Hitman, with just under half the episodes released, has become an obsession for me. Ever since the beta showed me the potential for mischief, I’ve played each level with growing respect and admiration for the sheer volume of world detail and the downright dirty deeds you can perform. Multiple playthroughs unearthing fresh secrets, entire areas discovered long after I’d thought i had seen it all, and the extras such as Escalation and Elusive Targets that add fresh joy to already heavily-ploughed furrows. Hitman is the gift that keeps on giving, and this episodic model really does work perfectly for the game. The real question, and test, for this third episode is how close can it come to the marvel that was Sapienza? Well, it doesn’t quite match that previous entry, but we still have an incredibly strong addition to the Hitman package with a trip to Marrakesh.
Agent 47 finds himself moving up in the world with the third episode, entitled The Gilded Cage. Not in the sense of money and lavish surroundings. No, after the sunny, rich man’s seaside town of Sapienza, with its extravagant and expensive mansion centrepiece, the Marrakesh setting of this episode is a bustling, gritty political powder keg, and only you can snuff out the fuse before it threatens to consume the Moroccan city in explosive violence. After dealing with the figureheads of swanky parties and sun-kissed retreats, Marrakesh sees you take on much bigger fish in a sea of unrest. There was an air of serenity in the locales up to now, but here, you can feel the tension bubbling in the streets, especially as you get closer to where one of your targets resides, in the embassy building where protesters mass outside, all loud, angry shouting and smoke, with a constant threat of violence, like Millwall away at West Ham.
This first target (or second depending on how you play it) has embezzled a horrifically large sum of money in the name of the country, and understandably, the Moroccan people want him dead even more than you do. Meanwhile, the other target is a dastardly military type who welcomes a riot so he can overthrow the government, and facilitates his goal by printing propaganda from his school-based H.Q. that’s not short of a few fully-armed soldiers. The same soldiers also patrol the streets of Marrakesh, playing into that sense of violent escalation just being a hairsbreadth away.
This air of volatile tension is just perfect for your murderous skills to go unnoticed, and yet for all the distractions there are from who you are, finding safe, quiet spots to do your misdeeds are incredibly hard to find. More so than in previous episodes, you really have to take time to study enemy patterns and ensure you do things within small time windows if you wish to remain somewhat inconspicuous. It’s a subtle escalation of everything you’ve learned so far. The game knows you know many of its tricks and traits by now, so things you’re comfortable with get turned into pressure situations that can turn a smooth mission into Agent 47 lying on the floor, twitching in a puddle of his own life juices with seconds. Luckily, the bustling crowds and a variety of nooks and crannies dotted around the map mean that any suspicious folk can be evaded rather swiftly.
Even more so than in previous episodes, observation has become imperative to your success. Not only with your targets and figures of authority that may spot you, but the environment itself. The difference between that previously mentioned undignified death and cooly leaving a suspicious soldier for dust is an Agent 47 who has registered his exit points ahead of time.The game has been driving that point home to you up until now by giving you smaller, more manageable examples of this dynamic, and now you really have to put that, and all the other skills you’ve acquired, to good use.
The overall feel of Marrakesh sits somewhere between Paris’ more claustrophobic interiors and Sapienza’s sheer scale and detail. The labyrinthine streets of the Moroccan city give off a very stifled feel that transitions into the larger, more open areas by virtue of having masses of people in them. This too feeds into that background aggressive edge to the atmosphere, making you feel like you’re never far from being trapped by it. The level design is admirable, providing yet another gleeful sandbox for mayhem and murder. It’s a shame then that it’s being let down really badly by the consistently strange accent choices for NPCs. It steals away some of that sense of place that benefitted Paris and Sapienza so much when the voices coming out of their mouths are so galling so often.
That’s about as terrible as it gets however, because Marrakech is still very much a smorgasbord of darkly comedic death. With the previous experience you’ve picked up, you now begin to see wicked opportunity wherever you roam, from faulty plug sockets to ’fix’, angry crowds to incite, humorous roles to be played and machinery to use in grimly inappropriate ways. There’s already swathes of user created and IO-created scenarios dreamed up from previous episodes, and I can’t see Marrakesh failing in that regard either. You almost wish you could hurry the main mission along a bit so you can get down to experimenting with this newest playset, which makes it sound like the main mission isn’t interesting, but that’s far from the case. Rather, it’s a testament to the excitement a fresh map brings to this series that it almost blinds you to what you should be doing first. That’s the hook Hitman has hung each episode on so far; the promise of murderous experimentation is massively tantalizing and so very, very rewarding.
While Marrakesh doesn’t reach the heady heights of Sapienza, which is now easily among my absolute favourite Hitman levels, it does keep up the pretty consistent form of this episodic series. Each time I fear a total misstep, it has not appeared. It still could of course, and eventually, something’s surely going to be a little underwhelming, if not disastrous, but the current trio of levels we have with Paris, Sapienza and Marrakesh make it difficult to see how things can go that badly wrong. Hitman now pretty much hits three for three.