I have been a huge fan of the Hitman series ever since I played a demo of the Anathema level from Hitman 2: Silent Assassin all the way back in 2001. That amazing experience led to me nagging my mum to purchase the full game, and ever since then I have been hooked, bordering on obsessed. You’re probably wondering: Why is a young man like myself, with a partner and two young children, and no tendencies towards violence in real-life, absolutely fanatical about an assassination simulation game? Read on, and I will try to explain myself.
Agent 47 is my all-time favourite videogame character
“Names are for friends, so I don’t need one” – Agent 47.
Lara Croft? Nah. Mario? Fahgettaboudit. My favourite video game character is Agent 47, hands down. I understand that it’s a completely insane choice, considering he’s a clone and he doesn’t even have a real name, but I was nonetheless drawn to him ever since I donned the black tailored suit and red tie nearly twenty years ago.
It is his absolute lack of personality which I have always found refreshing. He is a brutal, cold-blooded killer who doesn’t let silly things like emotions get in the way of his work. I respect that a lot. The interesting thing is that this absence of personality enables the disguise mechanic to work so well. When Agent 47 knocks out a flower delivery man and dons his uniform, he fully becomes that person. He is the ultimate pretender. The games just wouldn’t work as well if our protagonist was a guy called Jack who owns an Audi and has a family at home. Agent 47 is a blank slate, and this allows him to improvise and fully blend into his surroundings like nobody else can.
You’re meant to fail, because it’s the only way you’ll learn
The developer, IO Interactive, has described the levels in the latest game (Hitman) as slices of Swiss cheese, with plenty of holes for the player to infiltrate and take advantage of. I can’t really put it any better myself. It’s why I think the episodic model works so well for the new game, because you don’t just finish a Hitman level and move on, you keep replaying it until you have found the perfect method to dispatch your targets. Hitman levels aren’t meant to be played once, or even just a couple of times. The idea is to keep going back over and over again, like a bald-headed, barcode-stamped time traveller, until you have discovered every secret and intricacy that the level has to offer.
In the Hitman games, you’re meant to fail. Every failure is a lesson, and every success fills in another part of the puzzle.
The Sandbox levels are videogame level design at its finest
I already mentioned in a previous article how my first playthrough of Anathema blew my mind due to the freedom the game gave me to achieve my objectives however I saw fit. I’m not denying that there have been some dud missions throughout the series, (I’m looking at you, Samurai levels from Hitman 2), but for the most part, the Hitman games have provided some incredible missions with dozens of inventive ways to kill your targets. IO Interactive have outdone themselves with the new game, most notably with the Sapienza location (For those who haven’t played it, it’s an entire Italian coastal town, complete with shops, a town hall, a church, a huge mansion, plus lots more).
My favourite aspect of any Hitman level has to be that the game never lures you down a particular path. Every choice to be made is entirely yours. Also, the games never punish you for messing up and alerting every NPC in the immediate area to your criminal activities; the excellent mechanics allow you to improvise and get out of sticky situations, which means you can continue your mission without having to restart or load a saved game.
Each mission tells a story of its own
Apart from the entirety of Hitman: Absolution (2012), which broke with the series tradition and provided a very linear, narrative-driven experience, the older Hitman games (Silent Assassin (2002), Contracts (2004), Blood Money (2006)) and this year’s Hitman, contain levels that tell self-contained stories. I cannot think of another series that does this so well. When I play a Hitman game, I don’t care that the overall plot of the game isn’t up to the standards of, let’s say, The Last of Us, because each individual level has an amazing story to tell in it’s own right. A perfect example of this would be the most recent episode of Hitman, which was set in a Bangkok hotel. The main target of this mission is a spoilt lead-singer of an indie band, who may or may not have killed his actress girlfriend a year before. As the player explores the hotel and eavesdrops on various NPC conversations, they will obtain various jigsaw pieces that will eventually provide a complete picture (Providing that they have played the level enough times using drastically different methods).
In a completely different sense, it is always the player who is the driver of the story in a Hitman level. Every playthrough is unique, and every method that a player has used to achieve their objectives will be an exhilarating story in it’s own right. I bet if I sat a few Hitman newbies down to play through the A New Life mission from Hitman: Blood Money (2006), none of them will complete it in the same way, and each player will have their own story to go with how they did it. One person may take the clown’s clothes and infiltrate the house, and another might spike the FBI agent’s doughnuts with a sedative. One might even find the air-rifle and tranquilliser darts and shoot the pesky dog that’s guarding the garden. For a die-hard Hitman fan like myself, it’s a really exciting thought to know that each individual can have a wildly different experience to another whilst playing a Hitman game.
