One of 2016’s best games has had its best feature, Elusive Targets, turned back on. Jessica Alouette explains what makes Hitman special, and why you shouldn’t miss out on it.
The former headmaster sits on a roof, learning to use his new recording device to help him write a book. People in the streets below buzz through the marketplace, sounds of a muffled protest just barely in the distance. The propagandists throw their posters up on the wall, hoping to escalate the protest into a riot. The assassin enters the scene, silent and deadly, laser focused on their target. A suppressed shot rings out, and a thief who stole millions from the people falls limp. This is a world driven by assassination, where one bullet can change the world.
If you missed out on Hitman in 2016, the recently released “Game of the Year” edition is a brilliant excuse to dive in. Hitman is a smart stealth/puzzle game where the end goal is simple: eliminate your targets in whatever way you see fit. Missions begin with a setup phase: Agent 47 is briefed on his location, who the targets are, and why he’s here. Players can start thinking about their strategy while picking their loadout from an arsenal of tools and weapons. With planning completed, Hitman immediately sets the player loose upon the space. The game is designed with a level of accessibility not normally found in games of this genre. Hitman equips players with optional abilities which enhance situational awareness, such as the ability to see people of interest through walls. It also includes helpful hints which guide players towards the unique opportunities seeded throughout the level.
With accessibility improvements in mind, it’s worth noting that Hitman also comes with some of the most challenging missions ever seen in a Hitman game: Elusive Targets. These missions are available for a limited period of real world time, typically lasting only a few days. With the recent release of the Game of the Year edition earlier this month, Io Interactive has reactivated all of these missions on a new schedule. This provides the exciting opportunity for players both new and old to take the chance to experience some of Hitman‘s most challenging and interesting missions. They are designed as the ultimate test of skill for any would-be assassin, and they help to flesh out the underworld of which Agent 47 is a vital part. In addition to their limited time appearance, Elusive Targets also add a handful of further complications. They can only be attempted once. They are well defended and you have limited intelligence on them. They take vastly different routes from any of the main mission targets.
There are no checkpoints, and no do-overs; as soon as the target is killed, the game strips away the option to retry the mission should things go awry. You either escape, or you die. If Agent 47 dies, the target will get away, permanently. Elusive Targets ratchet Hitman’s difficulty up to 11, and break the dial for good measure. The stakes are high, patience is encouraged, and skill is demanded. Players skilled enough to complete the mission net substantial rewards, including unique gear and extra bonuses for players who complete it with a performance as silent and deadly as Agent 47 himself. They also tie in brilliantly with Hitman’s design, and more specifically how Hitman encourages mastery of the world around them.
Each of Hitman’s main stages are large and complex, and each is a box filled with puzzle pieces which are immediately in motion once the player enters the world. In one mission, a fashion mogul walks down the stairs to begin his grand entrance as you enter the stage, while stylists and tech crew mill about to make the show happen. As you move through the space and interact with the world and the people in it, Hitman encourages improvisation. It provides ample opportunity to improvise in combat, and in the act of moving through the world as well. Some areas of the world are restricted, and require the player to find a disguise to blend in as they move.
The game seeks to reward exploration, creativity, and precision in equal measure. It near constantly nudges and hints at alternative routes and new opportunities; encouraging the player to go for the perfect kill. Hitman wants the player to be at a skill level worthy of the reputation and mythos of Agent 47; a silent assassin who always gets their man and leaves no trace of themselves behind. When the player finds and eliminates their targets, they are rewarded with a handful of experience points based on how many goals the player was able to accomplish in the level. Some goals include eliminating the targets in specific ways, while others require that they find certain items. The experience gained is then used to unlock a number of rewards, including new starting points (with associated disguises), and new locations that weapons and gear can be smuggled to for later retrieval.
It is through these unlocks that Hitman’s design promotes mastery of its locations and encourages players to explore the full possibilities of the space. As the player explores each location again, they become more familiar with the machinations of each location’s box of puzzles and figure out the best routes. While first attempts are almost inevitably sloppy, the player learns the bounds of the world, and how to get where they need to go using disguises and stealth. By the time a third attempt is made, players have strategies already formed. They’re grabbing the disguise from the guard who’s asleep by the door, and sneaking into restricted areas completely unnoticed. Hitman wants players to feel like they know the space and the puzzles within intimately, and this knowledge and mastery of space is essential to learning how Hitman is best played.
When the time comes to take a player’s mastery of space and test it to the limit, there’s no better test than the Elusive Targets. These are some of Hitman’s most fun, interesting and rewarding missions, requiring a level of precision and expertise that eclipses even the main missions. Minimizing risk while maximizing the pay-off is paramount during these missions. Risky strategies are more likely to backfire, and the consequences are severe if you fail. Pulling off the perfect assassination is a challenge with stakes unlike any other game, and it will take a true professional to get the job done. When these missions first ran, I missed out on the opportunity to do more of these Elusive Targets. I regretted it ever since, considering how much I enjoyed the targets I did play. Fortunately, with all of these exclusive missions coming back for another round, I’ll be taking a crack at each one. They are a truly unique experience, and I hope more players give these missions, and Hitman itself, a shot. It’s well worth your time.
The first Elusive Target, known as The Forger, is available in Hitman from November 17th until he disappears again on November 27th. This time, he’ll probably be gone for good.
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