Hitman reveals itself in layers

In December, we named Hitman [official site] the best sandbox game of 2016. I hadn’t played it at the time, but I have since and, yes, yes. Hitman deserves to be celebrated for its beautiful, detailed worlds. Let’s pretend I’m folding this write-up into the calendar entry for the game I missed.

Graham: I treated Hitman like an early access game, putting off playing it until it was complete. I regret that now. I can see that its levels are large enough and polished enough that the best way to play would be to have grabbed them with both hands as each one became available.

Sapienza especially, the second released location, deserves a month spent with it or more. It includes city streets, a multitude of homes and shops, a church and mortuary, a beach and pier, an underground biolab, the crumbling ruins of an old castle, a large and heavily guarded mansion… Many of these locations is large and detailed enough that they could have formed an entire level in a previous Hitman game and still never have risked being called linear.

The missions deserve to be played more than once also because the first go-around is never wholly convincing. At its best, Hitman has always been a game about stumbling across breadcrumbs left for you by the designer – a clown with his back turned standing outside of a child’s birthday party, a donut delivery van full of snooping FBI agents, and so on – but nu-Hitman makes those breadcrumbs more explicit with the “Opportunities” system. Stand close to some talking NPCs and you’ll be told that an opportunity is revealing itself; listen for a moment and you’ll have the option to track that opportunity, which drops a quest marker in the world and tells you what objective to complete next.

Overhear a flower delivery person talking on the phone, for example, and you discover that this offers an opportunity to enter that aforementioned mansion. A quest marker appears on that delivery person, and the words “Get a delivery man outfit” appear in the top left. You know what to do. The quest marker shifts to the pile of flowers beside his crashed van, and then on towards the butler inside the mansion. You can just walk past the guards who would have turned you away before.

Initially I disliked this system. Hitman was at its best in Hitman Blood Money, in which finding those breadcrumbs required you to see items in the environment and think, “Hang on, could I? Would that work?” You then experimented and, if it worked, you felt clever – as if you had been creative, rather than simply having found what the designer made for you. The opportunity system puts an end to that. It says, “Yes, you can do that” from the moment you see an item, and completing the task if often as simple as following the marker on screen.

The system has grown on me, however. The levels are large and complex enough now that always having a relatively straightforward route to completing it is actually welcome. It lets you make the game as easy as you want it to be, to the point of it even being relaxing to play at times, like a murderous point-and-click adventure.

Being able to complete the mission quickly also therefore quickly moves you on to a second playthrough, and you soon discover that there’s enough variety, secondary challenges and so on that you can still, as before, make Hitman much, much harder if you want to. Wander around and you’ll find umpteen other opportunities, far more than you’d initially expect. Wander around even more and you’ll find elements of the world which aren’t flagged as opportunities but nevertheless suggest possibilities. Hitman is a systemic game that does a pretty good job of dressing up in the clothing of a linear game, without sacrificing the strengths of either design philosophy.

My current self-set challenge is one listed in the menus for Sapienza: to kill both targets with a single bullet. I have no idea how that might be possible, but in wandering the town’s streets hours after first completing the mission, I’ve found there is still that feeling of creativity and experimentation to be had within the game.

This article was originally published as part of the RPS Supporter Program.

11 Comments

  1. caff says:

    Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    I fired this up over the weekend and finally completed the tutorial missions, then realised after wandering the first Paris map what a huge, complex and beautiful machine this new Hitman is.

    The only reason I never played at launch was my old PC couldn’t handle it.

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    Mungrul says:

    There’s only one thing that really, REALLY annoys me about this otherwise perfection of the Hitman formula. Why do I have to change equipped item by coming out of the game and in to a rotary selection screen?!
    Seriously, if anyone else playing on mouse and keyboard knows if there’s a way to bind item switching to the mousewheel, enlighten me!

    • Vandelay says:

      Yes, so much this. Even just a last item equipped button would help matters, but really the lack of item mouse scrolling is inexcusable in the 21st century, let alone the second half of this decade.

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        DuncUK says:

        You’d still need a separate ‘choose’ action for mousewheel selection. You wouldn’t want to accidentally whip out an AK47 when trying to switch from coins to soda cans and find yourself facing down half a dozen unimpressed guards.

        • GenialityOfEvil says:

          The game already has that, the holstering button (wheel click). In fact, moving from a menu to a scrolling UI element would be much better because as it is now, selecting an item in the menu unholsters it. Having a scroll would let you select an item without pulling it out until you click the mouse wheel.

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    DuncUK says:

    I personally disliked the idea of the new ‘opportunities’ system on paper, but I’ve come to like it overall. I really liked the fact that you can dial it down. I did so right off the bat by turning it down to its medium setting. I’m so glad I did… there are no quest markers, the game tells me what to do but not how (or why) to do it. There’s still a puzzle to be solved and if I get really stuck, there’s the internet.

    Also, the challenges do provide plenty of room for creativity. I particularly enjoyed figuring out the Ninja challenge in Hokkaido and in general getting SASO is a fairly serious puzzle to solve. I also like that the Sniper Challenge is in there, which gives the game some variety. Alot of these challenges don’t give any pointers as to how to achieve them at all.

  4. iN5OMANiAC says:

    I have never really taken to Hitman but I really liked the look of this so I got it and completed it in two days. I thoroughly enjoyed it and liked the ‘opportunities’ but afterwards felt like I’d been pretty much having my hand held through the whole game so it spoiled it for me somewhat. I was trying to explain to my mate the other day how it would have been better to get the episodes separately and explore them properly, thats what I’ll do with season 2

  5. PikaBot says:

    I’ve never killed both targets with one bullet myself but it’s definitely possible to get Silvio and Francesca in the same room with open windows. Hint: check out the attic.

    Of course, the cheater’s way to do it would be to knock both of them out, drag them on top of each other, and then stand over them and fire the Jaeger Lancer at your feet.

  6. Jerykk says:

    Just turn off Opportunity messages..? I did this as soon as I realized how hand-holdy they were. Figuring out the opportunities without any guidance is way more gratifying and gives you much more incentive to explore, eavesdrop and experiment.

    • michael.neirinckx says:

      Can you turn off the opportunities system? I’ve never played a Hitman game before and this sounds like a big turn off to me.

      • Jerykk says:

        Yes, you can turn off opportunity messaging. You can turn off pretty much every form of assist in the game.