Today, let’s talk about killing high profile targets for money…uh, in games and such, of course. I’ve posted about this before but it seems like a good time to revisit this topic, as I’ve been playing the newest Hitman and John Wick 2 is coming out soon.
I went over why Keanu Reeve’s Headshot Adventure is a good film last time and the new one looks like more of the same (yay!), but never really delved into the videogame side of things. Actually, I was convinced I’d done a follow-up post on why I like the video game series “Hitman”, but apparently I just alluded to it.
Hitman stars Agent 47, an assassin for hire with the improbable ability of blending into any environment despite being a 6ft tall bald man with an obvious barcode tattoo. Actually, this is just one of his many improbably abilities, possibly thanks to his absurd backstory involving cloning and crimelords. For this reason, the best games in the series are the ones where any overarching plot is firmly in the background and for 99% of the game you’re just focusing on how to get your current target.
The meat of the game is 47 arrives at some exotic locale and is given a brief biography of the target(s) and why they have been marked for death, any useful intel the assassin agency knows and then you, the player, are set loose. Past locations have included a Triad mansion in Hong Kong, an English Manor House, a Colombian jungle drug lab, a Budapest hotel, a castle in Japan and even the White House. The main fun of the game is figuring out how each level works, until you’ve mastered it enough to do whatever you want.
I’m going to take the Curtains Down mission from Blood Money as my example: Set within the Paris Opera House during a dress rehearsal, 47 is tasked with eliminating a world famous opera singer and his partner in crime, a US Ambassador watching the performance.
Everyone’s first attempt at a level usually ends in bumbling failure. You’ll try to go somewhere you shouldn’t, alert some guards and get shot down after a brief firefight. But then you start learning the level and making the magic happen. You’ll work out that there’s a gap in patrols that allow you to slip out of the public area without being seen, then backstage you’ll find an isolated security guard next to a convenient place to hide a body. One quick murder later and you have a disguise that lets you walk right into the singer’s dressing room and shoot him in the head. Of course, that gets heard and the body found right quick, but you’ve already scarpered up to light rigs where there’s a clear shot at the Ambassador’s box. That’s all a bit public, so you’ll have to fight through the guards on your way out, but targets down!
But still…the game didn’t give a good rating for that. A great hitman such as 47 doesn’t kill non-targets and especially doesn’t get seen doing it. And you did notice a few things while sneaking around…
Next time, you use your knowledge to get up on a far balcony with a sniper rifle. Sniping the singer on stage during the execution scene is easy enough and you’re quick enough to get the ambassador before his guards can hustle him out. Dropping the rifle and running for it gets you out the exit before the guards can converge on your position.
Still, you were seen and left behind some evidence, which dings your rating again. And what if…
So you try it again. This time, you bring some sedatives and a remote mine with you, and pick up the agency drop at the start. See, in the dressing room you noticed that the singer leaves the prop gun lying around between rehearsals, and the agency drop is a real gun of the exact same type. You also know by now that the Ambassador will rush to the singer on his friend’s death and that takes him underneath a chandelier…
Sneakily subduing the security guard for the uniform again, you switch the prop gun for the real one and plant the remote bomb on the light rig before heading back to the public balconies, changing back into your suit on the way. The singer is shot by a fellow actor in a tragic accident. In a separate, detonator-aided tragedy, a chandelier happens to fall on the ambassador as he runs to the stage. You leave, no-one on the level knowing an assassin was even there. A perfect Silent Assassin rating is yours.
And you get to do this for every level in the game. I absolutely love how deep down this is more of a puzzle game than a shooter. Figuring out the perfect route to cause a series of unfortunate events is one of the best experiences in gaming, in my opinion. The level I described is from Blood Money, which is still good but is 10 years old at this point. Luckily, the new Hitman game has doubled down on making sure the hits are challenges that are just so fun to figure out.
For a start, the levels are much bigger. If I tried to do a walkthrough of all the accident opportunities in Hitman 2016’s Paris level, we’d be here all week. You can also choose how much you want the game to tell you, from step by step instructions to no hints whatsoever, which is a very nice touch to make sure new people to the series don’t get overwhelmed while letting veterans have at it 2006 style. There’s also a user-created contracts where you create the contract by assassinating anyone on the map using any method you want, and then others can try to replicate and improve on your method. Some of those get quite devious.
I highly recommend Hitman 2016. The gameplay is great- the disguise system is much improved from Blood Money- and the levels are amazing and well-designed to facilitate all sorts of assassiny shenanigans. That the game insists on a constant internet connection is a trifle irksome and there are only 6 fullsize levels so far, but those issues are worth overlooking.
Oh, I haven’t even mentioned that game is actually quite a funny one. The developers realised that any attempt to be dark and serious is probably going to be ruined by some weird AI quirks (eg a man’s wife is blown up in front of him, standing over the body he says “Gosh, I hope this is just a hobo!”), so there’s a ton of sometimes quite subtle humour in the game. The tone has been exactly right so far, but if you do want to veer into the absurd, each level includes at least one incredibly silly costume, so if you want to stab people while dressed as a ninja, scarecrow or VAMPIRE MAGICIAN, this is the game for you!
Side note: I haven’t mentioned Hitman: Absolution (the game between Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman 2016: No Subtitle) because I heard it’s terrible and so never bought it.