Here at TLR we recently had a 'first impressions' look at the newly released game in the Hitman series of video games. It is also the debut for the Hitman series on Linux, thanks to the porting efforts of Linux and Mac porting company, Feral Interactive. Having racked up more hours of gameplay and completing the first season of HITMAN, here's my full thoughts.
- Publisher: Square Enix; Feral Interactive (Linux)
- Developer: IO Interactive
- Release Date(s): 31 January 2017 (Original Platforms), 16 February 2017 (Linux)
HITMAN was originally released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and the first episode was released on 11 March 2016. Subsequent episodes were released on a monthly basis, with finally a full season release being available for retail on 31 January 2017. Rather impressively, Feral Interactive then brought the full season of HITMAN to Linux less than a month later.
For the uninitiated, the Hitman series follows the exploits of Agent 47, a cloned assassin for hire with almost unparalleled abilities in his field. Agent 47 is a pretty recognisable character among video game protagonists, with his clean bald style and distinctive 'bar code' that is stamped on the back of his head. Though each of the games in the series differ in their own way, the basic premise is to guide Agent 47 through set levels to finally assassinate key characters. Completing the mission(s) will involve all manner of subterfuge and clever tactics, making use of NPCs such as disguising as particular characters to gain access to various areas or setting up a trap.
HITMAN is no different in this manner, but perhaps more than any other game in the series, emphasises the kind of sandbox gameplay that not only has been seen in previous Hitman games, but is also a pretty popular genre of games these days in its own right.
We'll get to the gameplay in a moment, but first, let's take a look at the story. As HITMAN is firstly a sandbox style game, gameplay and variability do take center stage, but in saying that, there is plenty of storyline to be had here and the game does deliver it in a pretty impressive cinematic way. As I mentioned in the first impressions article, it's not unusual for the game to feature an ingame cinematic and then suddenly quite seamlessly blend from a movie into actual gameplay. The animations and facial capture in cinematics is indeed quite impressive and surprisingly realistic, although it's becoming quite a common thing in modern high-budget games of course.
The prologue of the game acts as a prequel to the very original Hitman game released back in 2000 (Hitman: Codename 47), though the rest of the game then takes place seven years after Hitman: Absolution, the fifth Hitman game in the series.
The story starts out somewhat a little predictably, even for this genre, with references to 47 having "reflexes that are off the charts" and other manner of similar references to a man (Agent 47) that is meant to be a perfect cloned assassin or soldier. Along the way, you are guided by your handler, Diana Burnwood, who gives advice and mission briefings but also acts as an integral part of the storyline, as she does in the series as a whole.
Really though, the story just acts a way of explaining why 'X' person needs killing, as well as potentially 'Y' or even 'Z' persons, as some missions feature multiple targets. It's hard to give much information about the storyline without giving anything away, except safe to say that the plot is fairly typical of a secret spy or assassin type of storyline, with factions fighting each other in the shadows and trying to influence the world in their own subtle yet potentially violent way.
It's also worth remembering that as an episodic game, we've only seen the first "season" and there's still more plot to come as future episodes are released. In this regard, season one acts mainly as a way of setting up the various characters, key factions and future consequences of their actions to come.
So, while right now I would say the storyline is interesting enough, it's not mindblowing or going to overly surprise, but so far it serves its purpose.
Ahh yes, the main course, if you will. Gameplay is going to be the big deal in HITMAN, as it is overall a sandbox with various challenges, objectives and ways to solve missions.
As is common in this generation of console-first/friendly titles, controls are tight and simple in HITMAN. You essentially only use a few particular keys in the game of which the functions change contexually. With keyboard and mouse, for example, the 'Q' key is often used to "subdue" an NPC. This action can then change to "snap neck" once they are unconscious. Similarly, the 'E' key will either stuff a body inside a locker or storage basket (if dragging a body near one) or instead the E key may 'eliminate' some poor soul if you catch them leaning over a high railing, gazing at the ocean. There's also some quicktime events involving the WASD keys (usually used for movement, of course) in combat, should you end up in any hand to hand scuffles. Which isn't advised and should only be a last resort; this is a game that rewards stealth and subtlety after all. Getting "made" and ending up with bullets flying past your head is a quick way to end up with a game over screen as you'll quickly get overwhelmed.
The actual levels themselves are generally, well, huge. I mean huge. The scale is very impressive and as much as the levels/missions feel literally like a stage with all the actors and props set up for you to navigate and interact with (ironically, that's literally the case for the prologue mission), it also feels quite alive. It's not uncommon for a level to feature quite literally hundreds of NPCs, all going about their business. Though certainly, some NPCs are far more important or interesting than other ones. I don't just mean the targets themselves either. There are certain NPCs, that if you get close enough to hear their conversations, may reveal what the game calls "Opportunities".
Opportunities act both as extra challenges (like achievements) and, as the name implies, give you opportunities to get close to your target in some manner. Sometimes these opportunities give you quite easy access and sometimes even a surprisingly easy kill, while other times they are a little bit more subtle. On a couple of occasions, I found that even though a certain Opportunity brought me directly to my target, even to the point of having a conversation with them, I didn't find the conditions and surroundings suitable to actually kill them. At least, not without all hell breaking loose. So in this case, I'd reluctantly back off and look for another Opportunity.
NPCs are also decently intelligent and even an everyday Joe going about his business can cause serious problems if he or she catches you doing something untoward. Not worried about the young innocent paper boy witnessing you breaking into that door? Think again. You'll likely next hear his voice shouting into the distance for help and even hear him conversing with an authority figure, telling him how someone was up to no good and giving descriptions of your current outfit!
