Published on September 30th, 2014 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Hitman: Sniper Preview
It can be painful being a Hitman fan. Most franchises pull ahead of the pack with a standout game or two, but Hitman has largely been driven by the pure potential the franchise has. Codename 47, Silent Assassin, and Contract have their moments, but there are some serious issues that kept them from being great. IO Interactive hit the head on the nail with Blood Money, but unfortunately it still wasn’t enough to save Eidos. So Agent 47 disappeared (as he is accustomed to doing), seemingly forever lost. That is, until 6 years later we see him return in Absolution, which was met with mixed reviews. The open-ended mission structure of the previous games was boiled-down to a checklist type mission, and this left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths.
If you’re wondering if there will ever be a true Hitman game again, wonder no more. Hitman: Sniper is aiming to be that game. As the title indicates, Sniper puts Agent 47 behind the scope of a high-powered rifle and tasks him with taking out targets from afar. On the surface, this seems to go against the core philosophy of the franchise – in most Hitman titles it’s best to get by unseen with few kills and no gun violence – so bear with me here. When you dig deep into Sniper’s mechanical meat, you’ll find the spirit of Blood Money alive and well. With carefully placed shots you can create distractions, arrange for your quarry to have “unfortunate accidents”, and even hide bodies. Every one of these will boost your score for the level, allowing you to climb a little higher on the leaderboards.
When the game launches, it will come packed with two distinct levels, and a number of different missions that place different targets in these levels. It is your goal to eliminate the specific mark in each mission, which is easy enough, but if you just stop there you’re only experience a fraction of what the game has to offer. You can earn additional points by killing optional targets throughout each level, as well as any guards who might be in the way. Picking off targets like this will allow you to rack up an insane score, but as more bodies are left lying around, the odds increase that your mark might get scared and hightail it out of there. Once you kill your target, the mission ends. So it’s important to find a good balance between earning points and finishing your mission.
Some might be thinking that a fixed vantage point and a single weapon would make the game very simple, and while I agree with you, I think the word “refined” or “elegant” comes to mind. In classic, Hitman games, little scripted stories play throughout each mission, often allowing you excellent opportunities to end a mark’s existence. As you play through the missions over and over, you learn these patterns and become better able to plan around them. Well, the same is true of Sniper. Every guard has their own patrol route, and every civilian and target will hold conversations or go for walks as their programmed to do. In one mission, for instance, a rival sniper will eliminate an optional target for you, but if you can get to her first you will be rewarded with additional points. Some guards might wander to close to ledges or pools, allowing you to make the kill and hide the body in one fell swoop. Learning these patterns will be key to maximizing your score on the mission. The real trick is identifying and following those threads when you can see the entire map at once. It could take hours of observation and planning to master just one mission.
Staying true to the franchise, you can decrease your risk of discovery by making your kills seem like accidents, only this time you must do so with a bit of clever gunplay. Someone fixing an electrical panel might get a shocking surprise when a bullet closes the circuit, for example, while a guard leaning against a railing might himself plummeting to his death when the glass railing shatters “under his weight”. The cleverest of players will find plenty of fun toys lying around in each mission, and finding the optimal use for them will be key to that high score.
Hitman: Sniper builds an addictive, almost compulsive sense of replayability that I haven’t felt since Blood Money, and reinforces it with scoreboard chasing and weapon progression. You start with a basic sniper rifle, but as you play you’ll earn currency to buy upgrades and unlock different weapons. These weapons very in terms of clip size, reload speed and many other factors. You can get access to these via micro-transactions, but if you play a lot – which shouldn’t be hard for Hitman fans – you’ll be able to earn them gradually. It’s possible to earn that high score with any gun, but it’s a lot more fun to play around with different weapons.
Sniper is shaping up to be one of the best Hitman games in years, and it was one my favorites of PAX Prime 2014. More levels are coming should be coming – there will be 150 total if my recollection is correct – if the game proves successful. With open-ended mission design supported by a solid set of core mechanics, it should keep mobile games glued to their screens when it releases in the coming months. The only downside is that this game is only set to be released on “i” products, and not on Android or Windows devices. Hopefully there is a plan to port the Sniper, because they’re missing out on a massive audience if they decide not to.
He kind of snuck up on us – as is his M.O. – but Agent 47 has returned!