I really do not like the idea of cloud gaming. Full priced (or more) games made available temporarily to the consumer at the whim of the publisher, dependant on both their servers and our internet connections – a connection which may not be quite good enough if you live in certain parts of the world. Not only that, but its online requirement also goes against the main selling point of the Switch – being able to take it anywhere.

However, whilst I hate cloud gaming, I really love the Hitman series. Having no other way to play the new trilogy, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot.

Let’s see if it hits the mark.

PROVIDENCE KILLER

The third rebooted Hitman game is the final part of the World of Assassination trilogy, but don’t worry too much if you missed out on the ones that came beforehand. After undergoing the tutorial missions, the game quickly gets you up to speed on the story so far.

In a nutshell, Agent 47 has been recruited into the ICA after turning up with little memory of his past. 47 and his handler Diana take on a series of contracts from the mysterious Shadow Client; contracts that later turn out to be members of an organisation called Providence. Following the reveal, Diana and 47 broker a deal with Providence to hunt down the Shadow Client in exchange for information on 47’s past. However, once the client is revealed to be a childhood friend of 47, the tables flip again as they work with him to take down Providence once and for all. It uses a lot of the same tropes you’ve seen previously in the franchise, but newcomers may still feel a tad lost with the cliff notes summary at the start of the third game. It sets the scene, sure, but you always feel like you don’t quite know everything you need to know. Thankfully, you are able to download the first two games in the series as part of the cloud version, but I’ll go into more detail on those later.

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YOUR NUMBER IS UP
For those that have played the older Hitman games, it’s interesting to note that the rebooted series seems like a refinement of the old formula for modern standards. The prior game, Hitman Absolution, attempted to refine Hitman but was ultimately held back by a linear structure that acted at odds with what people loved about the franchise. The rebooted trilogy takes a step back and evolves the series in a different way. Instead of having a dozen or so small open areas for you to explore, you are given only half a dozen levels; but, they are gargantuan in size with a plethora of ways to go about things.

To give you an example, the second level is set in an English country home with the matriarch of the family as the primary target. She has returned to the huge manor to announce that she isn’t as quite as dead as they had initially thought. However, there has recently been a suspicious death in the family just prior to her arrival. In order to get things resolved quietly, she has enlisted the services of a private detective. Not only can you take on the role of the detective as you nab his disguise, but you can even do a full investigation of the murder and deduct who is responsible – whilst also preparing the area for a grisly finale. However, there’s a lot of other things going on around the house too, meaning that you can follow another potential ‘storyline’ instead that triggers an accident to occur during a family photo session – one that will result in a shockingly good picture for the family to remember forever.

The great thing about these mission stories is that they provide an entertaining mission to guide you on your first playthrough, and help to make the huge levels a little less daunting for newcomers. There are a handful available in most of the levels that you can follow, and selecting one of them will set a certain series of events in motion that will help you eliminate your target. You’ll get some objectives that tell you what you need to try and to next, but they’re usually vague enough for you to figure out your own way of accomplishing it. Will you access the upper floors by triggering a distraction that will isolate a guard for you to ‘relieve’ him of his duties? Perhaps using your camera to hack open the outer windows and scaling the building may be an option? Perhaps you can access the security station and disable the cameras allowing you to sneak through? The world is your playground. These narrative opportunities rarely end in the targets death either, so it’s up to you to figure out how to deliver that final blow. Mission stories are a lot of fun and show off the humour inherent to the concept. No longer is 47 a brooding assassin with a dark past; instead, he’s more of a po-faced clone who can only speak in murder euphemisms. It fits perfectly with the ridiculous AI system and over the top kill opportunities, and is something I hope continues in future instalments.

For those wanting to do things their own way, there are plenty of other methods of assassination that you can set up. Levels have so many details that you can use for distractions, kills, accidents, and the like that it really feels like you can do whatever you want. You’ll be making use of some old tricks, such as distracting guards with coins, hiding bodies in lockers, and the like; however, there’s some great new additions too. In particular, the disguise mechanic works much better in this game compared to the older titles. Certain NPCs are marked as ‘enforcers’, and represent people who would realistically know who is and isn’t part of their crew – anyone else will be fooled by the disguise, so long as you aren’t wandering off into areas where you’re not supposed to go. The hardest difficulty even takes this a step further by having disguises that can be ruined by the wearer dying violently, which is a really nice way to up the difficulty in a realistic and satisfying way. You can clearly see that the stealth mechanics have been refined to perfection over the twenty-odd years the series has been going for, and it feels incredibly fun and fluid to use. The controls are also noteworthy in just how much they’ve improved since the series’ inception. Earlier games used to be extremely clunky, but now controlling Agent 47 is a breeze – at least most of time time. And that is where some of the game’s issues start to show.