Times like that you're tempted to silence the witnesses to your crimes, which in some cases certainly is possible, but be careful - killing non-target NPCs incurs a heavy penalty to your final mission score. But if it has to be done to complete the mission in your particular playthrough, by all means, you can do it.
In saying that (how intelligent the A.I can be), things can feel a bit goofy as you play with the system. Similar to games like the Metal Gear Solid series, the "enemies"/NPCs have different stages of alertness, such as "Searching", "Suspicious" or even full on "Compromised" or "Combat" and these modes do have a cool down time. Hide long enough and the NPCs will give up looking for you. This does get a bit hilarious when you repeatedly leave bodies laying around, raise suspicion, but then hide long enough that each time everyone eventually forgets it and goes about their business.
Think about it like this: everyone is at a party, having a great time, but dead or at least unconscious bodies keep turning up. Do you just keep partying throughout the night and enjoying yourself, or do you eventually get seriously concerned and maybe even evacuate the place altogether?
I imagine you'll say the latter. But, this being a video game, the former is actually what happens and it does feel a bit odd to be able to constantly get away with so much, especially in social settings or high strung military operations. There is actually a mechanic where high-profile targets will temporarily go into an emergency lock down if there's enough overall suspicion thanks to your actions, which makes getting to your target much harder, if not impossible. But still, it's usually temporary.
Still, like any game, while things can be abused a tad, sometimes it does add to the fun, even if it detracts from elements of realism. The game does also only award the highest mission scores when you get things done without any discoveries, whether it be seen doing crimes or leaving bodies laying around, so you are certainly rewarded for doing things the hard and clean way.
Visuals/Sounds and Linux Game Performance
As mentioned in the first article, Feral Interactive have done a pretty good job of porting the game to the Linux platform. Even AMD users with half-decent graphics cards on Mesa 13+ will be in for a pretty good time. Personally I played through the entire first season on my AMD R9 380X with Mesa 17-git on Medium graphics settings at 1080p and performance generally felt quite consistent at all times, even in the very largest levels. As you can see from the screenshots, even at Medium level visuals the game still looks very good.
I have a 5.1 surround sound system (my trusty old Logitech X-530 - must be literally a good decade old now!) and I was pretty impressed with the sound and vocal effects. Things happening to the sides and behind Agent 47 in-game literally sounded like they were around me in real-life, such was the use of directional sound. The game also features appropriate tracks for your given situation - slow, sleuthing kind of music when things are easy going (unless you're at a loud party, of course) or a fast-paced intense track when it seems all the world wants you dead.
I haven't experienced any actual crashes or game breaking bugs either. Come to think of it, I can't think of any bugs or glitches full stop. While I'm sure there must be some somewhere, in my playthrough I've been fortunate enough to have a good clean experience. One time the game wouldn't actually launch, without any complaints or warnings, it just simply would not launch. Closing and relaunching Steam fixed that issue and to be honest, I've had that happen with other Steam games before anyway. So I'm unsure whether to blame HITMAN or put it in the "blame Steam" column. Either way, in general, I'm pretty impressed with the Linux port Feral have provided, and pending any breakages caused by game updates down the track, HITMAN is a good Linux gaming experience thus far, technically speaking.
Like a lot of games ported to Linux that use a DirectX to OpenGL translation layer (most Feral Interactive games), you'll likely get the best performance with the more powerful CPUs and indeed, CPU may be more important than your particular GPU. However, my CPU being an $80 AUD Intel Kaby Lake G4560 dual core (4 cores with HyperThreading) seems to do fine, even combined with an open-source driven AMD Radeon graphics card. If you're running an i5 or i7 with, say, a mid to high-end NVIDIA card on proprietary drivers, I imagine maxed out details at high resolutions is easily possible.
HITMAN: The Complete First Season is another fine addition to the Linux game library, and a high-profile one at that. It's not only a good high profile title to have on our penguin powered platform though, it is a very good game in its own right.
While the sandbox nature of the game is generally pulled off very well and in very impressive scale, things can feel a bit goofy or a little bit too programmed, but perhaps a game with this scope and variability, not to mention all the different ways you can approach your objectives, is bound to have those little short-comings. Thankfully, none of it ultimately detracts from the fun aspect and once you immerse yourself in the game as it intends you to do and take your time, trying to cleverly plan your target's demise, it can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience, as long as you accept the fact that a lot of people in the game world seem to have memories equivalent to goldfish. Okay, that last point probably sounds more harsh than intended, but I think it does still stand, somewhat.
In summary, well worth a play and a good taste of stealth assassin action on Linux. The fact that the game will have more content to come will either improve on the overall game or detract from it, and I am unsure what the cost will be of future episodes, so there is always the risk of the game becoming a bit too much of a cash cow, but that remains to be seen. We also haven't really mentioned the Live Content, which is basically DLC that can become available literally any time, such as the Elusive Targets missions - levels where your target is only around for a certain amount of time or if you fail the mission for any reason, that's it. It's gone. So there's an extra element of excitement and challenge there. These are free add-ons and in addition to the paid "episodic" storyline missions.
- Stealthy, spy fun with consequences for failure
- Good Linux performance and visuals overall
- Plenty of re-playability per mission
- Ms. Burnwood is kind of a fox (ahem)
- The scope and ambition can lead to some mechanics feeling a bit goofy and/or forced
- Storyline (thus far) won't blow you away
- Er, not enough Ms. Burnwood