Incredible replay value
My favourite game of all-time is Hitman: Blood Money (2006), and even to this day I am still finding new ways to complete missions that I hadn’t thought of before. When it comes to replay value, the new Hitman game is filled to the brim with content, and it hasn’t even been finished yet! There are dozens of challenges for each story mission which go towards unlocking new gear, and IO Interactive adds new escalation and featured contracts nearly every week. Escalations are contracts that come in five parts, so as you complete one part, on the next playthrough you will be given an additional objective or there will be an added complication to make it harder to complete. Featured contracts are the best of the user-created contracts, of which there are hundreds. I have made a few which I have had a blast creating. My favourites include ‘The Secret Life of a Congressman’ 2-02-1346182-28 and ‘The Mary Jane Acquisition’ 2-03-3738097-28 (I’m on PS4).
Also, the elusive targets which pop up every couple of weeks are the closest I’m ever going to get to being a real-life assassin. These contracts feature a unique NPC who resides at one of the games locations, usually over a weekend. Each player has one chance to kill them, and if they miss, or die, then that’s it. The target is gone forever. These are so fun, but incredibly intense, usually culminating in my heart thudding against my rib cage at a stupendous rate. I remember having to lie down for a bit after scraping through on the eight target. Things went very bad very quickly, but that is one of the best aspects of this series.
A professional assassin can go anywhere
Over the years, Agent 47 has travelled across the world to kill deserving folk. His is an occupation where it makes complete sense for him to be at a Paris Fashion show one month, and then attempting to prevent a military coup in Morocco the very next. There is nowhere in the world that it wouldn’t make sense for Agent 47 to be, because there are bad people who need to be taken care of everywhere. I’ve always loved the globe-trotting aspect of the Hitman series, and I’m really excited to see where the next two seasons (once confirmed, of course) of Hitman will take me. Personally, I would love to see another level set in my home country of England (The first one being the excellent Beldingford Manor from Hitman: Contracts, of course). The Houses of Parliament, perhaps? Or an enormous Downton Abbey inspired mansion would be very interesting.
Agent 47 is one of the finest anti-heroes of our time
“Always knew I never belonged in this world. I wasn’t made for this…I’ll never find peace here. So – I’ll seek justice for myself. I’ll choose the truth I like…” – Agent 47
When I first played Hitman 2, I revelled at the chance to play the bad guy for once. At the time, I was 10 years old, so the games I had played up until that point had always featured ‘good’ protagonists (Lara Croft, Solid Snake, Crash Bandicoot etc.). I absolutely loved it, and I always felt a bit naughty playing an adult-rated game whose plot revolved around murder-for-hire.
However, as the years have passed, I have come to realise that Agent 47 is actually one of the good guys, albeit not in the traditional sense. It is always his targets who are the evil ones. Over the series I have had to take out kidnappers, murderers and child prostitution ring-leaders. The absolute worst that mankind has to offer. So playing as a bald man with an itchy trigger-finger and a fondness for cheese-wire sort of pales in comparison. He is a necessary evil, like The Punisher, who uses unorthodox methods to make the world a better place, and those are my favourite types of character in any medium.
The Hitman Series gives the player complete control
“I can do whatever I’m paid to” – Agent 47.
We see in the media every day examples of injustice, and it is infuriating because we are powerless to act. The Hitman games, however, take place in a world where evil is punished justly. I know it’s not real, but when I play as Agent 47, I feel slightly empowered in the knowledge that the person with a price on their head is going to get what’s coming to them. I am the judge, jury, and executioner, and the fate of the target is entirely up to me. No other game series provides an outlet for the frustration I feel for the world quite like the Hitman series does.
If you’re a fan of action games, stealth games, or puzzle games, and you’ve never played a Hitman title before, I strongly urge you to do so. The Hitman HD trilogy is available for under £20 for PS3 and Xbox 360 (an absolute bargain for three classic games with hours of replay value), and this year’s Hitman is available to download on PC, Xbox One and PS4 for full price from wherever you download games from. It’s not quite finished yet, but the standard is exceptional, and I’ve already got my money’s worth with two episodes yet to be released.