Once in a while, a game comes along that not only revolutionises the franchise, but it revolutionises the entire genre. It takes everything you know and refines it almost to perfection and you can’t imagine playing a game any other way.
Hitman World of Assassination is one of those games. We covered it last year whilst it was but a mere Hitman 3, but now the game has evolved to so much more. Not only does it include the previous two titles as standard (making this effectively three games for the price of one), but there’s also a load of post-release content too that makes this title truly unmissable.
Hitman has never really been one for story; it always contained some fascinating lore behind the origins of Agent 47, but the overarching storylines usually end up flat. Despite the often underwhelming narratives though, the game typically thrives upon the mini tales woven into the individual targets and their respective missions.
Hitman World of Assassination is no real exception, unfortunately, as this tale of intrigue follows many of the standard tropes for the series as you take on contracts from the mysterious Shadow Client, only to inevitably get betrayed about a dozen times. The story starts out well as you start to learn the connection between your different assassination targets, but then gets rather tiresome after that.
Fortunately though, the individual missions are some of the best in terms of lore and setting, with some truly reprehensible targets to eleminate. From a mafia leader producing a special virus in this secret lab underneath his mansion to a medieval mansion hosting an Eyes Wide Shut style gathering of the illuminati inspired Providence, each one feels unique and believable in its own silly over-the-top way. Even the very few weak levels contain some fantastic narratives for you to indulge yourself in.
YOUR NUMBER IS UP
For those that have played the older Hitman games, it’s interesting to note that Hitman World of Assassination 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. This new trilogy takes a step back and evolves the series in a different way. Instead of having small areas for you to explore, you’re given what amounts to a couple of dozen gargantuan open playgrounds for you to wander around and plan your assassination method of choice.
To give you an example, one of the levels in the third part of the trilogy 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 into the murder and deduct who is responsible – whilst also setting the stage for a grisly finale. However, there’s a lot of other things going on around the house too, meaning that you can follow one of many other potential ‘storylines’ 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 do 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.
Whilst we’re looking at the gameplay side of things, it’s worth touching on the levels contained within each game and how they stack up against each other. The first title released back in 2016 in an episodic format, and was quite well received for the time for it truly does contain some absolute bangers (but it also contains one of the worst levels too!). My favourite is set in a a high-tech Japanese hospital, and it really makes the most of the game’s disguise mechanic to its fullest. Add to that some excellent (and gruesome) kill opportunities, and it’s a level I can come back to again and again. Every level, except the tedious Bangkok hotel, has its worth and really stand out from each other to feel completely unique.
The second entry, whilst faring the worse from a narrative perspective with its uninteresting twists and lack of fully animated cutscenes (due to budget restraints), really goes all out with the level design. It throws you off at the start with a tiny, weak tutorial mission, but then goes completely all out with some of the biggest locations in the trilogy. The first real location, Miami, is a particular joy and unsurprisingly ranks as many Hitman players’ favourite map. That’s not to say the rest are slouches either, and even the bonus DLC maps offer a lot of enjoyment too. One of them is set in a bank and has you assassinating the director from her office and then pulling off a heist from the vault. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Whilst the size of some of the maps in the second game can be quite overwhelming at times, it’s impressive to see just how much stuff there is to do.
Which brings us onto the final entry, and what is easily my favourite of the three. Hitman 3 takes everything the developers have learnt over the years and uses it to create some of the best maps in the series. Kicking off with a stage that introduces newer players to the game, it forgoes the usual tutorial structure and turns it into a huge lavish skyscraper interior set in Dubai. It’s such an enjoyable mission with so much to do, but it’s still nowhere near the best the game has to offer. That award has to go to either Chongqing, with its atmospheric streets and hidden underground facility, or to Berlin and its … well, you’ll see. The only real gripe has to be with the final stage, which offers a completely linear experience. It’s not a bad level per se, but as there’s only really one way to play through it, it feels like a bit of an anti-climax.
Thankfully the final mission is only really the beginning as there is a hell of a lot more to do…
HIT IT TWICE
Covering everything that the game has to offer is a difficult task. In terms of extra content, there’s an overwhelming amount and going over everything would make this more of an essay than it already is. As such, I’ll try and cover the more notable pieces of extra content.
The first of the interesting pieces of extra content are the Escalation encounters. Upon selecting each map, you’ll notice some extra selectable missions available, each with curiously odd titles. I was initially confused as to what these actually were, but once you start playing through them things suddenly start to 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, Dubai 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. The five stage escalations in the first game, for example, can become particularly tiresome by the end; however, on the whole I had a lot of fun with the vast majority of escalations and they certainly help you 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 assassination missions. 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 of my favourite creations sees you stalking the ventilation system in your suit and sneaking out to eliminate your targets silently with melee attacks. This Alien themed contract ended up getting featured by IOI in their Halloween lineup, and maybe one of yours could too! The creator isn’t completely perfect by any means as there are many unfortunate limitations, but it’s still a fun little playbox you can spend countless hours mucking around with.
FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BALD
The real meat, however, lies in the extra game modes – of which there are quite a few available. There are bonus missions that offer variations on the existing levels, such as an out of control pandemic in a hospital (this was pre-covid!) or a garden show set in a lavish mansion garden. Some of these missions are clearly better than others, but they’re still welcome as a way to provide a little bit of extra content at least.
Another game mode sees you taking control of a Sniper Rifle as you hunt a few targets and their security detail across the map. You have to be careful to use the environment well to hide their bodies or you run the risk of panicking everyone and letting your targets escape. It’s an interesting diversion, even if it’s infuriatingly difficult until you get used to it and then later on becomes incredibly grindy as you attempt to reach full mastery. Thankfully this mode only contains a few level, making it a relatively harmless diversion.
The Elusive Target Arcade, that was released in the last year, also acts as a way for players to experience the one-off Elusive Targets that appear every now and then. These targets aren’t highlighted, instead requiring you to use clues from the briefing to track them down. To make things even more stressful failure results in the game locking you out for 12 hours before you can try again. Each Arcade set has three you need to beat in a row, and it’s fun until it isn’t anymore. You’ll find that most targets reappear again and again, making things more of a chore as you work your way through. It’s a neat idea, and some of the unlockable items are cool, but not something that will keep you entertained for long.
HIRE A HITMAN
Whilst a lot of the bonus modes can be a little hit or miss, the biggest one in terms of content is the recently released Freelancer mode. This roguelite mode sees you take control of Agent 47 from his own private safehouse taking on randomly generated contracts against crime syndicates.
Starting up the game, you’ll have nothing but an unsilenced pistol at your disposal and the choice of various randomly generated syndicate contracts to take on. Each one has a different set of locations, as well as a particular gameplay style to choose from. Whilst the Assassin style might ask you to use more subtle methods and weapons, the Arms Dealer style will encourage you to go in with heavy weaponry. Perhaps poisoning or accident kills are your style, or perhaps you want to simply try your luck and something completely random. The choice is up to you.
Each location has a randomly assigned set of targets for you to take out, as well as suppliers, safes, and couriers to take advantage of. Couriers and safe are simple ways to earn extra money, whereas suppliers will give you a chance to use that cash to buy something useful. Crates can be found too for some minor items that could be helpful during the mission, but you’ll generally have to deal with what you’ve got. Successfully completing a mission will earn you some of the game’s currency, but the real money lies in completing the extra objectives – particular the extra tricky prestige objectives that will grant you a hefty cash payout.
Acquired items can be taken back and stored at the safehouse ready to be used in future missions, but failure will result in Agent 47 being wounded and losing his current loadout and a substantial amount of cash as he gets himself back to health. Letting your targets loose will also result in other missions becoming alerted to your presence, which will not only make the mission harder but will also cause a complete failure if you happen to mess that one up too. It’s a nice tradeoff that feels both punishing enough to deter you from wanting to fail, yet also never too punishing either.
The final mission in a set will always be a showdown mission, which differs from the others by not having a concrete target. Instead, you will be given a list of suspects who are in town for a meeting and you need to use the clues that Diana has acquired in order to locate your target. Do they have any distinguishing features? Any bad habits? These are things that you’ll need to analyse in order to find out who is the leader, and deal with them appropriately. Your handy suspect cam will allow you to tag whether or not your suspects could be the target, and also allows you to take photos so you can examine them in more detail.
To make things even harder, these missions also include extra NPCs known as lookouts who will act as extra enforcers and can see through your disguises. Potential suspects can also be protected by Assassins too, who appear to be normal NPCs, except they’re armed and dangerous should you try anything funny. One wrong move could result in your death, or alert the suspects and cause them to flee – both of which will result in your failure.
It’s a really satisfying gameplay loop, and it’s all capped off with the Safehouse which will gradually expand as you gain XP and reach higher mastery levels. Whilst it is a bit silly that Agent 47 needs to be at Master Level 4 in order to be able to take a piss, the amount of unlocks is pretty satisfying and often provides you with extra items that you can take with you on your missions (such as the incredibly overpowered banana). Whilst there could have been more customisation options available to make your house feel completely unique, there’s still enough here to make the safehouse a fun place to be.
GOT 47 PROBLEMS, BUT A SWITCH AIN’T ONE
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the game, and they 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. The pricing may seem high at first, but the vast amount of content on offer makes it an absolute bargain. With three meaty campaigns, loads of extra modes and challenges, and even use created content, there’s enough to keep you going for up to a thousand hours or so. I’ve been playing for close to 500 so far, and still have a hell of a lot left to do.
Hitman World of Assassination easily 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 fluid. 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 you’ll be busy for countless hours to come!