Hotels are such strange beasts. I once worked as a night porter for one, and it’s basically a holiday home for weary businessmen, coach loads of pensioners, and lager-fuelled stag parties. Sometimes all three groups were around at the same time, often resulting in a horrific juggling act of placating people who went to bed at 9pm when the stag party turns up off their face at 3am, chanting homophobic football songs and daring each other to bare their genitals at less enthusiastic hotel guests. Utter chaos. By comparison, Hitman’s latest episode is a breeze.
Hitman’s fourth ‘proper’ episode (after the pretty good remix episode) is set in a sprawling hotel in Thailand you see, and sees a return to the more enclosed style of the first episode. It’s an undeniably lavish and pretty locale, with luxurious-looking, winding hallways and extravagantly-designed spacious rooms; this is quite obviously a place for those who are financially comfortable. Your targets for this job indeed fit that description, but they don’t appear to be Agent 47’s usual sort of contract on the surface.
Having spent previous episodes of the main story offing embezzlers, despotic generals, and virus-making scientists for the greater good of humanity’s future, the Bangkok mission consists of a revenge plot on a swaggering rock star and his snivelling associate. There appears to be little in the way of a moral upside to this pair of hits, there’s no threat to a nation, nor any concrete evidence the targets have actually done anything wrong. It highlights just how dirty and shady 47’s job is. For all the glamour of the location, there’s none in the job at hand.
Once again, IO Interactive has done a fine job of creating a living ecosystem in which to perform your task, the hotel guests and staff all potter about, doing what you’d expect of them. You get to check in, get shown to your room and ordering room service is even possible. These systems are, as ever, perfectly accommodating to your disguising whims. Want to lure a target to a secluded area? Why not assume the role of bellboy and lead them to their room? Want to eliminate the rock star in a most fitting manner? Choke out a member of his crew and get to the recording studio. There’re lots of suitably grim opportunities to see off your targets, from the darkly-hilarious to the uncomfortably cold-blooded. It was always unlikely that IO would stumble on this side of the game, but it’s still pleasing to see them keep up the variety four episodes in.
There are sadly some problems with the Bangkok episode, some old, some new, that make this the weakest entry to date, even if it is still rather good. The bar set so far means anything not quite up to Sapienza’s’ standards is going to be a tad disappointing, which is mad really when Hitman is so very good as an overall game so far, but there you are.
So what’s up with Bangkok? Well the setting is one issue. Sure it looks lavish and is filled with ghoulish opportunity, but the hotel is nowhere close to being as memorable as previous locations. I wouldn’t say it was dull, just not detailed in the same ways that the best episodes have been.
The voice work continues to be a hindrance to immersion too. Like with Marrakesh, hearing accents completely out of whack with the setting shows up the budgetary limitations to some degree, but at this stage, the odd bad accent might just be more tolerable than throwing in the same collection of Americans and English warbling away in somewhere as distinctly foreign as these places. It’s the biggest detraction from the game’s overall greatness.
Still, a ‘weak’ Hitman episode is still filled to the gills with experimentation and grimly fun times for all. The reason this episodic setup works so well for Hitman is down to having such depth behind a simple mission. Sure, you could run up to both targets and messily destroy them as you panic-run toward an exit, ending the game after minutes, but there’s no art in that. Truly Hitman’s greatest strength lies in its level exploration, where each corner you turn could present you with hints of a new way to kill people.
There’s clear signs at this point that IO Interactive has made the best compromise between Absolution’s accessibility and Blood Money’s morbid, complex brilliance with 2016’s Hitman. Even when you can criticise the quality of the main missions and the confused, paper-thin story (which, in fairness, does get more coherent here), Hitman provides playgrounds for murderous experiments like no other, there’s so many layers to each hit, so many ways to complete the job. The Elusive Targets are getting to be quite brilliant at this point, a compelling challenge for those rinsed out on the rest of the game. To cap it off, the player-made hits are evolving into some genuinely great creations and the Escalation contracts is the cherry on top. What Hitman lacks in actual gameplay variety, it more than makes up for in nuances for what is there; the well is deeper than it is wide.
As much as the episodic model does work well for Hitman, the talk about the game’s quality won’t truly escalate until the full package is delivered. The fear is still there that some spectacular failure will occur to derail the goodwill and relegate it to the large pile of ‘what could have been’ instead of being touted for Game of the Year. It’s still very much on the latter path, but the slight dip in form for this latest episode won’t help keep those niggling fears at bay.