I've been slowly digging into the new Hitman game over the last few months, peeling away at its numerous layers, seeing what kind of mischief I can get into. I've written about my experience with the brilliance of Hitman's makeshift tutorial, the way Hitman fully embraces its video game-ness to provide the best of the series' strengths - huge, clockwork environments with dozens of ways to get in and mess things up - without any of the chaff to weigh it down. And after getting a few hours of free time last weekend, I finally sat down to complete the Showstopper mission in Paris.
Took me about an hour, but I did it - snuck in as the suspiciously identical supermodel, did a little turn on the catwalk, garotted Dalia in her office, changed into a kitchen staff outfit, poisoned Novikov's drink, left out the cellar. Easy. Well, easier, thanks to the opportunity markers that popped up to guide me along the way - I still had to execute my plan. But it was done. I popped out of the mission, and took a look at all the other challenges available in the level. There are a ton of them, all presenting different methods of entry, different environmental hazards to use to take out my targets. One mentioned a fireworks display, another wanted me to gain access through a secret auction, but I froze when my cursor came across one challenge in particular:
Wait. Hold on. There's a vampire magician? I didn't even find the auction, despite knowing it was going on somewhere in the mansion. There's a vampire magician???
Thus began my quest to find and become the vampire magician.
I begin making my way through the first floor of the mansion, methodically clearing each room and keeping a mental note of where I've been. Just a kitchen, the catwalk, backstage, and bar area. No vampire magician in sight.
I climb the stairs to the second floor, trying to find a clear path to the third. I, uh, get a little overzealous.
Don't worry about it.
At least one of the guards at each set of stairs has a little dot over his head, signifying that if I linger around for too long, they'll see through my disguise. I'm wracking my brain to find a way up that doesn't involve starting the whole damn mission over again.
Here we go! Out the window and up a precarious pipe. Climb up, dust off my tie, and step into the third floor. The auction's going on here, but still, no vampire magician. I continue poking my nose into every room I can find, eventually finding an attic.
I sneak through, avoiding the guards (many of them up here are particularly good at sniffing out disguises). Climbing over covered knick-knacks and antiques, I push forward to the back of the attic and into an abandoned room.
It is! So there was no vampire magician wandering around, but rather a hidden disguise, waiting for astute hitmen to seek it out and put it on. Let's see how this looks on ol' Agent 47.
Nice. I look like an off-brand Phantom of the Opera. But then I bring up the pause menu to take a look at the different challenges unique to this costume. Kill a target with a chandelier. Kill a target by electrocuting them. Escape blame by becoming the vampire magician.
Holy crap. I am an off-brand Phantom of the Opera. Not only that, the costume is incredibly conspicuous, and if I end up anywhere near where I'm supposed to be if I want to take out my targets, I'm going to get spotted almost instantly. So I need to change up my tactics completely, sticking to catwalks, ledges, and other out-of-the-way paths if I want to complete these challenges without getting caught. I ended up having to call it quits before taking out either Dalia or Novikov, and I'll likely have to restart so I can get a better mental layout of the map before I don my Anne Rice novel reject costume again.
This is what I'm talking about when I say that Hitman is embracing the fact that it's a video game. Prior entries in the series have been filled with tons of interesting, Rube Goldbergian ways to take out your targets, but they've always taken themselves way too seriously. 2016's Hitman, however, gives Agent 47 a chance to let his hair down (if he had hair, anyway), and just have some fun messing around and getting into trouble without having to worry about any sort of narrative pretense. It's honestly refreshing.
The best part about it? These challenges weren't even there when the level first released back in early March. The costume was there, but it didn't do anything other than make Agent 47 look like he's getting ready to infiltrate a Vampire: The Masquerade LARPing session. The challenges were added in early April, along with a handful of bug fixes and tweaks, giving players who'd already finished the stage a reason to dive back in and give it another shot.
It's all part of Square Enix's plan to treat this Hitman as a live product to be updated over the course of a year, rather than as a single one-and-done release. I was initially a skeptic of Hitman's attempt to go episodic, but stuff like the vampire magician continues to prove that this release structure is a way better fit than anyone could have expected. Individual stages are proving to be incredibly dense and filled with enough opportunity to experiment that they can withstand two months of close scrutiny, and while we're waiting on new content, the developers can play with the toys and scenarios they've already concocted to keep us occupied while we wait.
Now, as I'm starting to play through the Sapienza mission, my mind is brimming with the kinds of additional challenges to come in a future update. Will I need to find a waiter outfit and hang out in a coffee shop to complete a series of challenges? (maybe they'll be called the Barista Murders - oh my God, I want that) All I know is that the potential for mischief is high, and I can't wait to see what other goofy stuff Io Interactive will bring in future updates.
So thank you, Mr. Vampire Magician. You've transformed Hitman from merely being excellent into one of my favorite games of 2016.