at this or this point, and you’re telling me that you can’t even use the same save? That’s terrible implementation. I’m still on the fence for this one, I won’t make a decision before it’s released anyway but this is good info.

  12. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    “… gast my flabber…”

    Worth reading this WIT for that alone.

    I’m holding off on playing this iteration of Hitman until the full, packaged (digitally, however) release at the end of the year/whenever they get around to it after, seemingly nowadays, inevitable delays. I enjoy reading the reviews of each individual “episode” and am not concerned with indulging in every spoiler, as I surely won’t remember them when I am finally playing the game. Thanks for the words, Alec.

  13. Mi-24 says:

    Ive spent a bit of time with now and I think it’s pretty good but have a few Gripes (Similar to the ones written about here)
    Gripe number 1: Bloody Hell the voice acting. seriously. it would be fine to have american (I think that’s what these accents are but I’m not entirely sure) tourists mixed in with the locals but really IO its just weird.
    2nd Gripe: it seems a bit of a shame the targets are confined to quite a small zone and don’t leave their areas (I know that’s also true of sapienza but feels more pronounced here). Given the relatively limited ways of getting in / out of these areas (in contrast to sapienzas mansion) it makes it a bit repetitive.
    Gripe the third: climbing feels very forced / limited. If you climb its a route to one balcony, rather than leading to multiple routes or just being there.
    Final Gripe: I personally (no idea if anyone else gets this) keep getting crashes when entering / exiting the school area. doesn’t seem to be fixed by reducing settings. this is a shame and spoils an otherwise great game.

  14. doorgunner says:

    Did anybody get missed opportunities as well? There is one when both targets meet in front of the school. I cannot use it because of “lost information”. How can/does this happen? Thats so annoying. Every opportunity should be available when restarting the mission. Marrakeh was the 2nd time i got this, first was one in the exam mission with the fighter jet. Besides the missed ilusive target one thats the 2nd time HM disappoints me with inaccessable content. That makes it worse than absolution for me already.