We’re not sure about anybody else, but we keep a wary eye out for people with barcodes on the back of their heads. We’re also not sure if that's some sort of ‘ism’, but the Hitman series of video games suggests they're bad news; mere products of mad scientists without thought for the risk of not giving them hair. Maybe when protagonist Agent 47 completes a hit, he returns to HQ to have the back of his head scanned through a checkout and get paid?
This time around those things still ring true, but added are the few strong elements from Absolution, making for a product that’s the best of both worlds. The hand-to-hand combat and improved gunplay are kept, along with an overhauled version of instinct mode, which is thankfully no longer a requirement for disguise. Instead there are select characters who will be suspicious of your disguise if you get too close, which is a much more simple and effective system - thanks to this being discreetly indicated to the player, it makes for a simple way to understand the routine AI of NPCs. Outside of that tweak, instinct still works to mark your target, as well as points of interest and other NPCs, in much the same fashion as Batman’s detective vision.
What makes HITMAN stand out most of all is that anybody can play it... everyone is catered for
Opening tutorials help to introduce the various ways you can carry out hits, undoubtedly a welcome feature for newcomers overwhelmed by the breadth of choice afforded to them. Despite that, they aren't exhaustive, as there's so much depth in the opportunities and equipment available that replaying the same hit will never be the same - let alone the limitless variations Contracts mode offers (more on this later).
The best way to play is obviously to explore and discover things for yourself, probably by messing up big time and finding a new opportunity in the room you escaped into. We’ve performed hits guns blazing, opportunistically pushed people from ledges, blown up chandeliers to crush those below, even killed someone with a rubber duck. Whether you like to run in and hope for the best or be patient and learn patrol patterns, everybody is accommodated.
As an episodic release you only receive the two tutorial areas and the first fully fledged area, Paris, in the Intro Pack. Whilst that may sound sparse, at less than £12 it’s more than worth it. Blood Money is generally considered the series high point and HITMAN is more of that, only with more health and safety nightmares to take advantage of in larger sandbox areas. Returning players will feel right at home, whilst the cheap price should attract newcomers.
If the price point isn’t enough to draw you in, maybe Contracts mode will be. Introduced in Absolution, Contracts is a game mode that sets players the task of creating their own hits, the only limit being your own skill, as you’ll have to complete the hit yourself in order to publish it. You can choose from thousands of player created hits and create your own by targeting any NPC and taking them out whilst in the creator. Whilst you can have targets taken care of however the player chooses, the better hits are the ones with odd prerequisites, for instance, someone might specify you need to become an axe-wielding maniac dressed as a waiter, so you’ll need to find a waiter outfit and an axe before even contemplating the hit. That's just a small example, as there are nearly limitless ways to murder, and it's this that makes the game a joy to play. If you can’t get online to partake, single player missions do have built-in challenges that offer some similar bouts of fun.
The story isn't even worth mentioning, which might somewhat alienate those brought into the fold by Absolution and its narrative focus, but gameplay has always been the series’ main focus and importantly that’s nailed here.
What makes HITMAN stand out most of all is that anybody can play it. People burned by Absolution, fans of Absolution, newcomers, stealth fans, shooter fans - everyone - is catered for. Hitman has never been so satisfying and has never offered so many hours of entertainment, despite its drip-fed episodic release format. It’s a cracking return to form, of which we’re eagerly awaiting the next content drop.
Score TBD, check back when the game is content complete
Looking for a second opinion? Check out Sam's thoughts on the PlayStation 4 version.