Review: HITMAN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2017)

Enter a world of assassination.

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HITMAN is an episodic stealth video game developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the sixth entry in the Hitman series. The game’s prologue acts as a prequel to Hitman: Codename 47, while the main game takes place six years after the events of Hitman: Absolution. The player takes control of the enigmatic Agent 47 over six episodes as he and his handler try to uncover and take down a mysterious enemy.

Is It Worth?

This is a return to form from IO Interactive. If you, like me, were disappointed with Hitman: Absolution, you should definitely try this.

A little about the Gameplay

Like many, I was surprised when IO Interactive announced that the next Hitman game would be episodic. How would that even work? I thought. Are they trying to be Telltale? Just make it better than Absolution and that’s enough, goddamit. Fortunately, all my worries where put to rest just one episode in.

HITMAN follows the same gameplay mechanics of the previous entries in the franchise, while adding new and polishing the ones it reuses. You are given a target you have to assassinate. Unless the mission specifically requires it, you are free to choose your modus operandi. Like Hitman: Blood Money, every level/mission is a sandbox-type environment, free to be explored by the player. Unlike, Hitman: Blood Money, however, the levels are huge. Much larger than any previous Hitman game, as far as I can recall.

Building off the mechanics introduced in the previous games, HITMAN features the Instinct Mode, where player can see items and NPCs of their interest highlighted. Unlike Hitman: Absolution, it is no longer an expendable resource.

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Targets are highlighted in red; items of interest in yellow.

Contracts Mode from Hitman: Absolution also marks a return. In Contracts Mode, players can create playable contracts, mark their own targets, choose how to kill them and then share the Contract with their friends.

Similar to previous Hitman games, a five-star ratings system is used to evaluate the player’s performance at the end of each mission. The ratings are influenced by factors such as time taken, number of non-targets killed, whether the player was spotted, whether or not they have been recorded on camera or if any bodies were found.

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You’ll have to really work for that Silent Assassin rating.

IO Interactive make the best out of the episodic format, and introduce a “live component” to the game. New content is added to the game almost every month, chief among which is the ‘Elusive Target’. These are time-limited mission and if a player fails to assassinate an elusive target before the mission expires, or alert the target and allow them to escape, the target will not return. In addition to this, there are also ‘Escalation Contacts’ where the player has to complete a series of assassinations, each building off the previous, both in terms of difficulty and objectives.

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Each level of an Escalation Contact increases the difficulty and limits the objectives.

The Good

1: The chief quality of HITMAN, for me at least, is how it stays true to the core features of the franchise. It improves and reuses the game mechanics that made Hitman so unique, but at the same time it introduces new additions to the gameplay. Everything works in sync perfectly, creating one of the better additions to the Hitman franchise.

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2: IO Interactive took a bold risk by choosing to make HITMAN episodic. While plot has never been Hitman’s strong suit, you can clearly see how going episodic helped the game in general. Each level, now taken in small episodic dosage adds drama and depth to the story, making the entire journey a thrilling ride.

3: Every level feels fresh and unique. From the confined halls of a fashion show in Paris to the bustling marketplace of Marrakesh, every location has its own vibe — and challenges.

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And boy oh boy is this game gorgeous.

4: Although the main story is just six episodes long, which effectively translates to just six missions, the game itself is loaded with content. Every location has its own contracts, with the player free to choose whether they want to complete them all before heading to the next location or not. Apart from this, the player can test their mettle with ‘Escalation Contracts’. And then of course, there are the monthly updates from IO Interactive and the ‘Elusive Targets’.

The Bad

1: HITMAN introduces a new gameplay mechanics called ‘Opportunities’. Every mission has its own tailored murder methods, based on overheard conversations or information discovered during gameplay. If a player stumbles upon an opportunity, simply following the game’s instructions can help the player get away with a clean assassination. This, in my opinion, leads to a tad too much hand holding. I see the point — this helps newcomers into the world of Hitman and sells them the fantasy of it — but for old fans like me that can be a bit too overbearing. I’d rather retry the mission several times and get that ‘Silent Assassin’ rating on my own than the UI assisting me.