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GOT 47 PROBLEMS, BUT A SWITCH AIN’T ONE
Unfortunately, the issues with the game can be summed up with one predictable word: Cloud. As expected, being a cloud-based game results in numerous issues – although they’re not quite as game-ruining as initially anticipated. With my 50 mbps wireless speed, the game runs fine most of the time but with occasional chugs now and then. These issues tend to vary based on time of day rather than the intensity of what’s going on in the game, but they’re always severe enough to be noticeable – even when playing in Performance Mode. Thankfully the game’s slower pacing works wonders for alleviating this slowdown as you can usually push through it; but, in the rare moment that you get into a firefight, it can make aiming really troublesome. There’s also an auto-aiming system that helps counter this, but this really shouldn’t be an issue in the first place. After purchasing an ethernet adaptor so I could plug my normal Switch in via a cable, I found that these issues did noticeably improve; but your results may vary. On the flip side, having this game on the cloud allows Switch owners to experience this game in its full glory, and it really is beautiful, but is it worth these issues? It depends on your connection. If you end up having performance issues due to your connection, then it may be worth getting it elsewhere – or at least waiting until you can. It’s a real shame, but I guess this is what you get with cloud gaming.

At the end of the day though, these issues with the cloud are probably the only real negatives I have with the game. Sure, the pricing is extremely high (one of the most expensive games on the console) for a game you aren’t even able to own, but fans of the series will find plenty to do here. Whilst there are only six missions, with two shorter tutorial missions, each one will likely take you around an hour or two to beat for the first time. What really elevates this game above other titles in the franchise is just how replayable the levels are, and how much attention to detail there is too. Aside from the multitude of unique mission stories for you to experience, the world is crafted in such a way that you can treat almost anyone as a target. From potential traps everywhere, to loads of secrets and easter eggs, there’s just so much to uncover outside of the preset missions. There are so many big events that occur that are easily missable, so you’ll want scour each level to uncover everything. There’s just so much here that you can tell IO Interactive put a lot of love into each and every stage. The best thing is that even if you don’t what else to do aside from the mission stories, the game has other modes that can help you get more out the game:

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HIT IT TWICE
The first of the interesting additions to the series are the Escalation encounters. I was initially confused as to the point of these at first, but when you play through them things suddenly click. Escalation encounters are effectively alternate assassination targets, but they change things up slightly and task you with taking them out in certain ways. They start off simple, merely introducing you to the target, but they gradually get harder and expect you to utilise what you’ve learnt so far in order to take them out.

As an example, the first level has an escalation encounter that has you using a serving staff uniform to poison the target’s drink. Nice and easy. The next escalation has the target in a different location, but you can use your disguise-obtaining method from before to gain access to further restricted areas, along with deactivating the security cameras. With that done, all that’s left is to prepare an accident to befall your target. The final encounter of this series has you using what you’ve learned to get to the top again, only this time you need to grab a sniper rifle and kill the target from a vantage point. This is a much noisier approach, so you’ll need to find a way to escape undetected afterward. These can be a lot of fun, but some are definitely  better than others. On the whole though, I had a lot of fun with the vast majority of the escalations and they help you to learn the environment and how to become a better hit man.

Whilst there are a limited number of escalation encounters available, things don’t end there. There’s a contract creator available, which basically allows you to create your own escalations. Contracts are created by highlighting any NPC (or NPCs) in the level and taking them out however you like. The method of assassination is always an optional objective, but they make up the fun in playing them. Other limitations can be added too, such as no non-target kills, or suit only, and you can even add your own title and briefing to add a little extra flavour – although the Switch version has a bug that limits descriptions to 80 characters instead of 500, which is more than a little annoying. When you’ve assembled your custom contract, you can then upload it to the servers so that other people are able to play them. Mucking around with the creator is a lot of fun, especially when you have a certain idea in mind. One festive contract I made revolved around playing as Santa Clause in the (Hitman 2) bank level, obtaining the machine gun to take out the bank robbers, and sending the boss to a falling death. The creator is not completely perfect, especially as many of the unique assassination methods simply default to ‘any method’ as the kill requirement, but it’s still a fun little playbox that you can spend ages mucking around with. Needless to say it bolsters the already massive replayability of the game.

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YEAR 2 UPDATE
Year 2 of Hitman also saw the release of numerous free additions, which can be summed up as a little bit hit and miss.

The first of which, and the most forgettable too, is the Elusive Target Arcade. Elusive Targets are special contracts that are released now and then, and you are given one opportunity to kill them over the ten day period they appear. The Arcade mode, on the other hand, groups a few of them together and throws in some bonus complications. These can be played as often as you like, but if you fail then you’re locked out of that particular mission for 12 hours.

To say the Arcade mode had a bit of a rocky start would be a bit of an understatement. From obnoxious compulsory complications, to the same targets appearing again and again, it was far from perfect. Bit by bit, they have been improving it, and now they are even mixing and matching targets from different games to help make them more varied. This is excellent news to those who do not own the previous two games, as it allows them to sample the other maps free of charge. All in all, these are fine distractions that you’ll typically play once. IO Interactive release a couple of so per month, so there’s certainly enough to keep you busy for a short while.

The second major addition is a whole new map set on Ambrose Island. Themed after a pirate cove, you are assigned to eliminate a rogue mercenary that used to work for the Shadow Client Lucas Gray – along with the pirate leader and a satellite relay. It’s set partway through the events of the second game in the trilogy, so its place in the narrative can be confusing; although ultimately, also quite unimportant.

