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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: March 11, 2016


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Hitman' Intro Pack

by Adam Pavlacka on Feb. 10, 2016 @ 5:00 a.m. PST

Hitman will see players perform contract hits on powerful, high-profile targets in exotic locations around the world.

Hitman: Absolution was a commercial success for Square Enix and Io-Interactive, but for many players, it didn't quite "feel" like a Hitman game, often pushing action over stealth. With the upcoming Hitman, Io-Interactive is attempting a return to the play style of earlier games in the franchise. After spending a few hours with the $15 Hitman Intro Pack, it's safe to say that the new Hitman game pulls much of its inspiration from Hitman: Blood Money.

The open-ended nature of the game is emphasized when players jump into the prologue, which doubles as a two-mission training level. Set in the ICA base, these missions are designed to teach players to think creatively. For example, the first training mission has you taking out a target on his private yacht. The first time you play this mission, the game offers hints to guide you through it. If you play as the game recommends, you will successfully complete the mission, but it does feel a bit hand-holdy. That's when the same mission reloads; the game tells you to play it again, but you must figure out a different way to do it.

Eliminating the target is always the goal; the freedom to do it via your method of choice is what makes the game fun. Do you stealthily eliminate him out of sight? Do you line up a shot in public before hopping onto a jet ski and zooming away? Replayability is a key factor in Hitman, and each level has different optional goals to underscore that point.

Moving on to the second training scenario, the goal remains the same, but the playable area is bigger and the possibilities more numerous. You now have to infiltrate a Cuban air base to eliminate a Soviet spy. With increased options, you're bound to spend more time planning the hit and exploring. This is where "opportunities" come into play. Opportunities are optional (keep them off if you want the greatest challenge), but for most players, they strike a balance between light hints and just handing you a solution. Think of them as tip markers that highlight a possible solution to the level when you discover a key item.

For example, in the second training level, one opportunity suggests that you lure the target into the jet in the hangar and convince him to go through a pre-flight check — after you've rigged the aircraft to malfunction. It is but one of multiple ways to eliminate your target.

These two training levels make up the entirety of the prologue, which is the part of the game that you can access this month if you have pre-ordered and have a beta code. The PS4 beta begins on February 12, while the PC beta begins on February 19.

Beyond the training levels are the meat and potatoes of the Intro Pack, which is the Paris level.  It is set in a fictional museum, the Palais De Walewska. The main building has multiple levels, including a basement level and an attic, and there are outdoor areas as well as support structures. All of this is populated by more than 300 different NPC characters and two high-value targets that must be eliminated.

To say the Paris level is massive is a bit of an understatement. You could easily spend a few hours exploring the entire museum and poking into every nook and cranny as you plan the ideal assassinations. I didn't even realize that the basement level was there until after I had completed the Paris mission for the first time and was replaying the level with one of the optional modes. There was nothing keeping me out of the basement on my first playthrough; my route to the targets just never explicitly led me there.

Once you realize how big the Paris level is, the inclusion of the in-game hints via the opportunities system makes sense. For a new player, the sheer number of optional paths could easily be overwhelming. Once you've mastered a level and memorized the locations of key items, you should be able to replay them with speed and brutal efficiency, but going for a high score or record time doesn't compare to that first time through, when you look at a room and wonder, "Where do I go from here?"

In addition to the main game mode, Hitman also offers contracts and escalation mode. Contracts involves player-created hits that can be shared online. Escalation is similar in that the missions are crafted, but they are created by the team at Io-Interactive, so the challenge level should be higher.

Going even further are the elusive targets. These missions happen in real time, and you only get one shot. Miss them or screw up the hit, and that's it. They're gone forever, and you won't get another shot. Elusive targets are truly one-and-done. Consider it a hardcore challenge for the most dedicated players. There are no achievements or must-have items tied to elusive targets. Bagging them is all about bragging rights.

Aside from the elusive targets, missions can be replayed. This gives you a chance to try different tactics, but it also means you can try out different gear. As you unlock more items in the game, you'll be given the option to customize your loadout before a mission. This can involve choosing items to take with you from the start, as well as items that are placed in dead drop locations.

Unlike previous games, Hitman is going to be sold in an episodic format. The Intro Pack contains the prologue and the Paris level and will be sold for $15. Additional locations will be sold for $10 each. Buying everything separately will cost you $65. Pre-purchasing the entire game at once will run you $60, a $5 discount on the whole package. Selling the game this way is interesting because the episodic nature increases the likelihood that genre fans will spend more time with the game. After all, if you have the entire game available to you, your natural instinct is to "beat" the game and move on to the next. With the levels getting released on a set schedule, players are more likely to focus on mastering specific missions by replaying them for more efficient solutions.

If my time with the Intro Pack is any indication, Hitman doesn't skimp on the replay value. I spent about three hours playing the prologue and the Paris mission and still felt like there was plenty to do when I finally put down the controller. Assuming the later level packs and the online components are as solid as the single-player portions that I demoed, Hitman may end up as the best gaming value for your dollar this year.

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