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The Hitman franchise is an anomaly. It's a game focused on the act of killing, but it's not a shooter. Instead, it's a puzzle game with dozens of variables and parameters. It's a stealth game where you can walk out in the open. It's a series with not one but two (pretty dismal) Hollywood adaptations, with a stoic protagonist that says little and a strangely whimsical sense of black comedy in places. In truth, there is nothing quite like it.

My first introduction to a Hitman title was the original on PC. A seemingly obtuse game, I was expecting Metal Gear Solid-esque gameplay – peeking around corners or shuffling through helpfully-sized ventilation shafts. What I found was a game where every encounter is a problem to solve, and my young brain struggled to get past the first mission. With all of this in mind, I missed Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (widely regarded as developer IO Interactive’s magnum opus).

Last generation, I stumbled across Hitman: Blood Money. It was cheap, and to my delight the tutorial was much more useful than the original game’s. A varied array of missions (and ways to play each one) kept me coming back, combing through missions for new clues that would open up new gameplay avenues. Take the mission 'Curtains Down' as an example. Agent 47, our shiny headed protagonist, is tasked with eliminating a pair of human traffickers at an opera performance during dress rehearsals. One target is in a VIP gallery, surrounded by security. The other? Well, he's the starring actor.

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Wandering around the theatre, you’ll find plenty of people to disguise yourself as. Sneak into the rafters and you can snipe both targets, but you’ll bring notoriety that will follow you to your next mission. Get backstage and you can hide in your target’s closet like a bald Boogeyman. Each Hitman mission is a toybox – a chance to experiment, working your way to a target as stealthily as possible to earn that coveted 'Silent Assassin' rating. So how is it done?

Making your way up to the rafters of the theatre, you can set a remote explosive to an impressively large chandelier hanging above the audience. Switching outfits to someone backstage, you’re able to swap the prop gun used in the play for a real one, leading to one target being offed by his co-star. Then, as his companion runs to the stage to check on him, you can drop a chandelier onto his head.

Or you can just shoot everyone. It’s a strategy just as viable as any other, but the game’s now archaic controls and lack of a cover mechanic mean things are unlikely to work out as intended.

Blood Money is the series’ high watermark, and across its campaign you’ll push mobsters into gator-filled swamps, rig a barbecue to explode, and kill people dressed as a giant crow (no, really). It’s dark, but maintains a silliness that 2012’s Hitman: Absolution failed to capture. While there are sandboxes, several missions are more linear, focusing on less interesting aspects of 47’s repertoire – namely shooting.

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2016’s Hitman, released on the current generation of consoles, is excellent. A showcase for PlayStation 4 Pro, Hitman is full of the same experimentation that made Blood Money one of my all-time favourite titles. While its episodic release was baffling at the time, it allowed IO Interactive the time to create the biggest maps in the franchise and fill them with NPCs, clues, and secrets. A new 'Opportunity' system gives newcomers hints to lead them to a solution, but these have to be discovered organically. You might overhear a conversation about a target’s favourite drink, or where they’re likely to be found. It’s Hitman for a new generation, and these smart additions (and improved shooting mechanics) mean that it can be enjoyed by anyone with a passing interest in puzzle solving.

In summary, if you’re yet to put on Agent 47’s lovely suit and garrotte people in the shadows like a madman, I cannot recommend you do so enough. While each entry has added something to the franchise (some for better, some not so much), 2018’s Hitman 2 seems to be the purest realisation of IO’s vision yet – a beautiful world stuffed to the brim with sights to see, disguises to wear, and people to push off of balconies.

Are you a fan of the Hitman franchise? Are you eagerly anticipating its upcoming sequel? Plan out the perfect assassination in the comments section below.