The much anticipated relaunch of the seminal Hitman series has been a long time coming. Originally touted for release in November 2015, the game suffered delays and a total revamp to its sales and pre-order approach, but at last we had a chance to try our hand at the game’s beta. Going in with pretty low expectations we weren’t really wowed, but we were surprised to find a pretty decent beta build of a final game that is all set to release in just under a month.
The latest iteration of the Hitman series shows a relaunch and origin story for the enigmatic Mr 47: a genetically superior clone soldier who becomes an assassin with fictional organisation ICA (International Contracts Agency). In this beta, players got the chance to play the training missions from the game, including a guided and freeform tutorial mission and a ‘final test’ which allows players to apply everything they learned to new challenge. The goal, it appears, was to give a glimpse as to what we will be getting when the game comes out but holding off before delving into the world of spoilers. This creates a brief glimpse into the finished product and, in our care at least, got us intrigued to see what the first part of the game looks like when it releases on 11 March.
The gameplay we got to see in the ‘guided tutorial’ was a perfect entry into the series for people who have never had a Hitman game, or old hands that have not handled 47 in many years. The game literally showed you a path to take throughout this initial mission to garner a successful kill and escape without inundating the uninitiated in lots of different mechanics. Old hands who are more than familiar with the series needn’t worry though as the second level is actually a freeform tutorial that allows the player to assassinate the same target but using one of a multitude of different approaches. This gives 47 the ability to go in as a silent assassin or all guns blazing. Admittedly though, the game wants you to be strategic in your approach as direct confrontation can leave them open to a quick and merciless death. The final test was also a head scratcher with multiple approach options and opportunities which allow the player to go at the problem in lots of different ways. Altogether it created a good impression of what the game has to offer and we cant wait to see it fully realised next month.
However, for all the promise the gameplay showed there is still a little polishing that needs to be done here. In the build we played we did see a few bugs, such as guards seeing us even when no one was around making some attempts at perfect stealth seem very hard. Similarly we were a bit troubled by frame rate drops and occasionally a notable audio lag which broke immersion, especially in cut scenes or scripted moments. There were also some odd issues such as some NPC’s talking in different voices depending when you interacted with them which may have just been issues with the Beta but hinted at a bit of laziness in production. All of these issues though can be polished up before the game hits consoles on 11 March, hopefully, but did feel like a poor misstep and a bad first impression.
In the positive column we saw a lot of additional content in both the levels we got to play in the form of challenges and intelligence. Each challenge can be accomplished by carrying out different activities in the level, such as killing a target in a certain way, picking up a particular disguise or hiding in a certain location as examples. This encourages a player to approach the same problem in lots of different ways, and means that the level isn’t just finished when you kill the target. The challenges also serve as clues that can help a neophyte player cut his way through the game and feel like a master hitman in his own right. Another positive aspect is the games autosave function which activates periodically and semi frequently. This means that if a player does make a misstep they are not forced to play a whole mission again from scratch but just load up their last save and just give them another chance to try it again.
As an early indication of what is to come we have to say we are impressed, but not bowled over. The glitches and occasional lapse in quality did make us stop a few times, but there was overall more good than bad. That said, if Square Enix can work on really polishing the game to remove these minor annoyances then it has a good chance of becoming an early must play game for 2016.
Hitman’s first part is due for general release on 11 March 2016.