Review: Hitman: Episode 6 – Hokkaido (PS4)
Episode 1 – Paris
A lot of games promises freedom of choice, but few even come close to actually delivering on those promises. Hitman, the newest title in the franchise of the same name, is one of the few games that has the ability to truly live up to what has been promised from the developers.
It’s what you expect
You play as Agent 47, an enigmatic assassin, who is contracted to take out two high profile targets at a glamorous Paris fashion show. You use every ability available to you the reach and kill your target, such as blending in with different disguises, subduing unsuspected crew members and bashing in the heads of guards with a fire extinguisher. You are given a free roam sandbox to move around in, provided you meet certain criteria such as having the right disguise or security clearance. You really can do whatever you want at this fashion show, but whether you get away with it is an entirely different story. It all depends on your skill as an assassin, and your ability to adapt to the ever changing situation. Your disguises work very well, but it doesn’t fool everyone, and some guards or crew members might recognise you, so you have to avoid them.
One thing that should be addressed before we go any further is the huge elephant in the room. Hitman is an episodic game, and that is truly the biggest liability of the game. That, and the serious server issues that you might experience, but more on that later. Don’t get me wrong, everything about playing this game is fantastic, the gameplay is impeccable, the graphics are top-notch and the sound design is incredibly precise. You cannot help but get immersed in the beautifully detailed sandbox that IO Interactive so lovingly created for us. But, just as you start living yourself into the world presented to you… it’s over. And then you wait for the next instalment of the game so you can progress the plot. It also doesn’t feel like other episodic games, its just a mission and its over, wait for the next one while it is being finished by the developers.
The plot of Hitman makes little sense in the beginning of the game, with proper reason behind your actions not given at this point in time. This is hampered by the episodic format, since you have very little reason to really care about what is going to happen next and play the next Hitman episode unless you are a really big fan of the series. It looks like its being set up for something much larger, but it’s being so vague, that is really hard to care. I’m sure that is will start making sense as the game progresses, but having to wait before I can continue following the plot is not ideal.
The game really does look amazing, and I will admit that it is one of the sexiest looking titles I’ve come across. The character models look really good and fits in to a very believable world. The lighting on effects are also of a very high quality. On top of that it runs and plays incredibly well. It also has this uncanny ability to really suck you into the world, and you want to explore every nook and cranny to see what it has to offer, or what killing opportunity it presents to you. The controls are very tight and precise, and you always feel like you are in proper control of Agent 47. The button layout is a bit odd, but it doesn’t take much to get used to, and it works really well.
The world is your oyster
You really have so many options available to you regarding your approach on how you want to tackle the situation. You can dress up as anything from a waiter, to a stage crew member, to a security guard to a male model. You have the same range of options to killing as well, with options ranging from the signature silenced pistol and piano wire, to the more creative and bloody pair of scissors, or a subtle poison syringe. The world of killing really is your oyster. Hitman also present you with one of best tutorial missions I’ve seen in a while. I’m not going into too much detail on that since it feels almost like it ties into the plot of the game, but it really is worthwhile doing.
One of the issues with the game is the length, it took me just over three hours to get through the episode, and that includes the two tutorial missions, the main mission, and me trying to figure out what to do with my last target. It’s understandable that it is short, since it is only one episode of a much bigger game, but, unless you really are a diehard fan of the series, it’s going to feel a bit shallow. IO interactive did give a lot of replay value to the mission, and that is true, since there’s probably dozens of different ways to complete the game, and it is more than enough to keep you busy for plenty of hours. The game even offers different targets on the same map called Featured Contracts, which tasks you with finding and killing other people during your main mission.
This is a single player game, but to get the most out of the game, you need to go online. You can play the core of the single player mission offline, but bounties and leader boards aren’t available. The biggest issue is that if you are online, and lose connection, you get booted out to the menu, losing any saved progress. Couple this with longish loading times, and it can get very frustrating and annoying. It also doesn’t help that the game suffers from server issues at the moment. It is not constant, but it does happen from time to time. If you save a game in an offline session, it stays that way, and it cannot connect to the servers afterwards. So you have to be online to play or progress your game. I personally can’t understand why a single player game should be so hampered by server issues, or why I cannot continue a save the game if I might be having internet problems.
