Hitman Episode 3 Isn't A Riot - Yet
Hands on in Marrakesh
You can't start a revolution in Hitman's Marrakesh episode, but Lord knows I have tried. Seeking to create the impression of a brutal state crackdown, I've dressed up as a soldier and opened fire on the crowd from a checkpoint. I've lugged cans of propane right across the map, dropped them near placard-waving civvies and blown everybody up with a silenced pistol. I've sucker-punched foreign officials, hurled bricks at marchers - done whatever I can to transform the level's outpouring of public discontent into a full-blown civil war. And for my troubles I've been treated to an efficient, orderly death and the sight of a dozen, so-called leftwing firebrands cowering in terror as the army closes in. Honestly - is it any wonder you radicals are sweltering beneath capitalism's golden hoof when one little blast cloud is too much to bear?
If Marrakesh isn't quite the open world insurrection simulator I was rather unrealistically and very callously looking forward to, it's an absolute playpen for fans of the game's Contracts mode.
That protest rally outside the Swedish consulate is the obvious proving ground – I have no idea how you'd assassinate one of the marchers without giving yourself away, but I'm sure more practised infiltrators are even now mind-mapping the sightlines and weighing up escape strategies. Making your move from inside the consulate's grounds could be the trick.
The market a minute's stroll away seems a slightly more forgiving arena, its close-packed stalls affording a number of shadowy corners and places to dump a body, but you'll still have to worry about troopers gliding among the shoppers like sharks, and merchants who harass you as you pass. Snipers will do well here, I suspect: you can reach the roofs of Marrakesh easily via shops along the sides of the square, and there are a few vertiginous paths between buildings that, incidentally, provide access to at least one of the map's higher security areas, a members-only club. Also incidentally, there's a battleaxe in one of the carpet shops. I'm not sure how you'd smuggle it across the market without raising eyebrows, but the pay-off should be worth the toil.
The city is a blur of colour and sound – helicopters roaring over the market square, chattering TV sets, plumes of shisha smoke, gossiping labourers, masked figures slapping up posters – but it's a lot more readable than I was expecting from my hands-off demo in April. The map essentially consists of four large zones: besides the market and the protest rally, there's a tumbledown school turned military base that's home to one of your primary targets, a general with despotic aspirations, and the consulate itself, an oasis of quintessentially Scandinavian calm where you'll find the other mark, a villainous banker.
Obtaining a disguise that grants you access to either isn't too difficult, even if you resist the omnipresent lure of Opportunities, which range from replacing a TV cameraman through mugging a retired headmaster. The alleyways might be lousy with patrolling soldiers, but they're also thick with accidents waiting to happen, such as electrical wires snaking through puddles (I haven't actually given this a shot, but dressing up as a mechanic before messing with the fittings is probably a sound idea).
Getting inside without an appropriate change of costume is going to take thought, however. There is a subterranean route into the consulate, but it's well-defended, and the building itself is unhelpfully open plan, with a gigantic two-storey lobby, a formidable and restless security presence and a few busy siderooms. Still, you can always take refuge in the toilets, and if you do find yourself in pressing need of a disguise, there's a masseur you can "encourage" to have a smoke somewhere reasonably private.
As for the school base, it's geared towards traditional stealth, with ledges along the outside of the building, regular hallways and a generous assortment of detritus to hide behind. The general is seldom without an escort, but who knows, a timely distraction could work wonders. That APC out front, for example - the one with the self-targeting turret. Perhaps there's a way you can get under its skin. Alternatively, you could just trip the fire alarm and see how things unfold.
Thus the spaces of Marrakesh. But what about the timeline of events? So far everything feels dependent on player participation, with no initial need to hurry in order to intercept a particular character or witness something important. There's the same, slightly grating reliance on proximity triggers as in previous episodes – a soldier who realises he's forgotten something vital the second you stroll into view, a conversation about an evacuation procedure that seemingly won't happen unless you're there to eavesdrop. If I have a wish for Hitman 2016, it's to play at least one map that requires me to know the schedule inside out. Teetering as it is on the brink of chaos, Marrakesh could have been that map, but so far it's more in keeping with the stately theatrics of the opening Paris level.
The environment is often beautiful, with its elegantly textured Islamic arches and booths decked out in tapestries and rose-tinted glass, though it lacks the winding, organic feel of Sapienza, and the sheer pressure of bodies does mean that you're more aware of recycled NPC animations. Io's choice of American English as Hitman's lingua franca seems more jarring in French-Arabic Morocco than in Paris or Sapienza, but that's as much a reflection of my own cultural priorities as anything else. The writing could use a proper tune-up, though – Marrakesh plays host to some incredibly lumbering exchanges, awash with terms like "Orwellian" and "Western materialism" plus studied hints about masterkeys and tunnels. As ever, you're required to listen if you're tailing the NPC in question, which admittedly makes it all the more satisfying as and when you find it necessary to dispose of them.
I was hoping Marrakesh would be a significant step-change for Hitman, but it's shaping up to be more of the same. Which is no awful thing, obviously, given the success of Episode 2, and this is at least a more challenging map, with fewer areas where you can be confident of mugging somebody undetected. But the notion of an imminent clash between state and citizenry had me daydreaming of something truly convoluted and vile. What more complete an expression of Agent 47's ruthlessness than to orchestrate a civil war as cover for a hit?
Still, perhaps I'm missing something. Perhaps the people, apathetic sods that they are, just need a bit more prodding. Perhaps that rather incongruous battleaxe is the straw that'll break the camel's back, the touch of sheer excess that'll finally loosen the city's grip on normality.
Hitman's Marrakesh level launches May 31st.