Through 16 years, nine video games and a couple of movie adaptations, the cloned assassin Agent 47 has explored his origins, killed his makers and rebelled against his handlers while imaginatively eliminating scores and scores and scores and scores of bad guys. Now he’s back in an episodically released game in which he embarks on yet another set of figure-out-how-to-fulfill-your-mission challenges.
The initial episode of the Hitman reboot (released in March 2016) focuses on the first contact between the titular bald, barcoded killer and his soon-to-be new employers in the International Contract Agency. Timeline wise, this is, oh, a decade or two before the events of past Hitman games. So we see how 47 makes contact with fellow trainee Diana Burnwood (who will later become his ICA handler), works his way through the agency’s rigged and nearly impossible skill tests, and begins his new sneak-and-kill career.
Quite frankly, though, a rollicking storyline isn’t really what the Hitman franchise is concerned with. These games are more about stealth, wide-open sandbox freedoms and experimentation in the context of assigned missions. In this latest case, the first episode plops players down in three different scenarios: the first two are “training” hits on human targets publically positioned in a packed-to-the brim yacht party and a well-guarded Cuban air base. The third is 47’s first official job, pinpointing two fashion designer/spy ring leaders who are basking in the spotlight of their mansion-based fashion show.
How you do 47’s “job” is totally up to you. Even more so than in past games, the digital world you walk around in here is rife with scores of different paths leading toward, and tools utilized for, your murderous objective.
47 can knock out a guard, hide the body behind a potted shrub, and then use the guy’s suit and sunglasses to get into restricted areas. He can employ a found crowbar at the right stress point, set up explosive traps or position poison drinks. He can slip in and out of cover, deliver a silenced bullet, or drop a crushing set piece. During the Paris jaunt you can even find a way to take out both of the dangerous spies by shoving one off a balcony to strategically strike the other down below. It’s all a matter of watching, waiting, finding patterns and testing the environment around you.
(Of sideways note is that this new Hitman lets gamers get in on the design side of things. After playing through a scenario a handful of times, you can choose one of the locations and set up a brand new challenge for online fellows with new objectives and whatever limitations you might want to set.)
There are a number of foul verbal interactions about sex acts and drug use that tend to splatter about in this game. 47 isn’t much for conversations that go beyond a few words. Others, however, clearly aren’t averse to throwing around f-bombs or s-words.
But, of course, the bald elephant in the game room is the fact that this is an experience in which your greatest “joy” comes from successfully … figuring … out … how … to … kill … people. The game establishes these consigned hits as being on very bad individuals. But let’s face it, 47’s no saint. And your mom always told you that one nasty act doesn’t justify another. Hitman works hard to ignore that nugget of wisdom.
Assignments are always deadly and often bloody. You can strangle someone or watch as a person thrashes and gags while you drown him or her in a toilet bowl. You can drive an ax into a noggin. Burn a body to a crisp. Splatter guts on walls with bullets …
Let’s just say that there are hundreds of ways to kill in this ugly business. And 47’s open world allows him to kill anyone, anywhere. The game rewards you for not causing a ton of public collateral damage, but it sure doesn’t stop you from it either. If you so desire, you can show up at a French Manor full of people and just systematically empty your deadly weapons into as many innocents as you can see, leaving behind a steaming stew of blood and gore.
Maybe that feels just a little bit too much like real-world killer-training to you? Yeah. Me too.
And it makes it worse that 47 is just so OK-cool about all the life-leeching lessons he’s teaching. And there’s a certain irony to the fact that this first episode (yes, only the first of many!) spends so much time in a fashion show setting. Somehow our culture has blended dirty deeds done cheap and impeccable fashion into an appealing Bond-ish martini in our shaken-too-hard brains. Ol’ 47 carries that sleek, well-dressed handsome allure into every kill. And that might well be his worst attack—his biggest psychological impact—on the guy with the controller in his hand.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.