Square Enix’s closed beta for their upcoming next generation Hitman title went live over the weekend and I got the chance to play around with the game on PlayStation 4 over the last couple of nights. Fans are calling 2016’s version of Agent 47 a return to form combined with some worries that IO Interactive’s choice of episodic content for their latest game may leave them with little content to play between optional updates. If the closed beta is any indication than even the $15 intro pack will provide hours of shenanigans.
At its core, Hitman is an assassination simulator where players are rewarded for executing inventive kills with little room for error. Unlike other stealth titles, like say Metal Gear Solid, 47 isn’t able to down a ration to gain back his health. One bullet from an enemy is enough to send good old baldy to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The method of eliminating a target is just as important as the deposal of the evidence. If a player chooses to lace a target’s drink with rat poison be prepared to suit up as their personal waiter because often the key to a successful hit is being able to blend in with your surroundings and knowing who to impersonate.
Hitman’s closed beta featured two prologue missions set during Agent 47’s initiation into the ICA. The first training mission has 47 boarding a mock cruise-liner, creatively constructed out of planks of wood, in order to eliminate his target. The open-world nature of the game becomes readily apparent – sure Agent 47 could run headlong onto the cruiser but surely the party guests would I was out of my element within seconds. During my multiple trials at this mission I found two different ways to gain access to the boat: Pose as a member of the maintenance crew and slip in undetected through the engine bay or pretend I was a part of the security detail and walk right up through the entrance ramp.
After some trial and error I had a rough chain of individuals that I would direct 47 to knock out, pose as and blend to get to my target. This, is of course, easier said than done because it can mean either waiting for the mechanic or cook that I needed to become to enter a place on the map that wasn’t surrounded with NPCs or creating a distraction to lure them away from whatever activity they were currently doing. To make the stealth element of assassination even more prominent there are a number of NPCs marked on your HUD that can detect Agent 47 even through a disguise. Not only do potential contract killers need to plan out their disguises ahead of time but also need to be able to navigate through a sea of NPCs that is ever changing all without arousing suspicion.
Throughout my four hours with the Hitman Beta I completed maybe 10% of the feats & challenges on offer. Once you’ve successfully completed a mission once you unlock the option to replay the same mission but with a list of pre-defined ways to kill your target. One might have you cause a short in a projector – thus frying your target, another might have you modifying an ejection seat so that it appears your target died in apparent aircraft malfunction. The sheer variety of toys and methods of mayhem did provide a level of replayability I wasn’t expecting from what is essentially just the opening tutorial to an episodic game that hasn’t been released. I also had the games’ music completely disappear on me once and the entire application lock up my PlayStation 4 in another instance – clearly this was not final code that IO Interactive invited players to try. Hopefully, they’ll get some of these kinks ironed out before Agent 47 makes his first trip to Paris in the debut of Hitman on March 11th.