RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 15th: Hitman

A good sandbox is defined by the options it gives you to explore, experiment and discover your own solutions to problems. Day fifteen of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, brings the best sandbox of 2016…

It’s Hitman!

Brendan: I am a terrible hitman. I once panicked and shot two guards standing on either side of my target, without hitting the man in the centre. As I reloaded, I knew that I was going to die, but I tried to hide behind a civilian anyway.

Unlike the more disaster-happy players, I tend to restart my failed assassinations. For me, full-caps HITMAN works best on your fifth or sixth go, when you know the map and the routines of the puppets. You can stride through restricted areas with careful timing, tracing a route up and down and round an expensive hotel as if you were the janitor. Maybe you are the janitor. In that sense, it’s a fine return to the style of its ancestors. A collection of free-form playgrounds to study and exploit. That’s all I wanted, and I was relieved to say it’s what we got. I’m a terrible hitman, but I am not as bad as Hitman: Absolution.

Alec: Every time I think I’ve got a complete handle on what this new Hitman is doing, I see some tweet or Reddit post about some secret outfit or gonzo kill technique that reveals I know nothing. Approached superficially, this is a po-faced game about stealth kills. Dig in, experiment, try a few of the never-ending slew of bonus objectives and Hitman reveals that it wants to be Robin Williams at least as much as it wants to be Jean Reno. There’s a pulsing artery of absurdity beneath the dour surface, and it’s not just farce for farce’s sake – the wacky stuff is intrinsically tied to discovering new ways to complete one’s objectives.

I genuinely don’t believe that the degree of possibility and detail in Hitman would ever have been possible in a game that was released in one fell swoop. Not at the kind of budgets and headcounts a 2016 trupple-ay vidja demands.

Slow-burn development, gradual layering on of new tricks and treats after a chapter’s release – thanks to this, it’s built and built until we get something that is quite possibly the definitive Hitman game. Not necessarily the best – I think Hitman: Blood Money hits a superior sweet spot of grim/funny tone and outlandish-but-not-too-outlandish setups, but ultimately it is a more limited affair than its subtitleless successor.

If you skipped it because you weren’t down with the whole episodic thing, take my word for it: now that it’s effectively complete, this is an almighty and finely-crafted bundle of silent assassination. Absolution indeed.

20 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    This game is really something special. On the surface it’s a standard good game- sharp, focused, gorgeous and smart. But after you spend a little time with it, you start to see little hints of its greater depths, inviting you to dig deeper.

    The waypoints and handholding will get you through the game, but going off those paths and figuring things out for yourself is where the game goes from good to brilliant.

  2. Crimsoneer says:

    I’ve just got this, and it has made me a little sad I missed out on the real episodic experience.

    Also, opportunities – is it best to play with them on, with just hints, or off?

    • The Council says:

      The first thing I did when I bought this at release was to turn off the opportunities feature. I’ve found the game perfectly doable and I believe it’s much more rewarding than having what essentially amounts to objectives highlighted for you.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You can definitely do it with them turned off but you will find those moments where you are running around for 30 minutes trying to find a wrench or a specific outfit. You can switch them on and off as you please without any penalty to your score. It’s a nice option that prevents you from having to stop playing and look up a guide.

    • lozzer22 says:

      I play with them half on after completing the mission as many ways as I can figure out myself. So that it just shows you what to do next, but not exactly where to go or where to get an outfit.

  3. jezcentral says:

    My game of the year. A wonderful way to pass the time.

    I can’t wait to see how IO develop their sandbox approach for Season 2.

  4. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    I really liked the level design (except for Marrakesh) but the whole game is just way too scripted and streamlined for a Hitman game. All these people just standing around waiting for the player to come near them to begin having a silly conversation that gives some usually too-obvious hint about where to go and what to do really doesn’t sit well with me. And the Opportunities system makes it even worse. Yeah, you can turn that off, but that’s like turning off an “optional” HUD element: you’re just hiding something that’s intrinsic to the experience. Hitman is a guided tour through an assassination theme park when it needs to be an emergent stealth game. They’re probably going to make more levels for Hitman next year. Some of those levels are probably going to be masterfully designed and beautiful in a way that not many video game environments are. But none of them will capture the spontaneity and excitement of playing Hitman 2 and trying to drag a body out of sight before a guard or maid wanders into the room you’re in and blows your cover and forces you to reload from one of your very limited saves or shoot your way out and give up any hope of getting a nice mission rating.

    • GenialityOfEvil says:

      Thing is, that’s by design. It’s the first game to not have preset difficulty levels. They can’t just set one difficulty bar and knock off for lunch, if they did then they’d have to make it too easy.

