Hitman's ever-changing episodic nature has caused a lot of confusion and spurred on a lot of questions: how much choice would it give us? How many modes are there? Why does everyone that Agent 47 kills wear the same clothing size as him? Why does 47 leave the barcode uncovered on his head? Surely everyone by now knows to watch out for a big bald guy with a barcode? Aren't hitmen supposed to be inconspicuous?
What I'm saying is, there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Before delving into a few of those, however, I'll answer the question of what Hitman is. For the uninitiated, it is an open-world third-person action game about an assassin killing targets by whatever method the player can concoct and is supported in the game. In the best examples of the series, these methods are numerous and often ingenious. In 2012, developers IO Interactive released Hitman Absolution, a game that removed a lot of the freedom that made the series a success. It wasn't popular, so IO has returned to what makes Hitman work best: large, open levels and freedom of choice.
At a preview event in London, I played a large chunk of the initial release of the game, which is to be followed throughout the year by episodic instalments. So, I can fill you in on a lot of the game's new features, and in the process tell you about six cool things you'll be able to do when it launches in March.
Walk the Paris catwalks
Thanks to the game's new opportunities feature, you can make the most of unique situations occurring around you. Listening in to conversations and following up clues can give you unique ways to accomplish a mission, such as triggering an ejector seat to kill a soviet spy or slipping your target a spiked cocktail. If you listen to the right conversations at the Paris fashion show that makes up the game's first level, you'll discover that Agent 47 is the spitting image of supermodel Helmut Kruger. Take him out and don his supermodel attire to join the fashion show.
This pulls you into a little cinematic episode wherein Agent 47 throws his cool demeanour to the wind and vogues down the catwalk, striking poses like a fashion pro.
Returning players looking for a greater challenge might find themselves well served by a new game mode entitled Escalation, which contains challenges crafted by the developers to test not only your skills but also your knowledge of each map. They're designed to push players who might find the standard mission's assassination goals a little too easy. These challenges are simple at first, but once mastered they increase in difficulty. You might be asked to kill a reporter at the fashion show and then, having done so effectively, you'll be asked to do it again, but this time with a battleaxe.
It's a good addition for people looking to experiment more in how they play, and with the team at the wheel creating the missions, there are bound to be many silly situations that occur.
Crash a yacht party
Prior to reaching Paris, there's a tutorial set at a party on a yacht. The yacht in question is not all that large, but once you've managed to acquire the right set of clothes, you can enjoy the party without worrying too much about rousing suspicion. It's a great way to get hands-on with the new crowd mechanics. Hitman can handle up to 300 different NPCs, each with their own routines, and the party is absolutely crammed with staff, guests and, acting as 'fun police' for the evening, the local constabularythemselves.
As with all good yacht parties, the party favours matter – in this case you can use explosives, Agent 47's custom silenced Silverballer or perhaps just a fire extinguisher to liven things up a bit.
Snuff out a chess master-turned-Soviet spy
Your final training mission involves taking down chess-master double-agent Jasper Knight, but also sees you sneaking into a Russian military base full of soldiers. Seeing Agent 47 go up against actual trained soldiers is good fun; whether he's stalking through corridors or having a full-blown firefight in a hangar, ducking between cover. The shooting works well here, so it feels a shame to stick to the shadows when there's so much carnage to dish out.
As for Knight? Well, you could shoot him, strangle him or perhaps, just perhaps, deliberately disrupt the ejector seat on Knight's escape jet, causing him to eject early with lethal results.
Go gentle on guards
While you could anaesthetise the occasional card in the earlier games in the series, non-lethal methods have never really been an option. Agent 47, after all, is an assassin, not a babysitter. In this new Hitman, however, blunt objects don't kill, but merely incapacitate. You can ignore the bone-crunching thud of a fire-extinguisher smashed into a cop's face, and feel no remorse at all about beating a poor TV anchor to the ground with a hammer. If there's no sharp edges, they're not dead.
This creates a lot of interesting scenarios for the game. Unconscious characters can be woken up if they're found, and if you're wearing their clothes at the time... it can get awkward. So you'll constantly be juggling possibilities: do you want to make more mess to ensure you're not detected until the mission is complete or only kill your target, and hope that no one wakes up stripped to their pants and locked in a wardrobe?
The best hunters go after the rarest of beasts. Agent 47 has enjoyed a lengthy, accomplished career in the 'tracking down targets and murdering them in cold blood' industry, and elusive targets are the perfect way to test his skills. These targets, beyond being elusive, are only around for a limited time and, unlike everything else in Agent 47's world, can't be reset via the menu screen. If you kill the target in a sloppy firefight, they're dead for good, and if they escape and get to safety, you'll never get another chance to do the deed.
This type of assassination isn't easy. Each target has a story, but clues as to their whereabouts are cryptic at best. Players would need to listen in to conversations and connect the dots to work out the target and take them down cleanly. Expect this to become quite popular for bragging rights after the game's release, in addition to the returning Contracts mode.
Hitman is to be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 11 March.