Channel your inner Jason Bourne with ‘Hitman’
Here’s an embarrassing little secret we middle-aged men have been keeping for a while: ever since the spy film “The Bourne Identity” in 2002, we’ve been secretly pretending we’re highly trained amnesiac superspies.
At the mall, in the minivan, picking up kids from school, we expertly assess our surroundings, looking for snipers and exits, pretending that the Fed Ex guy is an enemy assassin. In our minds, we are lethal and efficient espionage operatives ready to spring into action at an instant. Then we pick up milk and children’s aspirin from Harris Teeter on the way home.
Well, that’s what I do, anyway. And with this year’s release of “Hitman” (rated M), the latest iteration of the popular stealth game series, I finally have the ideal video game to go with my goofy daydreams.
In the popular “Hitman” games, players assume the role of Agent 47, the world’s most infamous mercenary assassin. Through an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, the game presents a series of tactical scenarios in which 47 must infiltrate a public event or heavily guarded installation. Specific objectives depend on the level, but usually the goal is to surreptitiously “neutralize” some dastardly villain – arms dealers and war criminals are popular – then make your exit without being caught. Ideally, you should escape without being noticed at all.
Plenty of other games feature these kinds of stealth missions, but none offer the diabolical creativity and dark humor of the “Hitman” series. In any given assignment, there are literally dozens of ways to take out your target. You can always fall back on a silenced pistol or wire garrote, but the real fun involves improvising spectacular accidents or baroque methods of assassination.
For instance, in the opening level of “Hitman,” Agent 47 must infiltrate a Paris fashion show and take out two traitorous information brokers. You might pose as a bartender or a lighting technician, then switch to a wealthy sheikh or a male runway model. To take out your targets, you might poison their sushi, or stage a gruesome electrical accident. Subsequent levels offer more intriguing settings – Italy! Morocco! Bangkok! – and improvised weaponry. A pool ball, say, or an antique battle axe.
It’s enormous fun, and the designers have set a kind of mild R-rated tone that’s no worse than your average spy movie. For me, it’s the Jason Bourne element that really sells “Hitman” as a game experience. To complete the levels, you really do have to think on your feet, creatively and quickly. The AI in the game is impressive and “Hitman” is likely to seem overwhelmingly difficult for the new player. Be sure to use the game’s new “Opportunity” feature, which provides a kind of in-game tutorial, with point-to-point directions on what to do next.
A couple of complaints: “Hitman” was released episodically throughout the year – one new level every month or so. As such, the full game wasn’t even available until just a few weeks ago and must be purchased digitally – the disc version won’t arrive until next year. Also, weirdly, the game requires an always-on internet connection for scoring and achievements. Why is this necessary in a single-player game?
But overall, “Hitman” is one of the year’s best game experiences, particularly for undercover suburban spies. You know who you are.
“Hitman” is now available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.