I killed a man by blowing up the smartwatch on his wrist. I 3D printed a mask of another man’s face in order to pass through a biometric scanner. Better yet, I carried around a single apricot the whole while.
Third-person assassin-’em-up Hitman [official site] is very, very careful never to openly laugh at itself, but allow it to be a silly game rather than a serious one and it’ll keep on giving. Its latest and fifth episode, set on a Colorado farm occupied by assorted militia, hackers and a guy dressed as Hipster Michael Myers, perhaps doesn’t have the wow factor of Paris or Marrakesh, but it does lean so hard on modern tech tropes that I half expected an objective to involve poisoning an e-cig or Snapchatting one of my targets. Laugh with it, not at it.
On the one hand, the exploding smartwatch and a 3D printer that makes rubber faces perhaps speaks to a game that’s finally running out of relatively plausible ideas for how to conceal an assassination with a faked accident. On the other, it speaks to a game that might just be thinking “what’s the furthest we push this without losing our poker face?” Such is the furrow-browed seriousness of Hitman that sneaking into an upstairs bedroom to 3D print what is effectively a Michael Myers mask behind the backs of a cartel of hackers all wearing black hoodies was a task I attempted with utmost grit and determination. The Hitman series at its best stealths a little Austin Power powers into its Bourne tone, and Colorado absolutely delivers on that front.
I don’t think I could say it was up there with latter-day Hitman’s most striking maps, mind. The fruit trees and hay barns and gutted farmhouses are certainly a change of pace from the glamour of Paris and the clamour of Marrakesh – this is deliberately a quiet, even forlorn place, rather than a bustling one. So, taken as part of what we will one day mercifully be able to consider as one complete game rather than a strung-out series, it works and it fits.
Taken only as this month’s episode, after a wait since the last, maybe it’s an ever so slight let-down – you go in thinking “man, what are they gonna do next?”, only to find that Colorado’s on the subdued side. There’s some lovely mountain scenery outside the play area, but you’re stuck behind impassable fences and restricted to what is in effect a military base on a run-down farm. Because the environment is less changeable than Hitman’s glitizier locations, it feels small, even though strictly speaking the landmass is probably equal to the other four chapters.
It’s also mostly private militia as far as the eye can see, and with all due respect to America’s murderers for hire, a legion of black flak jackets hanging gloomily around some sheds simply lacks the vibrancy of civilian streets. The counter-balance to this is that this is far more paranoid chapter than usual. Agent 47 will be attacked on sight from the start of the map (at least until you’ve unlocked various outfitting options by completing a few objectives), so total stealth followed by a costume change is paramount from minute one. Even then, many areas are restricted to certain uniforms.
My point being, you very rarely get to relax in Colorado. Someone’s always thinking about feeling your collar, and unlike some of the other maps, there’s almost nowhere to run away to if you get found out. The bastards are everywhere. It’s tenser and even more difficult than its predecessors as a result. This is much more of a pure stealth map. Sure, it has its big gimmick payoffs like face-printing and watch-sploding, but in the main this is more about caution than subterfuge.
Like I say, I think that’s going to work well come the day that we get to play a finished Hitman like a level-to-level traditional game, with its own ebb and flow, but taken in its own right it doesn’t feel as playful or ornate as other maps. Which is, I realise, a bloody strange thing to be saying about a mission with 3D face-printing in it.
However, I appreciate how different it is, how on edge it kept me. This is a game trying not to fall into formula. The tense, never tenser, could all go a bit Frank Spencer structure is probably going to offer some great things in terms of Hitman’s now-traditional drip-fed new contracts and elusive targets. Maybe we’ve had enough spectacle and bustling streets now: maybe purebred stealth challenge is a vital change of pace, and escalation.
Oh, I forgot to mention the apricots. You get to throw apricots at people this time. Or just carry one around for fun. Me, I like to roleplay that 47 had been told he didn’t have enough fibre in his diet, and is trying to address the problem even while working. Fingers crossed for an elusive target with a fatal allergy to apricots.
Hitman Episode 5 (and 1-4, for that matter) is out now.