Tentative Excitement: the new Hitman

I picked up the “intro” pack for the new Hitman recently, and played a bunch of it last night– $15 for the tutorial levels and the first mission of the game. I’ve played through the tutorials and part of the first mission, and I’m really sold, especially for the price I paid.

Tentative Excitement: the new Hitman

The structure of the game is interesting– there’ve always been many, many ways to approach a Hitman level, and, in general, few reasons to revisit them. In this iteration of the series, there are still the many ways to approach the levels, but the game nudges you to try different ones, making the replay value of the game a lot more apparent by indicating different ways to approach it. Rather than having to intuit creative solutions on the fly while under pressure, the game messages these solutions to you in the form of NPC conversations, various documents you can find scattered around the level, and other such details.

The game also has a lot more depth as far as the choices you can make. Despite being a game about assassination, killing anyone except your target is considered poor form at best, and mission-compromising at worst. Disguises are key to getting close to your target, and acquiring these takes creativity, patience, and timing if you want to do it well. What I also really like is the emphasis not just on the target, but also getting out.

It’s fascinating to me how much a game whose tagline is “enter a world of assassination” (I still always hear the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory song when I read that) puts such an emphasis on not killing people. Going in guns blazing is a really, really bad choice here, and while you CAN do it, it’ll get you plastered all over the evening news; not great for a professional ghost. As a result, the game does a lot to humanize even random nonessential NPCs, giving them habits, quirks, and mannerisms that make them feel more convincing.

One of the things that this Hitman game removes is the omniscient map. In its place is an Assassin’s Creed-style sensory mode, which slows time slightly and lets you see people (and identify your target(s)) through walls, but not the actual layouts of the rooms. It makes the game feel more tense, as I can’t simply hide in a closet and watch the map to study patterns anymore, I actually have to mingle and put myself at risk to gather information.

As I write that last sentence, a thought just clicked for me– I talk about wanting more verbs in video games. Hitman gives me a bunch of interesting verbs, but among them is “gather information”. It’s just moving around and looking around and finding opportunities, but in the game that’s interesting, and is an active, fully-featured part of the game. I can look around and see that some parts of a level are guarded by a particular type of NPC, and others are guarded by a different kind. I can intuit what kinds of disguises I’d need to fit in various places, and see how all the moving parts link together to give me openings to be where I need to be.

Like Thief, and to some extent Dishonored, Hitman is a game that I personally love because it really rewards me for being precise, planning, and executing cleanly. I’m rewarded for outsmarting the level, not brute forcing it. I don’t yet know how I feel about it being presented as an episodic game, because I’ve always found the Hitman series’ metastory to be fascinating and I want more of it, but for the $15 entry fee, I’m pretty okay with what I’ve gotten to play. Pretty good odds I purchase the “upgrade pack” to get the full game later on.

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