Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Price: $14.99 (Intro Pack), $59.99 (Full Experience), $49.99 (Upgrade Pack- All Future Episodes)
Platform: PC [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Disclaimer: The following game was reviewed on PC via Steam. A code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Following suit with the ever popular Telltale titles and its own Life is Strange saga, Square Enix, and Io Interactive have decided to push the long-running stealth action title into the episodic realm. This was met with some criticism from the gaming community as it might be perceived as an incentive for the developer to simply profit from the episodic business model when the game wasn’t necessarily created with that in mind. While this may be true in some cases, Square Enix and Io Interactive have released the first episode for Hitman titled “Paris”, which is available now in either the Intro Pack or as part of the full experience. While Io Interactive has certainly closed in on the core of Hitman and what makes it so fun as a franchise, you may be left feeling that the release of the title was a bit premature.
The episode “Paris”, takes Agent 47 to, well, Paris, to be a guest at the Sanguine Fashion Show. Of course, you won’t be watching models walk down the runway and flash Blue Steel to huge applause and an explosion of camera flashes. Instead, you arrive at the show searching for the coordinators of the event, who have been revealed to be involved in all sorts of crazy international espionage. I won’t spoil the details here, but the story surrounding each hit is as nuanced and dense as you would expect from a Hitman title, with twisting plots and overlapping layers, revealing a devious web of entanglement throughout this massive level.
And massive would really be the only word to describe this first installment in the game. There is an absolutely endless way to tackle each kill in this sandbox of assassination joy, bringing back the feeling of older Hitman titles. Thankfully, Io Interactive has completely revamped the dreaded disguise system from Absolution that rendered costumes nearly useless. This scraps the prior use in favor of the classic system where only a few enemies of the same type of the chance to spot you throughout the level. Not only does this switch provide endless opportunities to accomplish your hit, but also provides chances to just case the level without being spotted.
For instance, about halfway through the Paris level, I “accidentally” tapped a supermodel on the back of the head with a crowbar, and decided that his clothes would be a nice fit for my build. It is a fashion show after all, right? After acquiring the subsequent make-up that fits the suit, I was able to cover nearly entire level without being spotted, allowing me to plan my hits in a much more elegant fashion rather than shooting my targets the moment I encountered them. This was partially done in fear that I wouldn’t be able to make it to them again (I’m looking at you again Absolution). Not to mention, who doesn’t want to walk out on a catwalk in full model attire?
As always, there is a multitude of ways to come at a level. You could run in with an assault rifle and take out everyone in your path, and if you did, you’d be a much better player than I. However, there is something special about tackling a mission in stealth and learning about every nuance of an NPC that makes Hitman, well, Hitman. Unfortunately in this newest installment, the nuances of the NPCs are limited at best. They don’t notice clearly suspicious actions and sometimes start following you just for walking by. Io definitely has some balancing to work out in future updates.
This is emphasized by the constant focus on retrying missions to discover every possible way to complete a contract is back, and the ingenious amount of challenges at bonuses to unlock with each hit will leave plenty of content to tide you over until the next episode. This single level approach really allows you to squeeze every last drop out of the experience, and almost forces to uncover what makes a Hitman title so special.
Despite absolutely nailing the spirit of classic Hitman games, and bring them into a fresh light, I still felt like I was playing the beta or some sort of completely finished version of the build. Constant graphical glitches made the entire experience feel unpolished. Stuttering, tearing, and a strange stretching effect that reared its head once or twice were all culprits of a premature release. That’s not to say that Hitman doesn’t look good because it certainly does and the art team over at Io Interactive should be commended for their work. However, those responsible for optimization should not.
Running under the recommended specs, I was only able to push medium graphics, very rarely hitting 60-frames. I would understand if the game look as breathtaking as The Witcher 3 or Rise of the Tomb Raider, but the unfortunate truth is that Hitman simply does not look as good as those games, as runs far worse than they do on launch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Io Interactive has taken Hitman back to its roots in a beautiful way with this first episode. The level design, challenges, and reformed disguise system bring meaningful change to a series that was at risk of becoming dull. The attention to detail in the environments, characters, dialogue and overall presence of this installment is paramount and shows a lot of hope for the future episodes that will be released throughout 2016. However, the attention to detail was not picked up by every department as the sometimes glitchy, bug-ridden level holds this first episode back from reaching its full potential. Hopefully, Io will pay more mind to optimization in future updates, but as the game stands now, the graphical mishaps make for an experience that only feels half finished.
Hitman is showing a lot of promise with the core gameplay mechanics, and if you can deal with the graphical errors, then I would suggest picking it up right now. Despite this, more content will be released as soon as next week, and hopefully, Io will throw in some fixes to these flaws. If you’re in no rush, I would hold off until these issues can be worked out before picking up Hitman.