When Hitman (2016) was announced, many players greeted the news with great hesitation. Its predecessor, Absolution, was a terrible game that left plenty of Hitman fans with a sour taste in their mouths. Compounding this was the fact that the game would require a constant online connection to access the majority of the content, and be released in parceled “episodes”—one level a month. These facts loomed heavily over the game upon its release, meaning it was going to take a hell of a lot to ease gamers’ fears and ensure their happiness with the final productit.
Congratulations IO and Eidos. Hitman (2016) is arguably, the best game to date in the franchise. Actually, scratch that comment; Hitman (2016) is by any metric not just the best Hitman since Blood Money, it’s easily the best entry in the series so far, full stop. From its gorgeous graphics to the astounding depth and breadth of each level, Hitman (2016) is the quintessential assassination sandbox game, one which will be incredibly hard to top.
Let’s start with an aspect of the game that this reviewer was instantly annoyed with, especially in an era of increasingly monetized gameplay experiences and a deteriorating number of excellent, single-player AAA games: the episodic release format. Gamers had a choice between buying the full version outright and being forced to wait an entire month before being able to play the next level or purchasing new levels individually as they were released. Despite initial misgivings, this was actually a fantastic move by IO that ensured players would be able to fully explore the staggering number of options, targets, and methods of execution in each level. A player can run through the same level and kill the same target in a ridiculous number of creative and markedly different ways, and then move on to Elusive Targets and Escalation Contracts, each with similar layers of complexity, variety, and depth. Rather than just blasting through each level once or twice before moving on to the next one, then, players were more or less forced to learn the ins and outs of each level and appreciate and engage with the unbelievable amount of detail the devs worked to create. Each level contains up to 300 NPCs that have individual dialogues and routines that players must take into account when planning an assassination. For players who loved the confined-sandbox of Blood Money but hated the action-oriented disaster that was Absolution, the episodic nature of the levels turned out to be a boon and not the sort of greedy ploy from money-hungry developers they’ve come to expect.
The layered approach to the levels carries on to the option menu, where players can choose which rules to apply depending on their preferred gameplay approach. Those who felt that mechanics such as Instinct mode in Absolution marred the gameplay experience and made it “too easy” now have the ability to turn it off. In fact, almost every available option that would assist a player can be toggled, including how much information is revealed by NPCs, how readily you can find them, and how easy it is to discover routines and potential methods of slaying a target. If you like a bit of help, it’s there if you want it. However, if you prefer to figure things out as you go and approach the game in a more organic (or difficult) manner, all these helpful options can be turned off. What’s fantastic about this ability is that it opens up the game to every sort of playstyle. If you’re the type that thought Blood Money was too overwhelming or confusing, you can play in a more constructive, linear manner with the game helping you along. On the other hand, if you hated the handholding and pandering style of Absolution, you can essentially play the game completely blind, learning as you go and changing your tactics on the fly as you listen in on conversations between NPCs and wander around the insanely big and detailed levels.
Visually speaking, the game is also gorgeous. Marble floors are shiny and reflective, Italian beaches have water so blue you want to dive in through your TV screen, and the light cascading through the windows always looks fabulous. The biggest, and most important, bonus of current-gen hardware is best represented by the number t of individual NPCs wandering around each level. Whether it’s a crowded bar in a Parisian mansion or bustling lobby in a Thai hotel, Hitman (2016) never falls prey to that old videogame trope of feeling artificial or empty. Each level feels like a real place, inhabited by real people with their own goals and routines. Of course, there are limits to this, but learning the routines of these NPCs is fundamental to the gameplay, so having each individual character just doing whatever would make the game way too random and difficult. Those of you looking to grab a PlayStation Pro are also in for a treat, as the developers have promised a cleaner, shinier, crisper world for Agent 47 to slink around in. Textures will be updated, lighting will be improved, and the framerate will remain steady.
The only real flaw in Hitman (2016) is the online-only requirement. For a game that is entirely single-player (scoreboards and whatnot notwithstanding) it’s ridiculous that so much of the content is locked behind a connection. Load times—although much better now than they were at launch—are still way too long, especially if you’re a perfectionist and constantly re-start each mission. These things aside though, it’s hard to find a complaint with the game experience itself, especially coming on the heels of the dismal and dumbed-down Absolution. The level of intricacy and detail in each level is nothing short of incredible, and systems like Escalation Contracts and timed Exclusives ensure that even if you’ve completed every single mission in every conceivable way, there will still be plenty to do in each of the game’s massive levels. Hitman (2016) is the Hitman game fans have been asking for since Blood Money, and it’s awesome to see a developer not just listen to the fans, but go above and beyond in creating an incredibly deep, fun, and layered gameplay experience.