Phil Collins wrote about the life of a hired killer from the target’s point of view in the somewhat-less-than-hit song of the 80’s entitled “Job to do.” Patrick Bateman, the narcissistic, materialistic protagonist in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, chops a prostitute into bite-sized morsels while discussing the musical genius of the band Genesis. And I have a reoccurring dream in which I beat Pauly Shore to death with a Heinz ketchup bottle while singing “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang. Coincidence? One thing you will quickly learn when you step into the shadowy shoes of the Hitman is that there are no such things as coincidences, only opportunities to take advantage of and problems that must be dealt with.
So, what does it take to be a successful Hitman in the new title from Eidos? For starters, you’re going to need reflexes, and you have to think quickly on your feet. That cop who comes upon you while you are dropping a body down the sewer is not going to accept a donut and go away. You’re going to have to take him down too, and with a minimum of fuss lest he alert his comrades patrolling nearby with his dying gasp. And that innocent bystander who unluckily comes along while you’re dropping the cop down the sewer? He’s going to have to meet an unpleasant end as well. And the other cop who comes along while you’re dumping that body? Down the hatch. In fact, it’s a wonder the sewers in this city run at all with all the bodies stuffed down there. But get rid of the bodies you must, because bodies have an unfortunate way of turning up and alerting your actual target (the guy you’re getting paid to kill, as opposed to all the freelance killing you do on the way) before you are ready.
And you’re going to need to know how to use a variety of weapons to kill quickly and cleanly. From the close up and personal stiletto and piano wire (and a graphic animation of you strangling guys that will have you reaching for your own throat), through an array of silenced and regular handguns, around the heavier weaponry like Uzis and AK-47s, and arriving at the high powered sniper rifle in time for supper. And the game does an admirable job of making these weapons behave differently enough that you truly feel that there is a right weapon for the right job.
You also have to be an expert at disguise. Sure, you’re six feet tall and as bald and white as the freak from Powder with a big ole’ bar code across the back of your noggin, but throw on the tunic of a dead guy, wrap on a headband, and you can suddenly fool nearly anyone into letting you by to your target. It’s almost ridiculous the number of times in this game that you kill some guy who happens to be on guard duty alone, or wanders unwisely away from the herd, and then throw on his clothes to do your real killing. And it doesn’t matter how you killed them - the clothes are in good enough shape to get you through. “Hey Bob, got some brains on your shirt.” “Oh, hey, thanks for pointing that out. I had monkey’s brains for lunch. What a mess that can be sometimes. Ha Ha.” “Don’t I know it. Well, have a nice day. I’ll just turn my back now and let you strangle me.”
The final thing you’re going to need to really make a killing, pun intended, is a sense of universal knowledge that would put Nostradamus to shame. People complained in Rainbow Six that you spent too much time planning and not enough time playing. Hitman has slammed against the opposite extreme. You go into your mission with little more than a picture of your target and a general layout of the area. I would often play the first run through as a recon mission. Where is the target, when does he show up, who is around him, where are the lone sheep easy for picking? Clearly (very, very clearly) the game designers had a particular way in mind for you to solve each mission when they wrote it, and they pretty much set things up to exclude all other alternatives. Without this sort of universal, all-encompassing knowledge of who is going to be alone or which direction a particular character is going to be coming from, you are frequently doomed to fail. This extensive scripting of the hit makes the mission run with the smoothness of a movie scene when it goes according the script. But scripting to this level takes a lot of the spontaneous action out of the game and makes many missions very frustrating as you wander around trying to figure out exactly what is was the designers had in mind in order to solve the mission. Or maybe I’m just a moron, and everyone else gets these missions right on the first try.
The other hinky thing about the game is its economics. You have to pay for nearly every piece of equipment for the mission down to the individual bullets - it all comes out of your paycheck at the end. Yet if you pick up a gun on the mission, you don’t get to sell it for cash. And things that you figure would be reusable, like your trusty stranglin’ wire, you end up buying anew each mission. I never came up short of money, so it’s sort of a moot point, but I would have liked to develop a cache of weapons, maybe a favorite gun modified to my use with notches on the butt for each kill I’ve made. Not an option.
As mentioned in the earlier review, the game looks good and has adequate sound effects. I think the 3rd person camera does a better job than most of showing you what you need to see. The controls are workable if a little confusing at first. Enemy AI is nothing short of telepathic in some locations, and at other times deaf, dumb, and blind. I evidently did hit a pretty big bug that the first reviewer didn’t. Operating on my system I clearly had some kind of system resource drain. Each restart of a mission would be slower than the one before it. By the fifth or sixth shot at a mission, I’m stuttering sound effects and dropping frames at a furious rate. Our very own editor in chief told me it wouldn’t run on his machine at all. Daxx didn’t report any problems other than a reduced frame rate in high action sequences. There’s a bug in them thar hills, and it’s different for different machines. You could be one of the unfortunate ones.
Like Daxx (review below), I’m of the opinion that this game had great promise. I’m not as irked by the lack of an in-mission save as he was, and believe me I’ve been plenty irked by that particular bugaboo on numerous occasions. I think I found that the in-mission restart worked better for me, almost always able to slip away from the firefight that killed me the first time around and find some corner to regroup. Also, the number of times I flat out died was vastly overshadowed by the times that I missed my target and he left the area, and then all the in-mission restarts on earth weren’t going to let me complete the mission. It was the iron-like grip of the plot Gestapo forcing me down the script line that griped my cookies. Still, you have to give them some credit just for attempting to make a game that breaks out of the mold, even if that attempt fell short of what we could have hoped for.