Hitman is great to play, and to die-hard fans of the series, or the stealth genre, this episode of the game does offer a lot. But it is very hard for me to sell it to anyone else. Server issues does hamper the experience at this stage, but I’m sure that will be sorted out soon enough with a few updates. My personal suggestion for those on the fence would be to wait for the next episode to see if it’s worth it.
Episode 2 – Sapienza
Hitman’s new episodic formula takes us to Sapienza, Italy. Where Agent 47 is once again tasked with taking out two targets. He also has the job of destroying a deadly virus, that’s being concocted in a secret lab in the area.
A nice place to go for a holiday
It is not immediately apparent, but the map is substantially bigger than the Paris map from Episode One. It still looks amazing, and it the mood and atmosphere of an Italian coastal town is really captured pretty well. Due to the size of map, you have a lot of options and areas to explore, and it does add to variety in gameplay. However, you only get the one map, and the amount of gameplay for Episode Two felt a lot less than what was on offer with Episode One. This is mainly due to the pretty decent, and fleshed out training missions of the first installment.
Although Episode 2 seems to offer a lot of options, all those options felt a bit shallow compared to what was on offer a month ago. I technically played through the chapter twice, both times trying something different, and each time, it didn’t feel as rewarding as before. The setting and circumstances are quite different. In this instance, it is much harder to get into the target area, but once you’re inside you’re almost given Carté Blanche to do what ever the hell you want, whereas you were a bit more restricted with Episode 1. But ultimately Episode 2 felt too much like a copy/paste of the first chapter. You still had two targets to remove. The one is a dude that roams his villa, while the other is a woman, who is in an area with tighter security. The only added difference was a third target, which is a virus that needs to be destroyed.
I intentionally didn’t attempt to replay Episode One, to see how the wait for the second part of the game will affect my experience. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t that long, with a little over a month being okay when it comes to episodic releases of a game. As was my suspicions, the episodic formula is definitely hampering the experience, and unless you are a massive fan of the series, you will find it very hard to care about what is going on. The plot is still very vague, and it just feels like you are sent from one mission to the next, with them having no relation to each other.
Just keep waiting…
There are other things I’m starting to pick up that annoys me when it comes to this game, and it could be due to me not caring about the plot or story (if there is any). There are numerous things that’s breaking the emersion for me. One of these is still the excruciatingly long loading times. I can understand why it’s taking longer. The whole world needs to be loaded, since everything in the game runs seamlessly while you play, but I cannot help but feel that it could’ve been optimised a bit better. Stealth games in general encourages experimentation, so it’s only natural that you’re going to screw up and end up being caught or killed. Hence a loading screen. But having to wait for close to a minute is not good enough.
Another thing that bothered me, and it’s maybe just nitpicking, but all the NPCs in the game has an American accent, save a few. It felt odd for me, since we’re in Italy. Surely not all the henchmen, mansion staff and tourists are from the US? Having different accents, even if they all speak English would’ve gone a long way, and I might not even have noticed it.
I’m finding it very hard to recommend Hitman at this stage of the fight. There really are just too much that’s not working for it at this stage, and it almost feels like Episode 2 is a step in the wrong direction. If you’re on the fence with this one, then I would suggest you keep waiting to see how it pans out. Episode 3 might be the redeeming factor that’s needed to make me start paying attention.
Episode 3 – Marrakech
The third entry in the episodic Murdering Tourist Simulator takes us to Marrakech, Morocco, which is teetering on the verge of political chaos and a military coup.
Man, this place is busy
Marrakech is a much different place than what we experienced in Paris and Sapienza. For a start, the place is busy. There is a lot of people that populates a map which I would estimate to be roughly the same size as Sapienza, if not a bit larger. You also get a very distinct vibe about the place, since there’s a definite tension in the air.
There’s also quite some variation in terms of the different places that you visit, that gives the map a sense of scale, and makes it feel larger than it probably is. It’s clever design, and it works in the game’s favour. There’s the quiet back alleys near the school where your one target hangs out, to the smoking cafe’s to the bustling market place, to the chaotic front porch of the Swedish embassy.
