PC, Xbox One, PS4
There are a lot of dark corners and shady people in the Parisian fashion show that makes up Hitman's (2016) first level. Over time you'll learn all about them due in equal parts to necessity, knowledge in the Hitman universe being power, and repetition because the learning curve here is like climbing a mountain. In roller skates.
Worries that Hitman would take a more action-packed tone after Absolution are unfounded, and if anything the bald-headed assassin seems to be even more susceptible to projectile based lead poisoning than ever before, taking just a couple of shots before perishing.
What becomes quickly obvious, once you throw off the shackles of the tutorial missions,is that this Hitman is even more back-to-basics than even the series' beloved Blood Money. There's no last minute chance to save yourself with headshots here, no life saving armour (not yet, anyway.) Your only real weapon here is patience.
I'll touch briefly on the delivery method for the game, a sentence I never thought I'd have to utter when it comes to a game release, but that's 2016 I suppose. I'm mentioning it here, and mentioning it early so that you can steer clear if you would rather play a complete and finished article. Hitman is a AAA game, but it's also episodic in nature. What i'm currently reviewing and talking about is Hitman's prologue package which contains the two tutorial missions and the title's first real mission: The Showstopper.
Later in the year, at a rate of roughly one a month, we'll start to see other missions popping up. I've played an early build of the next level in the set: a beautiful albeit fictional town in Italy. It's not part of what you can play now though, so I won't be mentioning it.
Mechanically it feels very much like a stealth game. There's plenty of gunplay but, shooting feels clumsy. You won't be making 100 metre headshots with pistols, and while you're more than a match for a couple of guards, if you make a lot of noise you're going to be drowning in angry men with guns and they'll take you apart. Luckily, the mechanics underpinning the stealth are intelligent and there's plenty to chances for the thinking assassin to get an advantage here.
2016's Hitman is a much denser game than you might have seen before, with a mountain of "stuff" going on just below the surface. In this corridor you might find a pair of journalists having an argument about the ethics of blackmail, in another, a discussion about how much a boat like this is worth. The AI is vocal and easily exploited, happy to have sensitive conversations whenever you're in earshot and will output their current feelings with brevity.
This means the multiple NPC characters make a good show of being realistic well-rounded characters with opinions, routines and a purpose while in reality they're actually an easily manipulated bundle of subroutines. Toss a coin into a dark room and they'll follow it in, run past a guard into a restricted area and they'll follow you, gormlessly. These exploitable routines mean that you can rely on them to fall for your fake surrender attempts, or to conveniently forget when you stroll past them wearing different clothes to the ones you were wearing three minutes ago.
It's tough to make convincingly 'dumb' AI but Hitman manages it, allowing you to feel like you're outthinking an entire crowd of people. It's a great feeling, and stalking the maps looking out for the best way to take down your target is excellent.