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“Hitman” is the latest game in a series that’s very close to my heart. I grew up with it, and even though the games were far too old for me, I’d laugh at their brutality as I played in the upper room of my nannan’s house with my brother and cousin. I never was squeamish, so playing a game about murder felt the same to me as playing “Crash Bandicoot” or “Spyro” (after all, they both kill their enemies, just in more cartoonish ways). I was intelligent enough at a young age to realise that a game is just a game, and that imitating bad things in the real world was a stupid idea, so “Hitman” was just fun, and I loved shooting my way out of crazy situations – usually ones that I’d gotten Agent 47 into by being too impatient to play the game properly.

Now, if thinking about a ten-year-old kid (maybe I was younger, but we’ll go with ten) playing a game about a hired assassin makes you feel uncomfortable… congratulations! You’re probably a normal, well-rounded, psychologically stable human being… but you still missed out. When I think back to my childhood, I think about playing these sorts of games, and watching horror films like “Friday the 13th” and “Bloody Murder”, and I just smile. They desensitised me from the harsh reality of the real world, and they made me laugh.

With that in mind, it’s important to note that “Hitman” (the series and the newest game in said series) doesn’t take itself too seriously – kills can be crazily complex when in reality they don’t have to be at all, and often characters come out with wacky and frankly idiotic dialogue.

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via cgmagonline.com

However, in game you’re playing as a killer, and Agent 47 is doing it because it’s his job not because he finds it fun. When playing the game, you will be penalised if you kill innocent civilians because your goal is to take out specific targets, not to kill every Tom, Dick and Harry that you see. But, at the end of the day you’re basically playing as a killing machine, and this game gives you license to kill whoever you please, preferably in elaborate and creative ways.

“Hitman” (2016) is the sixth game in the series, and it comes after Hollywood’s second attempt to put Agent 47 on the big screen. Last year’s “Hitman : Agent 47” failed at the box office, but the fact that writers still want to capitalise on the success of the games in 2015 speaks of the series’ popularity – this is a long-running and beloved franchise in the gaming world, even though it has been on the decline recently.

“Hitman : Absolution” (the most recent game in the series prior to this one) was a disappointing addition to the series, and it’s biggest fault was that it failed to live up to the standards that were set by titles like “Silent Assassin” and “Blood Money”, which were exceptionally good. The reason that it failed to do this was that it was more restrictive than those games, and thus the playfulness that was inherent in those titles was lost.

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via pcworld.com

Prior to “Absolution” the “Hitman” series was all about freedom – you could perform hits in the way that the developers envisioned, triggering cut scenes and making you feel really clever; or, more often than not, you could shoot everyone in your sight and get away with it simply by adjusting your wardrobe. “Absolution” took that option away from the player, or at least it made it too dissatisfying, in an effort to make the game more like a simulator than a shooter – you were supposed to feel like an actual killer for hire, rather than the main character in a video game.

“Hitman” (2016) has found something of a happy medium, because whilst shooting your way out of a sticky situation is still necessary when things go array, it isn’t what the developers want you to do. It’s an option, but more of a last resort than a viable playstyle, and it isn’t the most exciting way to play the game. The shooting is still fun and brutality is encouraged at certain points, but when you resort to aggression instead of stealth you feel like a failure, because there are so many interesting ways to carry out a hit.

Developers IO Interactive and publishers Square Enix have also rethought their marketing strategy in order to win over those fans who weren’t enamoured by the previous release, preferring an episodic model to the traditional ‘it’s all on the disk’ method. The first level – The Showstopper – is £11.99, and it comes with a tutorial section which provides two more levels.

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Agent 47 putting those cheek bones to good use.

The level revolves around a Paris fashion show, as Agent 47 must take out a fashion guru and his partner, who are secretly spies in a covert agency. The show takes place in the fashionista’s mansion, which provides the crowded location for the level’s action. It’s a lot of fun, and although it isn’t the most inspired level in the world, (it feels more like a clone of the opera level in “Blood Money” than an original idea), the number of opportunities which naturally arise over the course of a play through makes it worth your time.

The contracts mode from “Absolution” has made a welcome return, adding extra contract to this first part of the game. Contracts was probably my favourite thing about “Absolution”, so I’m really glad that it’s back in this game. This mode allows you to create your own contracts for other players around the world to execute, and allows you to play through the main level with different targets than in the main game. It’s a novel idea, and gives the game a lot of depth, as people in the main game who seemed like random NPCs are actually revealed to be characters with names and distinct faces.

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via youtube.com

As far as issues go, I think it’s necessary to point out that the frame rate is noticeably inconsistent, and does drop during cut scenes when playing on the Xbox One. I’ve also encountered other performance issues, most notably a crash which ruined what was a decent attempt at a stealthy play through. The load times are also a source of frustration, and can be quite annoying at certain points. Because the game encourages stealth over running-and-gunning, you will find yourself saving the game in order to experiment with different tactics, and thus you will have to load your save up when things go massively wrong. Having excessively long loading times then breaks the momentum that the game builds up, because playing stealthily requires concentration and focus, but spending time waiting around for the game to restart breaks that.

Nonetheless, on the whole “Hitman” (2016) is a pleasant experience. It feels familiar, but there’s also been a reworking of the formula, as Square Enix are publishing content episodically in order to force players to see the depth that each level offers. “Hitman” (2016) takes a lot of the good things from “Absolution”, like contracts and the more realistic tone, but revisits the quirkiness and openness of “Blood Money”, making it a much more rounded game. It’s important to stress that what I’ve played so far is only a snapshot of the full game, (because that’s all that’s available given that the release format is episodic), but from what I’ve played so far I feel confident in saying that IO Interactive have things under control. I’m looking forward to the next level, and I hope that it’s as fun as The Showstopper. So far, so good.

7.5/10

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