Sunday, April 3, 2016

Screenshot of the Week #78: An iconic hit!

                I’ve always been drawn to games with slow paced realistic and meticulously detailed gameplay and Hitman series has always been about that.
                Hitman is a testimony of technological evolution and how this evolution positively affects gameplay. Those who have played the entire series surely know what I’m talking about. There is quite a gap between the exploitable and glitchy first games (still good games!) to the masterpiece that was Blood Money. That gap was mostly created through Glacier engine which had the power to create, at that time, one of the most immersive and well designed games. A combination of good graphics, fluid animations, a capable AI, great level design and gameplay innovations gave us to one of the greatest stealth video games of multiple generations. But the series took a detour in 2012 with Hitman: Absolution. Absolution tried to make the game accessible by conveying storytelling with arcade game mechanics, both elements that aren’t well suited for the series.
                Four years after what I thought it was the end of the series comes a reboot that has an older soul in a newer skin. Hitman has returned to his roots, caring less about the storytelling and with a bigger focus on the gameplay. Episode 1 (yes, it’s episodic now!) comes with the prologue missions which serve as a tutorial and an actual mission in Paris.
                Right off the bat I could easily spot the intricate level design that made this series so great. Multiple and intertwined paths are everywhere you look, offering the much needed choices to get closely to your target unnoticed. The contracts from Absolution are back to take advantage of the great level and combined with the challenges add a great deal of replay value for every single mission available. You can get hours of entertaining gamplay out of a single level, never having to see an assassination going the same way as the last. This bodes well with the episodic release as one has the time to completely see what a level  has to offer before moving up to the next one. But level design wasn’t really a problem in Absolution either.
                The big change comes in the overall gameplay which isn’t much affected by the consolization that got its predecessor. The game is slow paced but smooth, with Agent 47 equipped with all the tricks in the hitman playbook. As a (bald) master of disguise, Agent 47 can pass unnoticed getting closer and closer to his target with each new change of outfit. When having to deal with those that aren’t so easily tricked by appearances, he is always faced with choices. Sneaking past them could work either by running from cover to cover or finding a way to cause a distraction, but there is always the more aggressive approach of silencing those that stand in the way, temporarily or permanently. With an entire arsenal at his discretion and environmental objects that can be turned into weapons, Agent 47 is never out of options. This attention to gameplay mechanics is what made the series great and it’s what’s going to bring it back to its glory.
                I said above that Hitman is a testimony of technological evolution and I’m glad to say that this statement stays true even after all these years. The new game looks amazing and runs much smoother than I expected (with a few exceptions). With the graphics and the animations at some of the highest levels, what this game needed to come to life was a competent AI and this is where things get tricky.
The AI behavior is great from the NPCs spoken reactions to the player’s actions to their own actions against them, the NPCs are truly living into the game’s world. But as it happened with games before (The Phantom Pain), a complex behavior doesn’t translate into difficulty and such is the case with Hitman. There are moments where the AI fails lamentably by not transitioning to a more aggressive stance towards the player. Patches have fixed some of the problems, but Hitman is a game where the weakness of the AI is so easy to spot and exploit. Sadly, in the latest years the developers haven’t really invested much in perfecting this technology.
                Hitman Episode 1 release hasn’t been received so well. Part of this comes from players being angry about the game being released episodically. The technical problems that plagued the release didn’t help the game image either. Much has been fixed but there are still annoying little things that shouldn’t be seen in an AAA game that took so much time to get done. Still, this is a new beginning, and a much better one than I thought it will be. I’ll have to wait and see what Io-Interactive holds in the sleeves with the future episodes, but after playing a part of this episode I want to be positive about the future.
Agent 47 is a bully !

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