To look at it, you’d be justified in thinking Hitman’s fifth episode seems a touch dull-looking. After the exotic locales of previous episodes, a farm compound in Colorado sounds about as enticing as a season ticket for Aston Villa. IO Interactive has a knack for making a very good murderbox though, and Agent 47’s latest effort to help some dodgy folk ‘buy the farm’ is a very good murderbox indeed.
47’s latest hit sees the stakes raised considerably, with four targets to eliminate and some fresh evidence of an elaborate season-arching plot to uncover. Adding to those tricky tasks is the fact that this is a very open map, with a more hostile population than any previous one has had. This is a militia compound, throwing several factions working together, but stationed in different parts of the compound. Safe to say, there aren’t any civilians at play here, so right from the get-go, 47 needs to infiltrate the farm as surreptitiously as possible before finding a suitable outfit from one of the many guards, soldiers, hackers, and the like patrolling the expansive farmland.
All the while, you rarely feel relaxed, as there are always eyes on anything or anyone you want to get to.This is the truest test of the skills you’ve accrued in previous episodes, because you need to be quick on the draw for every opportunity so you don’t miss your window, or end up seen lobbing a crowbar at a militia soldier’s bonce. Deception has been the focus over pure stealth so far this season, but here we have a map built almost purely for stealth. It’s thrilling, nerve-wracking, and occasionally bloody frustrating. After the relative comfort of the hotel in Bangkok, it’s great to see high stakes and tension come back into play. It may not be the glittering jewel of design that Sapienza is, but Colorado definitely distills Hitman’s mechanical qualities. That also includes some intriguing characters to bump off.
Among our targets are a sadist torturer wearing a 3D-printed mask of his own face (makes sense of the sadism at least), an perfectionist assassin in hiding, and a bomb-maker with anxiety issues. As with most of Agent 47’s targets, the character traits are important details. Not for depth of character or anything like that, in fact they are best served by the tidbits of information you’ll hear about them than anything you see of them, but rather for finding effective, deliciously malicious means of offing them. Therein lies the devious mischief IO is so fond of creating in their virtual murder machines.
As ever, it would spoil the discovery to go into too much detail about the kills, but the best ones deserve at least a teaser to show the variance in tactics. There’s the usual fare of course, like throwing an axe or screwdriver at someone’s noggin, drowning them in a toilet, and generally just shooting them in the face. The hits unique to this episode are deliciously dark-humored and the best range from messing with one target’s head, and taking advantage of another’s perfectionist streak with a bit of tampering.
So far, so Hitman right? Well, mechanically, yes it is, and great for it, but the story that ties these maps together finally rises up to meet the game it’s connected to and has a real influence on the level design. Up until now the story has been brief conspiratorial segments alluding to something larger and shadier without really doing enough explaining to validate it being a worthwhile part of the game. This time, far more is known about the grand conspiracy going into Colorado, partly thanks to the revelations at the end of 47’s sojourn in Bangkok. Your presence here is partly a result of those revelations. The agency sent you to perform the hits, but Diana, your ever-faithful handler, suggests you do a bit of unofficial research to uncover a greater truth behind this contract as well as the previous ones. It does raise the intrigue level some, and coupled with the four-way contract in a hostile space, it makes for a different vibe overall.
That might make it seem that this episode feels disjointed from the rest, but this is the way things had to escalate to some degree. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have been handled better earlier in terms of fleshing out the story a bit more before this point though. The level itself is a natural progression of the series, but that big jump in exposition feels a tad too sudden.
Hitman’s latest comes with the same bells and whistles that have accompanied the season to date with Contracts, Elusive Targets and Escalation missions boosting the package. At this stage Hitman is absolutely rammed with things to do for a very reasonable cost. Colorado may not be the standout episode of the season, but it bolsters the overall package as each previous episode has. Viewed as a single experience it’s fun and inventive but not all that striking when held up against the previous episodes. As part of the whole, it continues my ongoing belief that Hitman is on course to be among the best games of the year.