Allow me a moment to be the most stereotypical 25-year-old man and open my review of a violent video game with a quote from The Simpsons.
It’s the episode when Homer and Snake are brawling inside the jailbird’s car, ‘Lil Bandit’. Snake has Homer in a headlock, wrenching his neck, and calls out in hungry expectation: “Come onnn, let’s hear that snap!”
I find myself using that line a lot playing Hitman. The anticipation, the build-up before the climax, that you feel as you drag your mark to the floor and mash the ‘SUBDUE’ button until, finally, ‘SNAP NECK’ pops up and…
You know, it’s hard to articulate without sounding like a very weird person.
Let me try again.
Hitman’s point d’être has always been rewarding patience, timing, precision, and execution – that one in a literal sense.
The delayed gratification of observing a scene. Figuring out your approach. Trying. Failing. Trying again. Failing again. Trying again but getting lit up by security guards on your escape… All of this in pursuit of being the best damned anonymous killer clone you can be.
Absolution, the prior instalment in the Hitman series, walked away from this, and sucked as a result. Levels were linear and relied a lot on crouching behind cover for some reason, far from the ‘hiding in plain sight’ concept that made Hitman a unique gaming experience.
It also suffered from a very un-Hitman storyline about rescuing some young girl and, oh yeah, who can forget the galling E3 trailer depicting the very graphic, almost fetishised, killing of a gang of ‘sexy nun assassins’, gross enough to put many of the game from the start.
Fortunately, Hitman feels like more than one step back in the right direction.
For starters, the tutorial is actually fun (I mean come on, who ever finds tutorials fun?) – a simulated training mission on an MDF boat filled with actors, sort of like Call of Duty 4’s opener, just with less noise and much more garrotting. You’ll want to have a few cracks at it.
The first mission proper, a two-target job amid a couture Paris fashion show in a grand palace, is a classic that immediately registers among the best in the series’ history. The barmy, regal setup is one you’ll want to come back to again and explore every crevice, every camp conversation. Plus, not to give too much away, there’s an opportunity to basically play out a grittier, noir version of Zoolander.
The level firmly gets you right back into the swing of being Agent 47, ready to take on the world’s biggest baddies in the world’s strangest costumes. However, there comes a halt.
You see, one of the key intrigues of this game’s release is that publisher Square Enix is pushing this game out in ‘episodes’, with new chapters of the story being released “throughout 2016”, starting in April. For now the tutorial and fashion map are all we get.
It’s not like there’s nothing to do though. During the pre-mission briefing, and littered throughout the UI, are reminders that there are a great many ways to off your targets in each mission. There’s a fine line to tread between giving helpful pointers and hand-holding, but Hitman does a good job of showing what you can do, and leaving the how up to you.
A format naturally hard to adapt to multiplayer, Hitman instead has its ‘Contracts’ mode, which allows you to try user-created missions where you can be tasked with assassinating any character on the map with any weapon – even in any outfit. Many players will want to try every one; in fact you might have to if you want to pass the time until the next episode.
Admittedly, it seems strange that in a time where we’re increasingly devouring on-demand TV and film through services like Netflix and Amazon Video that give us everything at once and allow us to gorge in our own time, games are somewhat trending in the opposite direction, many instead offer us a healthy diet of treats now and then to keep us going.
Games such as EA’s Star Wars Battlefront are eking content out month-on-month, quarter-on-quarter, through ‘season pass’ deals where customers are increasingly urged to pre-pay for as-yet unannounced DLC.
These models rely on committed franchise fans’ preclusion to being too trusting with their hearts and their wallets, and it remains to be seen how this will work out for Hitman. Will the story be enough to keep you invested, emotionally and financially? Will the levels be as beautiful, as riveting to explore?
Let’s be honest, Hitman’s rather generic espionage plot might not do it alone. The game’s reputation for elaborate settings and numerous cat-skinning methods is what will keep fans coming back… and keep them waiting to hear that sweet, sweet snap.