It still feels a bit off
It does feel a bit odd though that you have protestors ready to break out in pandemonium, and less that 50 yards away are a bunch of tourist browsing for carpets and souvenir hookah pipes, all the while the police patrols the streets with automatic rifles. It doesn’t fit, since I find it hard to believe any tourist would be near such potential danger.
The bad accents are still there, and it is incredibly off-putting. It makes no sense that each and every person sounds like an American, even though they look like the native North African population. It doesn’t fit and the developers should consider patching in better accents if they would like to increase the immersion and realism of the game.
Technically still good, although a bit tougher
There is not much more to add regarding the technical aspects of Hitman. It still looks amazing, the sound design, apart from the voice acting is still very good, and there’s very few hiccups and glitches. Loading times are still horrible though.
The game however is a bit tougher, and the difficulty spike is noticeable. One of the main reasons for this is the increase in the number of NPCs that populates the map. This does make it a bit harder to execute the more creative assassinations, but it also can be more satisfying.
But ultimately its still the same, and it is starting to get a bit repetitive. You have two targets, and you have to infiltrate the the target’s stronghold, kill them and get out. There isn’t much more to it, and it almost feels like a reskinned version of the previous episode.
To thicken the plot, add some maize
There’s this old trick of adding maize to a stew or broth if the sauce is a bit too runny. It still tastes good, but it feels a bit like cheating. The over-arching plot of Hitman feels a bit like this. It’s there, and its starting to look interesting, but it seems a bit forced and out of place. I’m still holding out hope that it will all tie in together nicely in the end though.
But at this stage, the best advise I have is to forget about a plot and just enjoy killing the same type of targets in different looking settings. The online challenges and modes might keep you interested until the next episode rolls around, but only if you are a really hardcore stealth game fan.
A strange place to be at the moment
So far I have tried to make it clear that Hitman as an episodic experience is not working. But I will admit that I have overlooked some of the finer details of the this episodic series. Each map on offer gives a lot of options and added replay value, so the value of the game seems to be worth it. There’s definitely a market for an experience like this, since the hardcore stealth player will play through countless scenarios to see the different possible outcomes, before moving on to the next mission.
The biggest issue however is the fact that each of the episodes feels a bit repetitive. Sure, a different setting is a given, but the way you go about infiltrating the stronghold, taking out the target and slipping out the back door feels the same, no matter what tactic you use.
I/O Interactive should be changing the formula of the game very soon, since more of the same is not ideal. And to be frank I’m starting to get bored.
Side Note: I honestly believe Square Enix made a mistake with turning Hitman into an episodic title. Just because it worked well before, doesn’t mean it will work well again, and we can only hope they learn from their mistakes and repair a game, that’s otherwise pretty good.
Episode 4 – Bangkok
Right, so this time round, we leave the bustling streets of Marrakech behind us, to a luxurious hotel on a river in Bangkok, Thailand.
A lap of luxury
You are once again tasked with taking out two targets. One is a super rich, daddy’s boy, rockstar and the other is said daddy’s attorney. Both happen to be at the same fancy hotel. What a coincidence…
What struck me of this episode was the much smaller map, with a lot fewer NPCs. That didn’t make it much easier though, since there’s a lot of security and suspicious hotel staff up and about. But what I liked about this mission, was the fact that you had lots of places to snoop around and hide. It’s almost as if hotels are made to be Hitman levels. And it is the first time I really felt I was having fun with it.
It also looked fantastic, with the level designers and artists really outdoing themselves with this level. So far, the game has been looking great, but this level is by far the best aesthetically.
Mixing it up a bit
Up until now, I have been trying to be as sneaky as possible, but I decided to be a bit less subtle in this one. And it paid off to an extent. I think my game glitched on me, because I couldn’t see my second target after the first kill. This required me to restart, which was not ideal. This is the first time it happened, so I don’t think it’s a major problem. Another issue might be that it felt a bit shorter than the others, but it could be that I got lucky, or maybe just getting better at it.
Hitman still comes with the same problems though. I still can feel my beard growing during loading screens and there’s still an issue with NPCs having American accents. I have learned to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This plot is a still very vague, but I have a feeling this is about to chance.
FINALLY! A plot to get excited about
While things still seemed a bit vague throughout, a lengthy cut scene at the end of the episode cleared a lot of everything going on up a bit. I still don’t have a clue as to what is happening, but there were mentions of how everything is connected. This is the first time it really comes together, and it finally got me excited for the next episode.