Feeling like a cross between Haven Island and Santa Fortuna, I can’t say I was initially impressed with the map. It’s baffling lack of Mission Stories also threw me off at first, and left me wandering around trying to find what to do. Thankfully, the assassination methods and side quests are just as varied and numerous as any other level once you start to familiarise yourself with the map. Whether you’re setting up a trap on a creaky bridge, or entering a slapping contest to garner attention, there’s a lot to play around with. Even the additional objective isn’t obnoxiously time-consuming either, since it has a multitude of ways to take it out – and none of them are particularly time-consuming. Chucking an explosive down a vent proved to be my favourite way to shut it down, although you can just shoot it if you want to be more efficient.

As for the unlocks, there’s a nice amount available. A bone lockpick is a welcome grizzly variant that proves worthwhile for the sheer novelty alone. My pick of the bunch is the Molotov Cocktail, and thankfully it’s as glorious as it sounds. Its fiery explosion can even penetrate walls, causing an easy accidental death by burning. It’s so ridiculously overpowered that it may become my replacement for the emetic briefcase as a way to get a nice easy kill. Overall, Ambrose Island is a welcome addition even if it does seem a little bit out of place. Whilst it may be my least favourite map in Hitman 3, that’s only because the other maps are just so damn good.

Whilst there’s certainly plenty of content within Hitman 3 to keep you replaying after the initial 10-15 hours playthrough, there’s a hell of a lot more available for those wanting to spend more time with Agent 47 (and less time with their bank balance).

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AROUND THE WORLD OF ASSASSINATION
One excellent inclusion with Hitman 3 is the access pass, which allows you to purchase and import the content from the first two games into the third – cutscenes, extra content, and all! This effectively means that Switch players who have not experienced the other two titles are able to play them in all their glory here. You won’t be missing out on much as it includes the majority of the extra missions, escalations, and game modes. Some stuff is excluded, but it seems like it’s mainly the unpopular escalations that were cut. The access passes are pretty expensive, but you get a lot with each one so they’re certainly worthwhile for those who splash out.

The first Hitman game does a great job at setting up the story, and offers the best storytelling of the three games. Unlike the finale, which has you finishing off the partners, the first game has you doing a range of interesting and seemingly unconnected contracts. Things take a turn as you realise that there seems to be a connection between them. The levels themselves aren’t quite as strong overall as in the other two games, but there are still some bangers here. My favourite is the final stage, set in a high-tech Japanese hospital, that utilises the game’s disguise mechanic to its fullest – and contains some fantastic kill opportunities too. In addition to the main campaign, there’s an additional story and some other bonus missions that reuse some of the levels in different ways. They’re not quite as exciting as they could have been, but they’re still a fun addition regardless.

Hitman 2 on the other hand is a little weaker with its storytelling as the twists throughout tend to be a little uninteresting and a tad cliched, but that’s not to say it isn’t still enjoyable. The main difference you will note is that the fully animated cutscenes are now gone, in favour of static images – likely due to budget restraints. They’re done in quite a stylish way, but the dip in quality is still very noticeable. Thankfully this is the only area where the second game stumbles – the rest is absolutely sublime. The opening level starts out a little weak as it’s another tutorial; one that feels even smaller and more restricted than the original one in the ICA Facility. What makes this level worse is that it uses up one of the six level slots, which feels like an absolute waste. It’s a good thing then that the other missions are banger after banger, with two additional DLC stages that are just as excellent as the ones in the main game. From the aforementioned bank, where you can pull off your own heist, to gothic castles, racetracks, tropical islands, and more, Hitman 2 easily contains some of the best levels that the trilogy has to offer. The only real gripe are the inclusion of secondary objectives in some of the levels that can prove to be a drag when you replay the stage. The third game solves this by making these objectives optional after you beat the stage for the first time, so it’s a shame they didn’t tweak these earlier levels. The second game may not be as good overall as the third, but it’s still excellent.

Overall, the missions in all three games feel very cohesive making it feel less like a trilogy of games and more like three parts of one epic story. With all the content and unlocks from the levels shared with one another, I would really recommend playing the World of Assassination in its entirety – if you can stomach the price point.

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Hitman 3, when taken as the complete World of Assassination package, ranks as  one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a masterclass in gaming that takes what made the originals so good and expands upon it, removing those clunky controls and making it feel so damn good. It’s a shame then that it’s spoiled by being a cloud game, and has all the issues you’d expect from that. If you are like me and have no other viable way of playing the game, I would recommend trying out the demo to see how well it runs on your connection. The game is certainly a masterpiece and all the additional modes and custom contracts will ensure that hardcore fans have a lot of content to play. I’ve clocked in at over 300 hours and have barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. I can easily see myself hitting 1000 hours before hitting the 100% mark. In fact, the only reason the game doesn’t score higher in terms of value is simply because I just don’t own the game. I’ll have put in all this work, and then one day IO Interactive will take it all away from me. And that truly sucks…