The eighth console generation might better be called Generation Wait. “Wait,” of course, is the most popular message within the games industry as of late. Wait while your console updates, then wait while it updates the game you’d like to play. Wait for this Kickstarter to finish, then wait for the game to be developed for as long as the already-paid developers feel it needs to be. Wait for more single-player content for your AAA fighting game.
Perhaps most often, wait for the next episode of the game you already bought to come out. The most recent – and certainly not last – entry in Generation Wait is Hitman, the latest in the long-running series of garroting simulators, with Episode 1 Paris now serving its unique brand of assassination-style action.
Let’s address the elephant in the room before we get anywhere else: the amount of content you’re getting here is…limited. I’d say “paltry” but that’s a pretty negative term for what’s going to be a positive review overall. For whatever reason, this is an episodic title, and at the moment you’re getting a single “real” mission along with a pair of smaller tutorial missions that re-introduce protagonist Agent 47. This trend really took off with the Half-Life 2 Episodes – a spin-off which, you might recall, was unceremoniously dropped off the face of the Earth with no explanation.
It’s a very nice mission, yes, and one that you’ll probably want to play through several times, but it’s still a single mission. Combined with the tutorial missions, you’ve got maybe four or five hours of gameplay here, perhaps more if you really milk it.
The tutorial missions are the same ones we saw in the beta, which you had access to if you preordered the game. One involves 47 assassinating a master thief onboard a yacht while the other has you hunting down a defecting spy on a military base. They’re both relatively small by comparison with the main event in Paris, but they do a good job of highlighting the focus of the Hitman games: creativity. You can take a myriad of approaches to any given assassination; the thief, for instance, eventually meets with a client trying to hire him for a job, which allows you to sneak in and take him out…unless you take out that client yourself beforehand and go to the meeting yourself. Launching the spy out of an ejection seat to his doom is the obvious option, but it’s also possible to get him alone and impede his airflow a little. Each mission has various challenges to help guide you to new possibilities, including waypoints to help direct you a bit, but the actual work is in your hands.
“The Showstopper,” a mission to assassinate a pair of high fashion figures taking place in Paris, is the centerpiece of this episode. It is, admittedly, a doozy; the mansion in which it takes place is at least twice as big as the tutorial missions. You have a vast array of assassination opportunities and challenges open to you. The most obvious path involves knocking out a model, taking his place on the catwalk and using your newfound position in the fashion world to get close to your targets. It’s as amazing as it sounds. There are plenty of other choices, though, including numerous options to drop light fixtures on people; it wouldn’t be a Hitman game if people weren’t getting crushed by light fixtures, after all.
Running about and getting things done is easy to get a handle on, though Hitman’s flavor of stealth feels a little more stringent and strict than something like Assassin’s Creed or Metal Gear Solid. 47’s chrome dome will stand out if he’s dressed inappropriately for an area, and drawing too much attention will make guards and officials suspicious. Carefully choosing disguises is the way to go, which typically involves getting someone with the duds you’d like alone and then clocking them with a brick or hammer. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” disguise in most situations, so you’ll need to swap where necessary.
Upsetting guards typically leads to a hunt for 47, which will rapidly result in reloading a save, as you have little to no ability to defend yourself in an all-out firefight and alerted guards tend to stay alerted. This makes the game feel like more of a perfectionist’s exercise than other stealthy games. Snake and the various Assassin cousins can all take off and hide to dodge the heat. 47 will probably end up six feet under. On the other hand, if you manage to get to your target without being seen, escaping is typically a piece of cake; you weren’t suspicious getting in and you won’t be suspicious getting out, especially as it can take awhile for anyone to find the bodies you leave.
Hitman looks and sounds very, very nice, particularly if you’ve got it running on PC. It also takes a very, very long time to load. Those of you who are familiar with the series will recognize what an issue this is, as this is a game that rewards trial, error and reloading saves often. You’re looking at load times of up to half a minute every time things go sideways during a mission, which definitely hurts the experimentation aspect of the game.
Regardless, Episode 1 Paris shows us that Square Enix may be onto something with Hitman. Sadly, as is common with episodic titles, it’s quite possible you’ll end up unfulfilled in the end. The first episode of Hitman is an excellent Hitman level. It offers a wide array of options and a world that feels alive. It’s also only a single level, so assuming the entire game is released as planned, you might want to wait until the full game has been put together. But if it’s a taste of what (allegedly) is to come, however, you’ll have a good time on the catwalk in Paris with Agent 47.