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Hitman review-in-progress: Episode One impressions

There was some concern regarding what to expect when Agent 47 made his first appearance in an episodic game. Hitman's turn towards a more drawn-out presentation was a curious move from Square Enix and IO Interactive. And while the first episode of the new Hitman feels like a refreshing take on the long-running franchise, it's hard to shake off the feeling of wanting more.

Hitman's story is a simple one, as the early tutorial missions will see players witnessing Agent 47's earliest days on the job and learning the ins-and-outs of assassinating targets. Following the tutorial, it's time to get into the story proper, as a shadowy organization called IAGO is looking to sell the darkest secrest of the world's leaders to the highest bidder, leading to worldwide chaos.

Hitman's joy has always been in finding new and unique ways to dispatch targets. The tutorial even offers a glimpse of this, having the player repeat the same hit twice with different disguises and weapons. While the first mission is a linear walkthrough, the repeat session is a crash course in dispatching persons of interest, offering a look at the game's Feats system. While it's entirely possible to hide in a closet or choke someone out with the classic fiber wire, there's also a bonus granted for completing your objective through a murderous swirly over the target's toilet. The possibilities are endless, but actually figuring out how to complete these hits in such dramatic fashion is ultimately up to the player.

That's not to say Hitman throws newcomers to the wolves, because it absolutely does not. The Opportunities system will prompt users towards potential ways to complete their objective, lightly guiding them (without holding their hand) towards different ways to reach their target. It's entirely possible to complete a mission through a simple poisoning or by isolating a target in a room, but the reward with Hitman comes through repeated playthroughs. It comes in figuring out how to dispatch the target in a fireworks accident or finding a place to position Agent 47's sniper rifle and get a shot without being seen. Those will be the hits that land on top of the game's leaderboards, but the degree of difficulty means these scores have to be earned. Manual saves can make this slightly easier, but loading those saves will require an extra degree of patience, because the load times can get painfully long.

The AI in Hitman also feels refreshing, albeit imperfect. All of the game's NPCs will go about their own routines and stick to them, unless otherwise poked. They'll also react if they don't recognize Agent 47's face. That's all well and good, but the NPCs will mind their own business to a fault, often failing to notice the bald guy suspeciously following a VIP or constantly bumping into people. On top of that, it is also possible to cheat the AI ever-so-slightly. One playthrough saw me pursuing my target to the bathroom, as he was looking to vomit up the poison in his cocktail. I simply walked into the bathroom behind him in plain sight of his bodyguard, despite the fact that it was a one-person restroom, without arousing any suspicion. NPCs are normally far more alert than that, but it is entirely possible to game the system and take advantage of some AI imperfections if the opportunity arises.

But despite the occasional AI hiccups or the couple of animation glitches, there's no rush quite like completing your objective and then attempting to discretely escape. Even when the "Unnoticed Kill" prompt pops up, there's a nerve-wracking tension that's present when trying to calmly walk away and then hearing an NPC say, "Hey, do I know you?" And there's no greater sigh of relief than the one breathed upon making it to the exit. That's the thrill that Hitman can provide, which is why it's such a shame there's so little of it.

After completing the three tutorial missions, players will get the Paris mission and that's it. There's no story content beyond that, which is a tremendous disappointment. There's some replay value to be had, thanks to the refine Contracts mode that allows players to mark a specific NPC and send out an onlin challenge, but other than that, there's not much else to do in Hitman aside from play the same areas repeatedly. Alternatively, this can be considered practice for future hits, but the $15 price tag is a little hard to swallow for only three environments.

Whether the rest of Hitman can provide the same thrill remains to be seen, but at the very least, it's nice to have the tutorial portion of the game out of the way. Hopefully, the second episode will offer a little more substance, because the classic Hitman gameplay formula is still a hoot.

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