Square Enix and IO Interactive's new take on Hitman successfully blends the qualities that made the game famous with some modern innovations and remarkable detail.
It's been a while since gamers have last seen Hitman's Agent 47 don his black suit and red tie for a night out on the town, and in the assassin's absence the gaming industry has become even further defined by player choice and open-world gameplay. However, Hitman has always embraced the idea of multiple paths towards player progression, and Hitman Episode 1: Paris delivers on its premise in a way that only the best installments of the series have before it.
For those unfamiliar with Hitman, the game's narrative follows Agent 47, a genetically-enhanced clone who has been raised for one purpose - to be a deadly killing machine the likes of which the world has never seen before. While the plot might seem cliché and, in truth, often is, those looking for a compelling story would best be served taking their search elsewhere: the newest entry into the series features even less content than usual as a result of Hitman Episode 1: Paris' episodic content release schedule.
The narrative that is there tells the story of Agent 47's early days being recruited by the International Contracts Agency before dumping players into present-day Paris for their first mission with only a small, obscure link between the two major locations. While it's likely the story will be expanded upon in Hitman's other episodes, it's hard not to get an "unfinished" vibe from Hitman Episode 1 as it currently stands.
That feeling is a shame, too, because though the presentation of Hitman Episode 1: Paris hinders its release and replayability somewhat, the game itself is one of the finest the series has ever seen. While the prologue is serviceable in its own right, Hitman doesn't truly show off its visual capabilities until players are granted access to Episode 1's Paris locale. Once Agent 47 strolls through the gates of the palisade, though, Hitman starts to live up to the expectations placed on it as one of the most anticipated games of 2016.
The execution of the Paris palisade is, in short, phenomenal. The level is painstakingly detailed and absolutely massive despite being just one location. The world feels like it is alive, and the people at the fashion gala Agent 47 is tasked with infiltrating are varied enough in appearance that it never feels as though Hitman is cheating and rendering a number of its NPCs with similar character models. The only NPCs that often appear quite similar do so out of necessity, as they are the ones Agent 47 is able to subdue or kill in order to adopt their appearance.
Another striking feature of the Paris location is the sheer amount of things to do. Ever since Hitman alpha gameplay footage leaked nearly a year ago, veteran Hitman players have come to expect the newest entry in the series to offer a number of different variations on the assassinations Agent 47 will have to execute to succeed. Luckily, Hitman Episode 1: Paris should surpass those expectations easily. Hitman Episode 1: Paris has something to offer everyone, whether they want to subtly poison their targets, drop a large speaker on their head, or have a bloody shoot out with every guard on staff.
That being said, however, it's quite clear that IO Interactive has a clear idea on how the publisher wants the newest Hitman game played. The gun combat is serviceable, but overly simplistic, while the stealth gameplay is incredibly nuanced with a fair amount of variation. While gamers looking for a bloodbath will still be able to find one in Hitman Episode 1, those who favor the creative, sneaky approach will likely have a much better time.
Whether players approach Paris with guns blazing or a lethal dose of poison in their pocket, though, Hitman Episode 1 will offer up a challenge. The guard and NPC AI is the best it's ever been, and doing something illogical or even mildly suspicious will be enough to blow Agent 47's cover if players aren't careful. Did the assassin enter a room dressed as a waiter and exit dressed as the guard who was stationed there? Other guards will notice, and the result is a tense juggling act between the many disguises available to Agent 47 in order to remain unseen.
Hitman Episode 1: Paris is, in terms of pure gameplay, better than any other Hitman game ever made. All of the weapons available to players feel relevant in some way, whether it be to sabotage a power generator or provide some flashy options for murder. While players have access to a huge inventory that will hold most of the things Agent 47 picks up for the rest of the mission, some guns and weapons are too big to conceal. In those cases, players can hide the bulky accessories in nearby garbage cans or other storage containers, to be picked up when convenient. This kind of gameplay is nuanced and thoughtful, the kind of execution that is only possible after hours upon hours of refinement, which likely came as a result of Hitman's delay in 2015.
One of the most brilliant additions to the game is the new Opportunities system, a gameplay mechanic that will alert players to real-time events during the mission that offer Agent 47 a new plan of attack. Players eavesdropping on a woman's telephone conversation can, for instance, learn that she has an interview scheduled with one of Agent 47's targets, and gamers can then plan accordingly. The series' trademark creativity is on full display in Paris as well, as the aforementioned Opportunity hints that players can rig the camera to explode during the interview.
IO Interactive has certainly gone out of its way to make Hitman Episode 1: Paris replayable, and the studio has succeeded. The level has a slew of challenges that players can complete upon extra playthroughs that, in turn, unlock new starting locations and equipment so that Agent 47 can pull off a different style of assassination that was previously unavailable.
Players tired of the game's Paris mission can also participate in Hitman's 'Elusive Contract' system - where victims only appear for a limited time and can only be killed once - and the 'Contracts' system, which lets Hitman players challenge others online to complete a user-made scenario.
All of these features are great, but they are at the center with the only other major issue in Hitman Episode 1 outside of its lackluster narrative: players need to be online to access most of the game's content. While it makes sense that the elusive contract and player contract systems would need internet access to function, the same cannot be said for the only major mission available in the game so far. Attempting to do the Paris palisade mission without an internet connection made it so that all of the previously unlocked features from other attempts weren't available. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is certainly a feature the game could do without.
Ultimately, however, while the episodic content and the odd Internet connectivity requirements are annoyances, they are only small blemishes on an otherwise fun and engaging game. Hitman Episode 1: Paris represents some of the finest open-ended stealth gameplay since Dishonored, and the incredible replay value of the episode makes up for the fact it is only disjointed one piece of many in the latest Hitman story. Gamers who love stealth gameplay and freedom of choice should definitely give the new-and-improved Agent 47 a chance.
Hitman Episode 1: Paris is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, although its physical release has been delayed until January 2017. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.