    • Merus says:

      I think what you’re looking for are the escalation missions and the elusive targets. Elusive targets in particular, because you might know the level cold but the elusive target introduces something you’ve never seen before.

      Part of what was nice about the episodic release is that it pushed people towards the escalation missions without requiring them. They are, I’m told, the Right way to play.

      • Premium User Badge

        DuncUK says:

        Part of what makes escalation and elusive targets fun is that you don’t get any saves at all. In fact elusive targets aren’t even highlighted, you have to just recognise them.

    • lozzer22 says:

      “none of them will capture the spontaneity and excitement of playing Hitman 2 and trying to drag a body out of sight before a guard or maid wanders into the room you’re in and blows your cover”

      Just made an account on here to say that I got this exact feeling of spontaneity and excitement the first time I played this game. It was during a level five escalation on ‘the final test’. I had just taken out the VIP’s bodyguard as the VIP was leaving the room with the safe. He noticed the hit, ran back to the body and started calling for guards. As he was looking in the opposite direction a foot away from the body I grabbed it and sneakily started draging it away to the nearly bathroom to stuff it in a crate. My heart rate was through the bloody roof and he miraculously didn’t notice me. I also like trying to complete each mission as silent assassin, suit only on my first play through. I find changing outfits to be more of a cheat mechanism that makes the game much too easy, like ‘oh I have a level 1 outfit I can go to these areas, 10 minutes later I have an ‘elite’ outfit and can go anywhere with no problems’. I don’t see the point in that.

      • CartonofMilk says:

        I agree.

        Theres only one way i play hitman games, no guns, no costumes, no knockouts, no kills except the target. And of course no alarms/alerts (like someone finding the body etc). Basically i have to be an untraceable shadow.

        UNLESS i’ve tried every single option and any of those is absolutely necessary. I havent played this latest hirman yet, but ive found in any of the past hitman games (except the first but its not REALLY a hitman game is it?) that 90% of the time you can do this in any mission. All it requires is a lot lot lot lot lot of patience. But that’s the fun of hitman games to me. A lot of the time it involves doing things i’m convinced the devs never even planned for. As long as a Hitman game will allow me to clear the vast majority of missions this way, it’ll be a good series.

  5. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I have enjoyed this game quite a lot this year. I didn’t buy in until the Marrakesh level but having the chance to really chew a mission before swallowing and moving on to the next was great. I’m not a completionist whatsoever but the way this game is presented got me doing a lot of challenges I probably would have skipped. I am also a big fan of the unlocks being based on specific actions instead of just bigger score = more unlocks.

    This game has also been great for YouTube videos. It is very entertaining to watch others bungle their way through missions. I could watch Jane Douglas play this bad boy all day long.

  6. caff says:

    I was doubtful about the episodic approach – and to some extent I still am for maing a cohesive game story – but this Hitman is a wonderful release, and I/O should be applauded for making a game that is faithful to what made Blood Money so good. It has that beautiful clockwork engine feeling where you can twist the events to fall perfectly into place. It mocks serious game-play and yet it’s not easy – the AI demands a lot of you.

  7. David Mitchell says:

    We enjoyed playing it, it’s a perfectly good game with some true moments of brilliance. The only thing that really let it down for us was the cost-cutting audio design and loss of BAFTA award-winner Jesper Kyd. Oh well, perhaps next time the IOI execs might have enough spare cash around to hire some extra voice actors to compliment David Bateson’s dulcet tones. I mean, other than five minutes of Gary Busey/Cole in a one-off marketing-mission that is.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      I think I speak for everyone when I say Peep Show was great, and it’s very sad that it’s finished. Also “The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar” and “Numberwang” were top notch.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      By “we” I assume you mean yourself and Robert Webb.

  8. Unsheep says:

    @Brendan: which were your favourite episodes ?

    Mine were ‘Bangkok’ and ‘Colorado’, I especially enjoyed the maps and set-ups in these particular episodes. If I had to pick one favourite, it would be the latter.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I don’t think any game has made me laugh as hard as that car lift in Colorado did.

  9. TheMightyEthan says:

    I just got this when it was on sale at Gamestop a week or so ago, having never played much of the previous Hitmen (I always bounced off, other than Go, which I loved). I just did Sapienza last night, and I am extremely hooked. I love how the levels feel like giant, insanely intricate puzzles. Going in I expected something kind of like Splinter Cell, but really it feels more like playing Hitman Go. And I mean that in a good way.