Fortunately, the game allows you to tweak its UI. You can therefore control how much opportunities should the game offer you.

2: Although the game does not have a multiplayer mode, it features leaderboards etc., which needs a constant, stable Internet connection. The game saves automatically at various points in the game, so in case you lose connection during the process, the game pauses until it is able to connect to the servers again. That can be annoying.

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Offline functionality is implemented awkwardly, too. You obviously cannot use the Contracts mode or participate in ‘Elusive Targets’ offline, but you also cannot use your unlocked items for offline missions.

3: Perhaps it’s the episodic structure of the game that led the studio reuse voice actors, but I found the sound department in this game all over the place. A mission in Japan, featuring Japanese characters, would have people speaking with English accents. Although it feels like a minor issue, it does take away some authenticity that the world of HITMAN tries to build.

Conclusion

While not perfect, HITMAN is a vast improvement over the underwhelming Hitman: Absolution and a return to form for the series.

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Review: VANQUISH (2017)

War has accelerated.

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Vanquish is a third-person shooter developed by PlatinumGames and published by Sega. Originally released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2010, the game was ported to Microsoft Windows this year. The player controls Sam Gideon, a DARPA agent in a battle suit, sent out to fight Russian robo armies in a space colony.

Is It Worth?

I bought this purely out of curiosity, because PlatinumGames’ last PC port (Bayonetta) was fantastic and also because this was described to me as “Gears of War meets Max Payne”. This turned out to be that, and more.

A little about the Gameplay

Like I said, the player controls Sam Gideon, a DARPA agent in an Augmented Reality Suit. After Russia destroys San Francisco, he is sent down on the space colony Providence to fight an endless army of Russian robots. And yeah, that’s pretty much it to Vanquish’s storyline.

At its core, Vanquish is a cover based third person shooter. The player carries three weapons and two kinds of grenades, thanks to the BLADE weapons system integrated in Sam’s battle suit. If you take too much damage, the suit triggers the AR mode, where time temporarily slows down à la Max Payne’s Bullet Time. The player can also trigger the AR mode manually, offering ample opportunities to take clean headshots. Additionally, you can also use the thrusters in Sam’s suit to power slide across the room, taking down enemies or simply running away from the boss. But, using power slides and the AR mode depletes the suit’s power meter. Using these excessively overheats your suit, putting you at a disadvantage.

Weapons and upgrades are scattered throughout the levels. Weapons range from the typical assault rifles and shotguns to LFE guns and disk launchers, whatever that is. Upgrades build on to everything from increasing firepower to increasing ammo capacity.

At the end of every mission of each of the five acts, the player is provided with a detailed scorecard, depending on how well they performed.

The Good

1: Vanquish adds a lot more to the seemingly saturated gameplay mechanics of cover based shooters. It adds a lot more action to it, not just in terms of guns being fired or massive explosions, but in terms that rather than limiting the player to one section of the arena, Vanquish opens it all up. You can jump out of your cover, power slide across the room, gun down some enemies, and provided you still have the power left in the suit, power slide all the way back. The game offers you the freedom to do this and more.

2: I hadn’t noticed this for the first few missions at least, but Vanquish penalizes you for staying in cover for long. Your end-of-the-mission score is affected. This pushes you to take on challenges.

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3: Vanquish taught me to how to play shooters with a controller. I’ve been a mouse-and-keyboard guy all my life, but since Vanquish was a console port to PC, I thought I’ll see if I can adapt. You can play it with a mouse and keyboard combination and it works perfectly, but even with a controller, the game is a breeze. This is another perfect port.

The Bad

1: What Vanquish offers in plenty in innovative gameplay etc., it lacks in story or character development. Sam Gideon is the generic video game protagonist in a suit, Robert Burns is the tough as nails Lieutenant-Colonel, Elena Ivanova is the sort-of-but-not-really Cortana. Everything feels so clichéd, and unlike Bayonetta, which had a strange sense of self awareness, Vanquish presents these with such straight face, it falls flat.