It does make me wonder if it’s not a little bit too late though, as some might have decided to move on. It would be a pity, since Episode 4 is the best one yet, and its really worth giving a try.
Episode 5 – Colorado
For the first time in this episodic story of Agent 47, we head Stateside, and visit a militia camp that as been set up on an apricot farm.
Farm life can be a bit dull
The standard formula up until now has been to take out two targets, with Episode 5, IO decided to double up on the stakes and give us four targets to deal with. To make it a bit tougher, the area is much more hostile, with guards and patrols everywhere. It makes the initial gameplay tough, but once you get a disguise, it back to business as usual.
The layout of the map is fairly small, especially if you consider it’s supposed to be a militia training camp, and it’s on a farm. The whole map is also very small, and proceedings seemed a bit more linear, although, the freedom of killing in creative ways is still there. It was nice to have it spiced up a bit in terms of concept, but unfortunately the whole setting was just a bit bland.
A little too easy
The initial idea of having four targets holed up in a military type compound was a bit daunting, and I thought it would be quite challenging. I don’t know if I’m just getting very good at the game, but everything just seemed so simple, and getting each target alone to take the down was just too easy. It also seemed very easy to blend in, with very few guards being suspicious of your doings, unless you make it too obvious.
I think it should also be mentioned that loading times improved quite a bit since launch, which does make a huge difference in the playing experience.
The stage is set
As I mentioned in previous parts of the review, Hitman was a bit underwhelming at the start. You knew there is something big going on, but you don’t know what, and due to the lengthy breaks in gameplay, you tend to forget or don’t care. That was changed a bit however, as things are starting to come together. The plot is a bit predictable, but it is interesting nonetheless, and I finally have a reason to look forward to the rest of the game. It no longer feels like a pointless, “go here, kill that” simulator
I still don’t like the episodic formula, but I’m finding it a bit more tolerable since the story is improving. There are two more episodes to go, so only time will tell whether Hitman will be worth it in the end.
Episode 6 – Hokkaido
In the final entry to first season of Hitman, Agent 47 goes to an exclusive hospital in Hokkaido, Japan, which has some questionable procedures for the super rich.
Patient 47 checking in
What makes this episode interesting is the starting point. Agent 47 is booked into the hospital as a patient, and you literally start the episode with him lying down comfortably on a bed. You have no weapons, so piano strings or silenced pistols. This means you’ll have to get creative. It is a really interesting premise, but that is unfortunately where it ends.
The final episode was a major let-down for me personally. Especially with the game becoming more interesting and fun to play with recent episodes. I managed to clear it in about two and a half hours, twice. The map also felt very small and linear, as both targets ended up being very close to each other. The design of the level felt a bit rushed compared to the previous installments, and my options felt a bit more limited due to this.
The options that I did have to kill my targets though was fun and creative, so that at least didn’t feel too rushed. The episode also offers some humorous situations and conversations from patients and staff members, which gave me a good chuckle. It is the first time that I noticed a bit of humour, since most of the conversations in previous episodes were boring and bland, and served mostly as opportunities for Agent 47 to exploit.
Is that it?
As stated earlier, the episode is very short, and ends with an extended cutscene which I can describe as ‘meh’. The simple reason for this is that it doesn’t close out the series properly, and leaves a massive opening for Season 2. The joke is that it doesn’t even leave it on a proper cliff hanger. It just ends, with no explanation as to what is going on, or why we should care. It feels cheap and insulting, since nothing was tied up, and I am now forced to play Season 2 if I want to find out what’s going to happen, unless the developers pull the same tricks again.
Overall, the experience of Hitman as it is now isn’t bad, but I didn’t like the episodic formula for it. The game is solid, the mechanics work, it looks very good, sounds very good and is fun to play, but the lack of a coherent plot and having to wait a month or more before continuing the game is not ideal.
It should also be noted that Hitman is an absolute bandwidth hog. Each episode is about 4 – 7 GB in size, but with every episode Hitman did an update on the base game, which was another 7 GB on each download. The game used close to 70GB of bandwidth, and this is for a 22GB installed game. I doubt this will be the case with the retail release or if you buy the game now, but just keep that in mind.