Hitman feels at its best when you don’t have things under control, when you’ve messed up and been spotted launching a fire axe into a guy’s skull. A large group of guards are chasing you, Instinct (your Hitman-vision that unveils character locations and highlights items) shows nothing but ominous white dots and gold outlines. Then somehow you sprint from a heil of gunfire, you shimmy down a drainpipe, and find a character with a new outfit alone and exposed. You take their outfit, become a waiter or a guard, and now you have a new lease of life. The guards will moronically walk past you, nothing to see here officer just a regular waiter who looks exactly like the guy you were just chasing, and you will laugh and laugh.
It is the artificiality of the guards that makes Hitman so joyful. It is not a hyper-realistic simulator, but a puzzle game consisting of various pieces that can only act in a pre-determined manner. This manner is complex and may occasionally act unexpectedly, but it is observable and one can predict what will happen with relative certainty. The moronic guards do not act like people, but they are given dialogue that has a warmth and humour that stops them from being entirely seen as the game pieces which they are.
Visually the game world and characters are presented with a brilliant clarity, mixing visual splendour and realistic details. The bins in the Paris level even have the Mairie de Paris logo you find on bins in the actual streets of Paris, and the buildings you can see beyond the level are definitively Parisian. It creates a great sense of place, anchoring you in Paris. You are not merely exploring a mansion, but a mansion in Paris. However, there is one way that this sense of place breaks down. In every map, no matter the locale, all the non-playable characters speak English, and do so in the same few American accents. This is particularly disappointing as in Blood Money, for example, in the level set in a French opera house the characters speak French. It is an unfortunate regression and one which is possibly attributable to the tight deadlines that the episodic model requires. Ultimately, it is only an issue due to the immensely high-standards the game sets itself.
One more story. Your target is descending a staircase in an opulent Paris mansion. He is about to show himself to his adoring crowd, to greet their applause with smug satisfaction. A bald technician stands by a control mechanism linked to a chandelier. As the beaming Russian descends he briefly pauses beneath the chandelier. It falls. He is crushed. Party over, a tragic accident. The bald man who was standing by the mechanism and is now making a hasty retreat could not have had anything to do with it, oh no.
Hitman has such a depth and variety of content that I will be playing it for the foreseeable future and I anxiously await where Agent 47’s future will take him.