How stupid is it to name the sixth main installment in a (video game) series just like the series as a whole? Independently of the answer to this pressing question, I’m reviewing Hitman (the 2016 video game), not the series.
Hitman is built like the preceding games and also shares a similar story. Timeline-wise, the prologue takes place before the first game (Codename 47) and the main game happens seven years after the last installment, Absolution.
Both story- and gameplay-wise, there aren’t any big surprises, it’s what you have come to expect from this series: you’re a contract killer raised in some nebulous genetic laboratory, and via an agency and a handler, are tasked to execute missions, which are most of the time killing people. While not a prerequisite to complete a mission successfully (in most cases in the past, and never this time), it can be regarded as the true goal of the game, and will give you the coveted Silent Assassin rating: no bodies found, no unnecessary kills, not being spotted.
This game had been released in six separate episodes, obviously because the makers ran into some scheduling issues, and simply because they could in today’s market. However, if you buy it today (for Windows, PS4 or Xbox), you get an integrated experience, so this episode product concept doesn’t disturb you in gaming.
The rating- and level-system has changed from past installments (and in fact has changed with each release so far). For every mission you play, you receive points (based on success and those “soft goals” like being a silent assassin at least in part), and I have no idea what those points are for.
Then, for completing specific sub-tasks within the mission, you get experience points, which will then unlock some goodies. These may be goodies specific to that mission (like new starting points or equipment stashes), or equipment you can then use in any mission.
Apropos equipment: your standard equipment (you can carry a handgun and two additional items which are not a gun, plus something which you pickup in the mission from a stash) from the start is a silenced pistol, a fiber wire (garotta) and three coins you can use to distract NPCs in the game.
There’s a lot of items you can pick up mid-game, though, with the only limit being one rifle at a time (which you can’t conceal), plus some items which can only be hand-carried (one at a time), like propane bottles. So it’s perfectly possible to carry five hex wrenches, five bricks, multiple screwdrivers and firearms, but you can’t start the game with more than three coins.
Lack of Logic Helps in Gaming
This lack of logic, obviously for balancing the game, is very apparent in some levels: in a hotel level, nobody except for the general manager carries a keycard, yet all hotel personnel can freely enter any guest room (which, you guessed it, you can’t – unless you get the card from the manager, or find a spare somewhere).
And that is something you need to be aware of: this game is not realistic, maybe even less so than its predecessors.
Playstyles – and the Game’s Reaction
As said, there’s not a single mission where you can’t go in guns blazing. However, this playing style has become considerably more difficult than in previous games. Plus, NPC AI has greatly improved. They are not only more logical in their behaviour, they also have more dialogue options. Hospital staff telling a security detail to do what he’s paid for after they hear a shot or find a body is much better than earlier reactions which might be running in circles for 30 seconds, then return to their usual chores.
Apropos combat: the game is obviously not focused on combat (for a reason, as you can complete all missions without firing a single shot), so if you aim for that in a stealth game, Hitman (the game, as well as most of the series) is apparently not for you – the game mechanics simply do not offer options for that like shooting out of cover etc.
Comparing it with other games of the series, this game comes closest to Blood Money from 2006: rather simple missions, but with lots of options to do them, some of them very creative. In that context, the so-called opportunities help you to find out the more tricky ones: typically when overhearing a NPC conversation, you get a prompt to track that opportunity and are then guided through the steps in it.
And this is what makes the game with its only six missions a true contender for a long time: there’s lots of disguises, lots of tricks you can do, lots of dialogue you can overhear for deep immersion – fun!
The size of the mission area has also grown considerably in comparison to Blood Money, but retaining its density of events over the more sparsely populated Silent Assassin and Absolution. Add to that that some of the six locations offer bonus missions, and you have a game that will keep you busy for quite some time.
Graphics and other Tech
I wouldn’t consider this game a top performer graphics-wise for a 2016 game – comparing it to e.g. GTA V and the remastered Skyrim, those things which “make the difference” such as lighting and flowing water just aren’t up to par here.
Still, the graphics and level design manage to transport the mood of each location – the small Italian seaside town or the base of a paramilitary group in Colorado, to pick two examples, really well. And together with the fact that the missions, while all being hits in the end, are rather different, does make this a capturing experience, more than perfect graphics but with lacking story could do.
The same as Absolution was the worst game in the series to me (being a combat-focused game lacking proper mechanics for that and a weak overall plot that failed to properly hold together the missions), this is my favourite so far: the combo of interesting, sandbox-style gameplay and the conscious decision to avoid telling a fitting, overarching story rather than giving us great missions, really makes this a keeper. And with that, I can very well accept that other games may have nicer graphics. Truly recommended.