For me, this year’s Hitman remains strange despite its quality. At first, I was perplexed by the series’ foray into episodic content. Did IO Interactive want each section to be polished to the utmost before release, until every facet shone like Agent 47’s big bald dome? Perhaps, but the money-grabbing nature of Square Enix’s big business, through the game’s ability to generate interest and revenue throughout the year, is a more-than-likely answer. Cynicism be damned, my most recent qualms come from the structure of Episode Five: Colorado. The level is far from bad, but the size of the map, as well as its verticality and uniqueness in terms of visuals, are somewhat lacking.
Hitman is at its best when it delves into the mundane; not the boring, but the everyday. Sneaking around suburban neighbourhoods or posh hotels, or even quaint Italian fishing villages, allows for freedom in terms of disguises and routes, as well as splendorous views and relaxation when planning out murders accordingly. Episode Five’s mission is a far cry from the liberty of Paris, Sapienza, Bangkok and even the less-stellar Marrakesh; it takes place on a fogging farm out by the Rockies, and is home to, not civilians, but torrents of armed guards and militia. This immediately takes the fun out of hiding in plain sight as the outfits available are limited to soldiers and a few moving men, and every zone is hostile without a suitable disguise. 47 can no longer skulk around crowded streets unseen as a tourist or waiter and, overall, the level feels restricted as a result; more like the linear, guard-strewn passageways of Hitman: Absolution, than the open playgrounds of Blood Money.
Colorado also feels much more cramped than other locations released over the previous months. Bangkok played host to a stellar hotel, comprised of multiple buildings with around six floors each. Sapienza, meanwhile, consisted of an entire town, with an ice cream parlour, a huge mansion, a church and accompanying graveyard, a beach and prominent promenade, and various other shops; once again on many different floors. The farm in Episode Five is just that: a farm. There may be barns and outhouses, and a large two-storey house at one end, but the entire location lacks expansiveness, which in turn reduces the variety of kills available when approaching any of the level’s four targets. You may be able to blow up a man using his smartwatch, and push a lady into a large pond of slurry, but, once again, your options for assassination are slight by comparison with previous episodes.
Speaking of trifles, Hitman’s story is still meandering around in an area between muddled and flatness. From the opening episode, bits and pieces of dull mystery – with characters using pronouns instead of names to develop intrigue – have been dripped out before and after each episode. Unfortunately, every single one of these cutscenes has developed into nothing more than a dragging piece of nonsense, and now, on the fifth, I’m still as perplexed as I was when the credits rolled on Paris. Too many questions have been asked and, with only Episode Six to go, I doubt that answers will be received.
There are some better touches throughout the level, however, that make it a worthwhile play despite these glaring misgivings. For starters, you can dress up as a scarecrow, which, as you may know, is not a common thing to do in either reality or the fictional world. Secondly, you can pick up apricots and throw them at unsuspecting guards; they squelch satisfyingly on the floor. Thirdly, and most importantly, Episode Five distances itself from others, in a more captivating way this time, through its unsettling tone. An air of constant dread flocks the area, as misty bogs and the croaking sounds of fauna surround you in a Deliverance-like manner. It darkens the atmosphere and adds interest to a level that could have otherwise been wholly disappointing.
Colorado has taught me something about the Hitman formula: variety, freedom and size are all very important. Sadly, this episode lacks all three, and while the interesting tone and a few quirky titbits are scattered sparingly throughout, Episode Five is still the filthy cream amongst a fabulous crop.
Colorado ain't no playground
Episode Five reduces 47's ways to play in a smaller, more limited level.