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‘Hitman’ video game review: A solid start for episodic entry

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“Hitman,” published by Square Enix and developed by IO Interactive, is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. Full season: $59.99; Episode 1: $14.99

Episodic games aren’t a revolutionary idea, but “Hitman” is among the first major franchise entries to release in installments.

As a test case for how big-name games may fare by releasing in installments, “Hitman” is off to a fine start in its first episode of the franchise’s sixth entry.

In Episode 1, players will once again take control of ace assassin Agent 47, this time with the task of eliminating two targets at a Paris fashion show. The Paris level is much larger than those experienced in earlier series releases.

This “Hitman” feels more like the open-ended PlayStation 2 era games in the franchise than the more linear “Hitman: Absolution” from 2012. That’s a good thing.

While the targets can be eliminated using in-your-face tactics, “Hitman” has always been more focused on stealth. That means blending in and donning disguises, occasionally knocking out or bumping off the character who wears the outfit.

The new “Hitman” fixes an annoying element of the disguise system from “Absolution.” In that game, if the player took on a security guard’s uniform, 47 would need to steer clear of other security guards or risk being identified as a fraud. In the new game, only certain marked security guards would recognize Agent 47. It’s a better, more logical system.

“Hitman” rewards creativity, offering tons of “accident” kill options in addition to the more ballistic or explosive options. Players are welcome to discover the possibilities on their own, but the game also allows for optional Opportunities to help direct the player to uncover how to, for example, go undercover as a VIP and gain access to a target. Completing Opportunities and Challenges helps unlock new start points in Paris and other goodies to use.

In addition to the main Paris level and a couple of training missions, Escalation Contracts offer more replay to the only major level available at launch. These task the player with eliminating a specific target, and each completion adds an additional objective to up the degree of difficulty. This mode doesn’t permit saves in the way the main mission does, so it’s a bit more challenging. A custom Contracts Mode is a nice carry-over from “Absolution.”

On the downside, lengthy load times can be a pain, especially if one must start the mission anew.

Some may scoff at the episodic format. To those people, I suggest waiting for all episodes to release later this year. But, by all means, play it at some point.

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