Now, this is a game with a lot of potential. I don't know about the rest of you, but the idea of playing as a hitman got me pretty excited. I'm a big fan of using stealth and being able to approach situations from a number of different angles. Hitman does a commendable effort at using this theme in a wide variety of missions and locals. Although more often than not the missions involve killing somebody important, each mission has different gameplay mechanics depending on the locale.
Graphically, the Hitman engine is impressive. I wasn't expecting too much, considering it doesn't use a "big name" engine, but I was pleasantly surprised. The visuals are lush and each mission locale is full of detail. The character animation is pretty impressive, complete with facial animation and heads that follow your movement.
Performance-wise, the engine ran quite smoothly on my system, (TBird 800mHz, GeForce) but I've heard that on lower end systems a lot of the detail/resolution has to be sacrificed for a decent framerate. Even on my machine, in the middle of certain gun battles, the framerate dropped noticeably.
There are also clipping problems, most noticeable with dead bodies but also you will see enemy guns poking through closed doors and other small visual defects such as that. The clipping range is also quite short, probably due to the high system requirements of the game. Especially in the outdoor jungle levels it can get quite annoying as you'll be running forward with no enemy in sight and all of a sudden they will pop into view and start firing at you. An option to increase the clipping range, for those of us on high-end systems, would have been nice.
The audio is nothing special, the gun effects are realistic and the various sounds of pain and death are adequate. The voice acting, especially after playing Alice, leaves much to be desired though. The main character especially sounds entirely unconvincing and stiff. The music suits each level quite well and enhances the game experience.
I enjoyed playing this game but a lot of times I became very frustrated. The game loses BIG points over the lack of mid-mission save game feature. It's unacceptable to not provide the ability to save your game, especially since some of the missions last up to 30 or 40 minutes.
The frustration only gets worse when you take into account the iffy AI. It is not necessarily bad, but it is virtually impossible to predict. Sometimes the enemies are completely stupid and other times they are eagle-eyed. For example, one time I strangled somebody about 10 feet away from his friend. He let out a yell "Alert! Alert!" before he died and nobody investigated. On the other hand, on a particular mission you have to meet with the police chief. I met him, then went to the bathroom (and picked up my hidden weapons), holstered everything, and came out of the bathroom. Immediately the chief exclaimed, "something's strange about you" and started firing. There was no way to predict his reaction to holstered weapons, and I had to restart the entire mission over.
While the game doesn't support in-game saving you are allowed to continue twice after you die in the mission. However, this just places you back into the world, often right by the gunfight that killed you the previous time. Generally continuing isn't very useful unless you've already given up on disguises and are ready to shoot every person you come across.
I also don't like the lack of jumping/ducking ability. The feeling of being "stuck" on the ground is unpleasant and limits your gameplay options. I understand it was most likely done to limit the actions of the player so the game designers would have an easier time, but I feel it's sort of a cop-out. There are also certain problems with movement - it's often very hard to tell what can be climbed up or walked over and what can't. As an example, in the jungle mission, there's a rock ledge above your head and what appears to be un-climbable vertical, but you can run up it sideways. Other times you'll be running forward and all of a sudden stop for what appears to be no reason - only to look down and see a tiny little root or bump that you can't get over. It's inconsistent and especially in the middle of a gun battle it can become a big problem.
The camera is alright in this game, although it still suffers from the typical 3rd person camera problems. Control is a bit of a problem. There are two modes, which allow you either to control your character's movement by the mouse or the aiming reticule. I prefer the former, and in this mode when you lean the mouse starts to control where you aim rather than your movement. One of the biggest problems I had with control was the inability to customize what the mouse buttons do. I used to use Mouse2 to run forward but you don't have the ability to bind Mouse2 to anything, it's always used to select items.
Other than those flaws, the game is a lot of fun. The best gameplay element is the ability to steal the clothes off your victims. This allows you to get into previously inaccessible areas, or get close to other enemies. You can be discovered if you hang around too long and let people see your face, and you can also be discovered if you're carrying a weapon that that "type" of enemy doesn't normally carry.
Killing is best accomplished silently, and that means either strangling wire, a knife, or a silenced gun. It is also very important to drag victims out of sight so they won't be discovered. Dragging the bodies is a neat idea, and the physics of the limp bodies is amazing to watch the first few times, but it can get frustrating. First of all the dragging is very slow, second of all it's hard to see where you're dragging the body too, and thirdly you will often just randomly stop dragging the body and you have to pick it up again. It's also hard to drag it into a specific place (like down a sewer grate). Deus Ex's "fireman's carry" is a much more elegant system overall.
There are plenty of different guns to use, you select the weapons you want to use before the mission starts. The difference in the guns is explained in the training mission, and you can get basic descriptions of the guns in the weapon selection menu, but it would be nice to have a way to quantify between a MP5 and an AK103 for those of us who aren't gun nuts. Just a word of advice, the AK103 is pretty powerful and the enemies often use it so ammo can be found easily. The UZI on the other hand can be hidden under your outfit.
There is no multiplay which makes sense - stealth oriented games aren't exactly suited for online gaming. Still, it would be really cool if a game like this came with a co-operative mode so you could play as a team of hitmen through the single player game.
Overall, I enjoyed this game. There are certain frustrating elements but they made me more determined to beat the level rather than deterring me from playing. With a patch this game could be great; currently the game is good but only if you're prepared to deal with the frustrating elements. It is also quite a short game, so don't expect to be playing this game for the next month or so unless you're pretty bad ;)