When Hitman's release schedule was revealed, a lot of people weren't happy about its episodic nature. Many fans feared that the game would be a massive disappointment akin to the likes of Hitman Absolution, but that is most definitely not the case.
On the surface, the Intro Pack may seem a bit steep at its £11.99/$14.99 price – but this isn't quite the case either. It contains two training stages and one mission set in Paris – the game's first "episode" – and all three of these maps have a huge amount of replayability. And this is without mentioning the player-created Contracts and the excellent Escalation mode also adding plenty of value.
Escalation is also a great way to describe how Hitman (as in this game) has evolved Hitman (as in the series). It takes everything that was good about Blood Money and improves upon it, while adding in new mechanics where needed. The amount of creative freedom given to you by IO Interactive is simply awesome – there are always plenty of ways to kill your target, from simply gunning everyone down to carefully isolating your target to destroying them in the most outlandish way possible. Trust us, there's plenty of these.
The first stage – a training mission set 20 years before setting of Hitman: Codename 47 – tasks you with killing master thief Kalvin Ritter in a charming training mock-up of a private yacht. Plywood is everywhere, a fake wooden helicopter rests atop the boat, and – if you look around – there are curtains hiding the inner workings of the secret facility that you're training in. The second is similar, another training mission in which you must take down Jasper Knight, a professional chess player turned Soviet spy, currently residing in a Cuban airbase. Lastly, your third mission takes place at a Paris fashion show, where your targets are fashion legends Victor Novikov and Dahlia Margolis, who also work for professional hackers IAGO, and are auctioning off a list of the names of British spies.
All three missions are excellent, all mixing variety with unfamiliarity and innovation. Agent 47 has plenty of costumes, weapons, and items at his disposal, from crowbars to the signature Silverballer to coins, and the new Opportunity popups give you scraps to feed off of if you get lost; eavesdrop into a conversation and you'll be given the chance to track an Opportunity, which could reveal a way of killing your target or a secret pathway to them. These can be turned off, of course, as can the Eagle Vision-like Instincts Mode, which allows you to see through walls and track your bounty.
Pretty much everything can be toggled in the options, which is a testament to how free and customisable the game feels; you can play with maximum or minimum hand-holding, making Hitman great for newbies and old fans alike. Plus, the minimalist HUD and menus don't interfere with the gameplay at all.
On the whole, the title encourages a trial-and-error play style that made the older Hitman games so good, with a manual save and load system – as well as regular auto saves – meaning that you can go back to different sections and plan out varying routes. Why not try going to the top floor this time? What happens next if you don't poison your target's drink? These are some of the questions that you'll always be asking yourself, because in Hitman, there is always a better, crazier, or more professional way to kill someone. Dressing up as a model and killing your target on the catwalk or setting off a fireworks display and sniping your bounties are two particularly satisfying kills, both in the excellent Paris mission.
While the training missions do have some pretty outlandish kills – dropping a life raft onto your bounty, or sabotaging the ejector seat on their fighter jet, for example – the Paris level is where the game absolutely excels. The map is huge, with the majestic French manor setting having four floors as well as some large courtyards, all packed with opportunities that you can exploit, meaning that you'll be replaying it for a while. Despite the large amount of people – over 300 – and the big size of the map, the framerate stays very stable, which is pretty impressive for a game that looks as good as Hitman does.
Before the mission, you're allowed to stock a certain amount of weapons and items to take with you – as well as one spot in which you can hide a very effective item – and the more times that you replay the mission, the more starting points, weapons, and gadgets you're given to complete the task. Indeed, playing more doesn't make the game feel fatigued – it somehow manages to add more enjoyment.
What's more, the Paris level is filled with different characters and cool little extras that make the world feel real. Run in front a TV crew's camera and they'll berate you for your selfishness. Meet world famous model Helmut Kruger, then try and isolate him and steal his outfit. Dress up as a bodyguard and convince corrupt agent Max Decker to join you so that you can access a heavily-guarded area. It's the little things that make the big difference in Hitman.
However, probably the best new feature in Hitman's latest is the new Objectives system, which is made up of a number of different tasks, divided into different categories. Discovery objectives are all about finding different weapons, objects, and costumes in each map, while Assassinations can be fulfilled by killing your target in different ways. Feats, meanwhile, are the hardest challenges to complete, often giving you strict criteria on how to play through a level. What's great about these objectives is that they encourage you to play creatively, and are satisfying to pull off – everything that a good Hitman game should be.
If you somehow get bored of the levels, though, then the aforementioned Escalation and Contract modes should keep your attention. Escalation is a five-part mission in which you have to kill a target in a certain way. Once you've done that, you're given another objective to do in conjunction with the first kill, until, by the end, you're juggling many, many objectives at once that require thoughtful planning.
Contracts mode, which returns from Hitman Absolution, allows you to create your own assassination objectives, before letting you tweak the scenarios that Agent 47 needs to fulfil in order to complete the mission. The fact that you can choose just about anyone that you want as your target is a great touch, and the imaginative scenarios that people have come up with can be really fun to play, and add value to an already compelling release.
At the end of the day, Hitman's buzzword is freedom. There are so many things to do – and so many ways to do them – that you'll never have to persevere to find something fun to do. It's all in front of you: a bloody, disturbing playground rife with opportunity. The trial and error gameplay brings back memories of older Hitman titles, while new ideas such as the excellent Escalation mode keep things fresh. Simply put, the Intro Pack is a great buy for old fans and new blood alike – there aren't many stealth games of this calibre.