Episodic gaming can be hit-and-miss. The idea of getting a game in segments can feel satisfying or feel frustrating. Wait months between episodes works if the game offers enough replay value, but if it doesn't, the title can feel like you're hamstrung from playing a game you've already begun. As such, there was some understandable hesitation when the new episodic Hitman was announced. Now that the entire first season has been released, Hitman isn't just one of the best games in the franchise, but one of the best episodic releases ever. Hitman: The Complete First Season is a bundle of the entire first season of the game and easily the best way to experience the game.
The story barely exists, so you get a handful of cut scenes that vaguely set up an overarching conspiracy, but the truth is that it doesn't matter. The plot is little more than a thin excuse to explain why Agent 47 is going to strange locales to kill people. Hitman focuses on gameplay over plot, and in this case, it works well. There's enough context and in-world storytelling to give the game flavor and feel, but that's about the extent of it. You're either assassinating, or you're not.
Fortunately, assassination is where Hitman shines. Given the episodic nature of the game, you go to a different place for each mission. Each location is a sprawling and complex maze, and your goal is to kill your target(s) before they can get away. At its heart, Hitman is a stealth game. Agent 47 is no pushover, but he's not there to kill everyone in his path. You can go on a rampage, but the core mechanics don't favor it, and you'll fail as a stealth assassin. Instead, you should figure out the optimal way to kill your target. This can be as simple as a sniper rifle shot when they step out on a balcony, or you can set up complicated death traps so the victim's death looks like an accident. You can unlock gear and equipment, which can provide more options and advantages.
Despite being one of the most distinctive people on the planet, Agent 47 can and often does rely on disguises. It's an interesting mechanic that is both easy to understand and surprisingly complex. Find a costume, and you're effectively immune to being discovered except by people who have good reason to know you're a fake, including people in the same uniform. This means you can't toss on a police uniform and walk past a bunch of cops without confusion. It does mean that a humble waiter can sneak around with ease. It can be frustrating when a minor costume difference is the difference between getting caught or getting away, but it generally works well. A good chunk of the dark humor comes from the disguises worn by 47.
Many of the hidden objectives and special secrets are pretty difficult to discover, requiring you to dig through proverbial haystacks for a needle. If you really want the challenge, it's there, as players must master their surroundings to perform the most stylish and satisfying assassinations. On the other hand, there's an ability to track Kill Opportunities, which will hold your hand through finding and completing these optional objectives. The game allows you to customize how much you're shown, but to some degree, you have to tell the game how much hand-holding you want, and it can be difficult to find the sweet spot.
Hitman hits a smooth balance. It's fun to play regardless of whether you're looking for a brutally challenging and unforgiving assassination sim or just want to perform stylish and complex kills for fun. An important aspect is that the missions are fun. There are optimal ways to do every mission, but figuring out how to work around mistakes and fiddle through flaws is where the game shines. It's easy to imagine someone getting frustrated as a perfectly planned assassination goes awry, but that frustration is part of the fun.
How much you will enjoy Hitman depends on how much you enjoy playing in a sandbox. Every mission can be completed quickly and inefficiently. If all you want to do is finish the mission and move on, you'll be able to do so. Hitman isn't a game you play to be brutally challenged or to find one perfect solution but to try different approaches again and again. There are plenty of side-quests, but none are as fun as the main story missions.
The later episodes are clearly made with the assumption that you've played the previous ones multiple times. It's an area where the complete Hitman shows its episodic roots. If you're just playing through to finish each mission once, you'll probably be surprised by the episodic spikes or the fact that it expects you to recognize mechanics used in previous stages. You're just given less room for error.
Hitman isn't perfect. There are some objectives that aren't very fun, and the stealth can sometimes be a little wonky. I was spotted at least once by an enemy who was halfway across the stage, and there are times I've failed without understanding why. What helps is that I never got frustrated enough to want to quit. Each attempt at an assassination helped me learn more quirks and twists, and by the time I was done, I felt completely satisfied with the outcome.
Hitman is quite a good-looking game. The environments are fantastic and detailed, and the character models look great. There were times I paused in my assassinations to look around and see the subtle details in the environment. The voice acting is weaker, with a lot of sub-par actors and a ton of repetitive lines. There's some really good hidden dialogue here and there, but it drags down the game a bit. That's probably the biggest flaw in the entire experience and probably less noticeable during the original episodic release.
All in all, Hitman is exactly what a Hitman game should be. It's not long in the traditional sense, but it's dense and packed with content. The mechanics are a little rough or hand-holdy at times, but that's a minor problem in the overall scheme of things. Whether it's a brutal, close-range assassination or a subtle poisoning, Hitman gives you more options than you know what to do with. The episodic nature is a boon, not a flaw, and the game plays as well in a complete set as it does individually. Fans of the genre should make it a priority, and newcomers will find few better places to start. With Season 2 on the way, there's more Hitman to come, but even the first season should have enough assassination action to keep you busy for hours.
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