This week marks the release of IO Interactive's latest entry in the Hitman series. Some publications are probably publishing their reviews around now, but IBTimes UK is holding off until the game and its online components have been tested following the simultaneous worldwide release tomorrow (11 March).
We're not ones to miss an embargo however, so instead we're going to wax lyrical about the game's episodic approach based on the time we've spent with it so far, and discuss how well it suits the Hitman series in its current form.
Following the – we're going to be kind here – mixed reception to 2012's Hitman: Absolution, it became clear to IO that they needed to return to the open gameplay that made Blood Money a classic. They duly have; this is the Hitman game fans have wanted for a decade.
Blood Money offered a series of largely unconnected missions set in large, open environments filled with NPCs and potential methods for despatching of protagonist Agent 47's targets. How to approach each mission was up to the players, who had to explore and experiment to find its most spectacular kills. It's an approach that appeases fans and makes perfect sense for an episodic game.
It took a long time for me to fully appreciate Blood Money's depth when it was first released in 2006 - months in fact. At first my kills were messy, often leaving behind a bullet-riddled corpse even when successfully evading attention. It wasn't until later that I went back and plumbed its depths that I realised just how great the game was. It remains the only game in which I've actively hunted every achievement.
So what about the new Hitman? By releasing one level a month (which is the plan for the next two levels at least) IO can spread out the Hitman experience and really give players the chance to delve into each mission, and appreciate how much there is on offer. The first level, set in Paris, offers a great deal, epitomising the idea of a modern follow-up to Blood Money. The crowds are bigger, the visuals better, but the gameplay is as free-form as ever.
Illusive Targets will added in the weeks ahead, offering players missions they get just one chance to complete, featuring different NPC targets. Should a player die, there is no do-over, and should they succeed in killing the target, there's no opportunity to go for a cleaner kill next time. Contracts Mode will also allow players (and the developers) to create their own mission set ups by entering the game world and dispatching of who they want, how they want, before sharing the challenge online.
Few episodic games offer Hitman's kind of depth and replayability. There's hours of play here for a very reasonable £11.99, and the follow-up episodes will be cheaper still. At a recent event held by publisher Square Enix, I got to spend a couple of hours with the second episode (set in a fictional Italian town called Sapienza) and it fits the bill in much the same way as this opening salvo.
It may have taken IO some time to reach the release plan they've now settled on, but it's absolutely the right one for the game they've made.
Hitman will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC tomorrow, 11 March.