Hitman: Episode One review

'I've killed these men, many many times'

Hitman

I've killed these men, many many times. With the decision to move Hitman to an episodic model and a huge array of mission types in each setting, players get to know each level intimately. Every character in this French palace is known to me, from the bickering chefs in the basement kitchen, to the magazine editor desperate to stymie her collapsing sales, to the diva show manager to the laconic camera crew at the front of the building, whose report I photobomb.

Hitman has turned from the antisocial murder simulator par excellence into Groundhog Day, where your infinite lives allow you to track and poke each and every person's life.

That's compounded for me as I've played this episode before extensively, for our preview, and very little has changed. You're still playing Agent 47, the barcoded baldy with the knack for disguise and murder, and you've still got absolutely no idea what the plot is, except that it involves some lank-haired agent manipulating your missions behind the scenes.

Hitman

What I have had is more time with the code. That means playing the same two levels - the small ICA training centre and the sprawling Parisian mansion - over and over and over, which pretty effectively replicates the experience you'll have if you just buy this episode and no more. It's definitely left me hungry for more variety - but also hungry to beat the huge array of challenges the game offers for each level.

The main elements in the starting pack, which we've covered before, are first, the training missions set in the ICA facility and, second, the Paris fashion show set in a huge multi-level chateau. Each comes with an array of feats and challenges to complete, by-the-nose assassination opportunities to discover, user-generated contracts to attempt, and escalation missions to rinse and repeat. As you complete these, you level 47 up and unlock more tools and starting locations to use.

Hitman

It's instinct

47 has stepped back from the action hero elements of the more recent games in the series, though not quite back to his leaden-footed origins. Open combat for him against more than one enemy tends to result in death - so there's no simple way of just ploughing through foes to a target as in older games.

The return of his instinct vision mode, which highlights important people and objects, ensures that when you do take that shot, you can be reasonably happy that you knew what gamble you were taking.

A quick note - most missions now seem to feature taking out at least two targets. This reflects how easy it is to kill a single target - a sniper bullet from the other side of the map, for example, then simply running to an exit - but taking out another one when your cover is already compromised is a big ask. Many levels keep targets guarded and away from the ground level, making 47's escape routes severely compromised.

The ICA facility is small, if tightly guarded, and a great way to practise your basic skills. The Paris mission is much larger, which adds complexity as well as a touch of frustration - restarting it from scratch every time is annoying, as you trigger your targets to go through their routines again and again. Thankfully, the different starting points and disguises that you can unlock by successfully completing a mission add variety - if you're successful, that is. Failing repeatedly without anything to show for it is frustrating and might drive away players with lower skill levels.

In each level, the signature opportunities - easy paths to murder - have received an important tweak, allowing you to turn off the visual breadcrumbing, which made 47 seem psychic and led him around the level. We recommend turning that off when you start and only turn it back on if you feel the levels are too challenging.

Hitman

The escalation modes add pleasant variety, if they really do enforce the Groundhog Day feel of reliving the same day over and over. For example, the mission set in the ICA training area is to kill a Russian officer by disguising yourself as one of his soldiers and using a pistol.

When you've done that, you need to kill him and empty a safe on the other side of the installation. Then you've got to kill him and the chess grandmaster's body guard, and open the safe. Then you've got to do it without leaving bodies lying around for too long. Then you have to do it without pacifying anyone… it's fun and quick, but is relatively repetitive.

Each level of escalation adds a minor new challenge, but allows you to stick your established routine. I suspect the escalation missions on later levels will ramp up the difficulty hugely, especially given the scale of areas like Sapienza and Marrakesh.

Hitman

Elusive targets

The contracts mode is pretty slick these days. Essentially, you play through a level, tagging up to five people as targets. The game will track how and where you kill those targets, and let you create a challenge on that basis for other players to attempt. There was only one challenge available at the time of writing, a featured one presumably created by the studio, which proved relatively easy to defeat. We'll have to see how high the quality bar is set for these and how effectively to curate them after release.

Like the contracts, the Elusive Targets haven't arrived in the game at the time of writing, but we have had a sneak peek as to how they work. The Parisian level one is a whole separate scripted story mission, with a forger to eliminate. The twist is that you get a picture of him, but he doesn't appear in your Hitman instinct vision or on the map, and you only get one shot to kill him - scare him off or die or miss the 48 hour window of the mission, and he vanishes.

Performance on PS4 (the supplied code) was solid in-game, but the actual menu system was horribly laggy and slow to load, with missing images. Load times were also long and my system audibly wheezed as it tried to load each level. Thankfully, respawn times were much quicker than level loads, so restarting wasn't such a pain.

Worse, on the occasion that our internet connection went down, we got kicked out of the mission completely, to change to offline mode. Essentially, if your internet connection is at all flakey, either play offline or don't buy this game.

It's worth saying that we've seen the next two missions and they're equally enormous. One is a Italian coastal resort, which we got to tackle, where a corporate geneticist has created what I'd call a Hitman virus - that is, a virus that can be tailored to only affect one target, but which can be transmitted through the general population. Your task is to kill him, his associate who sadly shares his knowledge of the tech, and destroy the virus.

Hitman

The hillside port you get to explore in that mission moves from a pleasant plaza to a giant well-defended palazzo, to a huge town square, to a marina and an old ruined fort. Looking down on it, it's quite a huge, varied but also believable area, which makes achieving your targets tough. Again, the better you know the level and the positions and patrol routes of the guards, the easier it is.

The third mission we've seen is equally large, based in the centre of Marrakesh, Morocco, in the moments before a coup attempt. Amongst Marrakesh's high sand-coloured buildings, you explore the bazaar, a consulate, and a makeshift army barracks inside a school, seeking to take out two conspirators, a banker and an army general.

The larger story as a whole is… hard to follow. Parts of it are set twenty years before - but it's not clear before what, and that date-stamping isn't consistent, so it's hard to know whether you're in the past or the present day - until you spot a mobile phone, of course. That said, the voice acting and modelling of 47 and his handlers is spot on, evoking somewhere between Bourne and Bond, if a little bit more Roger Moore than the faceless Daniel Craig it was going for.

That said, the in-mission storytelling is very well done. Just following Novikov around the chateau (in disguise, of course) fills you in on huge portions of the plot and the other characters in the level, as well as revealing many opportunities for you for future runs (and makes you feel quite, quite happy about eliminating him).

Verdict: Play it

Looking at what you get here for $15/£12, we can't complain about the amount of content. Though it seems like just one large mission is a touch limited, it does give players the chance to decide whether to continue playing the game or just keep rinsing this level. The variety of challenges, stories and opportunities in each level, with contracts and elusive targets cropping up over time, adds enough variety to overcome the limitations of that single location.

This game was reviewed on PS4.

Techradar's review system scores games as 'Don't Play It', 'Play It' and 'Play It Now', the last of which is the highest score we can give. A 'Play It' score suggests a solid game with some flaws, but the written review will reveal the exact justifications.

Article continues below