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Conclusion

A fantastic port and a great gameplay mechanisms offer what a lack of story and character development could not. Although it’s short, Vanquish remains an immersive cover based shooter.

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Review: BAYONETTA (2017)

Being bad never felt so good.

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Bayonetta is a third-person action game developed by PlatinumGames and published by Sega. Originally released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2009, the game was ported to Microsoft Windows this year. The player assumes the role of the titular character, a powerful witch who can shape-shift, perform magical attacks, and can summon demons from her hair.

(Yes, you read that last one correct.)

Is It Worth?

One of the best hack-and-slash games ever has finally arrived on PC. Why wouldn’t you want to give this a try?

A little about the Gameplay

I’m not even going to try to describe the plot here because, well, it’s pointless. You play as a sexy witch who has got guns attached to her shoes and can summon demons out of her hair. Oh, and her hair is also her costume. So… yeah.

This is not to say that the game does not try to offer even an outline of a story. The world is rich with demons, witches, angels, journalists, bartenders. But that’s not what Bayonetta is about. Bayonetta is about using complex combos and multiple weapons to kill angels with your bullets, kicks, punches, and hair.

Finishers and executions are woven into the combat. Building special combos will unlock “torture attacks,” where Bayonetta brings in elaborate torture machines to destroy her enemies. Apart from this, Bayonetta also possesses “witch time,” which is unlocked every time the player evades an enemy attack as late as possible. This temporarily slows time for everyone except Bayonetta, allowing the player to inflict massive damage before the enemies can react. As the game progresses, the player can unlock new moves, techniques, weapons, transformations, etc.

The game features an elaborate rating system, and depending on how well the player performs at the end of a chapter, they are offered one of the following award: Stone, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum or Pure Platinum. And trust me, you really have to work for those.

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The Good

1: Bayonetta is such a fun game. I probably had a stupid grin throughout the thirteen-ish hours I took to beat it. Video games should be fun!

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2: I criticize often how modern games, at least the ones in the last four or five years, lack boss fights. And yes, this is just my opinion, but if a game does not have an epic boss fight at the end of every level, or if a game does not have at least that one boss that takes you multiple retries to beat, what’s the point really?

Not only does Bayonetta offer many boss fights, it does them right. Frankly, they are insane!

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Yup, that’s her hair turned into what looks like a giant stiletto gladiator sandal, maybe?

3: Although Bayonetta gets categorized as an hack-and-slash game often — I did that too a while ago — it is so much more. The gameplay is relentlessly innovative. The game will throw racing missions at you where Bayonetta speeds down a highway on her motorcycle; the game will let you ride a missile and you can use that missile to shoot more missiles; and so, so much more. Every level feels fresh even though you are essentially building off from your previous exploits.

4: The combat system is fantastic. In my humble opinion, it probably is the best off games that offer similar gameplay. It is fluid. The transitions are smooth. Consider this: you can build combos, evade an enemy attack, and then continue to build that combo. The game offers you so much freedom.

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How To Kick in the ‘Witch Time’ 101

5: I can’t run 4K, but my oh my, the game looks gorgeous. There would be some issues, of course. For example, I wouldn’t really expect this to run on an ultra wide screen or something because, well, the original is almost a decade old. Nevertheless, this is as perfect as a port can be.

The Bad

1: I found myself wondering often as I played the game whether Bayonetta is sexist. I’ve not been able to reach at a conclusion still. She carries herself with such confidence that even when she does her ridiculous climax moves and the camera focuses on her ass and breasts, she is the one in control. She probably is a cheesecake done right, if there is such a thing, but whether the character is sexist or sexy is still open to discussion, more than almost a decade after the original was released.

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Conclusion

A fantastic port of one of the best games ever, Bayonetta comes highly recommended.

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