Hitman: World of Assassination, formerly known as Hitman 3, was already one of the best games you could play. With over 20 locations to explore, dozens of weapons and gadgets, and deep gameplay that rewards innovation and experimentation, IO Interactive could have sailed the trilogy off into the sunset and moved on. Instead, the studio released the new Freelancer mode, pushing the franchise to heights that even the biggest fans couldn’t have predicted. There are a few missteps along the way, but this is a side of 47 that we never knew we needed.
Murder for hire
Hitman: Freelancer introduces rogue-like elements to the already existing Hitman: World of Assassination. You’ll play the same levels that exist across the three games, use mostly the same gadgets, and wear the same suits that you’ve been unlocking for the better part of a decade. There’s a lot of familiarity, but Freelancer is an entirely different beast. There’s a safehouse for you to customize, gear and currency that can be lost on mission failure, and campaigns with random targets and objectives. Failure in Freelancer could mean having to restart an 18-mission run with one assassination remaining and losing several hours of progress. It's high risk for high reward, at least in theory.
Freelancer begins in Agent 47’s safehouse, which is just an underground facility with a lot of locked doors at first. You’ll start by choosing a syndicate to take down, factoring in the locations and objectives that appeal to you. Once you’ve chosen your target, you can grab what little gear you start with and head out.
Most missions in Freelancer are basic hits with anywhere from one to four targets to eliminate. There are also Suppliers to buy gear from, and Couriers to steal money (Merces) from. You’ll find the odd safe to crack, and a few stashes with goodies inside. How you accomplish your mission is your call, but even more than it was in the trilogy. Unless it’s an optional objective you choose to complete, gone are the silent assassin ratings that governed most players. You are bound only by the tools that you have and your willingness to risk it all for success. I almost never took explosives with me in the World of Assassination, but now they’re too good to pass up. Giant explosions in public are now on the menu if it means getting back home alive with your gear and a pocket full of Merces.
If you pull off a couple of successful setup missions, you’ll have a Showdown with the leader of the syndicate. This leader will be disguised among several suspects, and it’s up to you to verify clues that confirm their identity. There’s no penalty for killing someone who isn’t the leader, but you’d be wise to take care not to alert the boss that 47 is on the hunt or they’ll try to escape. If the leader does successfully get away, you’ll lose half your money and most likely all the gear you had on you at the time. Oh, and to complicate matters, Showdowns also feature lookouts who can see through 47’s disguises, and assassins that follow around the suspects to try and thwart your own assassination attempts. Thankfully, suspects and leaders can be manipulated into attending a meeting place together, which brings us back to how awesome explosives have become in Freelancer.
Welcome home, 47
Should 47 successfully take down a syndicate, there will be a reward crate at his safehouse with new gear that can be stored on his gear wall. You fill that gear wall by spending the Merces you earn, and by collecting it from the enemies and locations you visit. One of the most satisfying aspects of Freelancer is choosing a location, checking the optional objectives, and then walking over to your gear wall and selecting your tools of death.
As you complete objectives and earn XP, you’ll move along a 100-level mastery track. Each level gives you more options for customizing 47’s safehouse, unlocking a vault, kitchen, entire upstairs home, and the surrounding outside property. As time goes on, you’ll build the safehouse that you always imagined 47 owning, customizing his furniture and art. There is a true sense of home here, and it’s wildly satisfying to finally get a glimpse into the personal life of this professional assassin.
Dude, where’s my gun?
While Freelancer is a massive success out of the box, it’s not without a few missed shots. Some spawns are cruel. Depending on the location and difficulty, 47 can be plopped behind enemy lines in his suit. I lost two runs, loads of gear, and thousands of Merces after spawning at the morgue in Hokkaido with both assassins and suspects walking within feet of me. The same happened in Colorado, where Willem Dafoe could be heard screaming, “There was a firefight” as I tried to defend myself with a pistol against an army carrying automatic weapons. Freelancer is supposed to be punishing, but losing hours of progress in this manner feels overboard.
My biggest gripe about Freelancer is about the way you buy, find, and lose gear. It’s just not in the right spot yet. Gear is far too expensive to buy, leaving you to play through entire 18-mission runs with low-level weapons. It feels a little silly that I’ve put 15-ish hours into Freelancer and have no clue how to get my hands on a Silverballer. When I do find one, there’s zero chance I’ll ever use it because I’ll not risk losing it. That feels kind of anti-Hitman to me. You should want to use your best gear, but in the current system there’s no real reward for doing so. You have everything to lose and nothing to gain. There needs to be an insurance system or buy-back mechanic for lost gear, allowing you to take a hit for losing it but not discouraging you from using it.
Equally frustrating as losing gear is not finding it where you expect it. When I loaded into Chongqing, I made a point of swinging by the laundromat rooftop to grab the sniper rifle, but it wasn’t there. I had the same issue in Whittleton Creek when I popped by Helen West’s house looking for Rude Ruby, only to find a Bartoli pistol in its place. When I failed a campaign and got back to my safehouse, I found all my Freelancer Tools (lockpicks, poison, explosives) were missing. I understand losing gear you take with you when you fail a mission, but why would you lose gear locked away in 47’s safehouse? Someone broke in and took his lockpick but left all his guns and fine art? Okay then.
The best there is
It’s a testament to how good Freelancer is that there can be so many problems with the gear, but the mode remains brilliant. There are times that I feel ripped off, like when I get a bad spawn or find that someone broke into my safehouse and stole my chloroform, but then I pull off a daring assassination and escape with all my Merces and I can’t wait to get back out there. It’s a true stroke of genius to take all the moving parts from the World of Assassination trilogy and use them in this rogue-like way, and it will be even better if IO Interactive continues to fine tune the experience with the same care they ask their players to fine tune their strategies.
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Hitman: Freelancer breathes new life into the World of Assassination