When IO Interactive announced that the next Hitman would be an episodic affair, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. What seemed like a cash-grab and a way to keep a game in player’s conscious over months instead of a few weeks turned into an inspired publishing decision. The series has always been built around self-contained levels and by bringing those episodes out bit by bit, Hitman was able to find new, interesting ways to keep players engaged.

For one, it made for the most rich and densely packed levels in the series. Each mission has a ton of ways to go about taking out the targets. Some are quick and easy, others require patience and mastery of the map. Some are downright silly, to the point of being hilarious, and a few are fiendishly hard. Built on that is a system of unlocks that give you new ways to start missions and new tools to allow for new kills.

And while those systems allow for interesting approaches, it’s the levels that decide whether or not it’s actually fun to do those approaches. Paris and Sapienza are the first two levels of the game, and likely the best as they give you all sorts of paths and bits and pieces to dabble with. Marrakesh is decent, but the later levels feels incidental to the actual hit.

Club 27 is a bit too obtuse at times as certain things need to happen to move the targets into certain areas. Colorado is simply too straightforward and tries to ramp things up by having you hit four targets. Hokkaido seems rich with lots of options, but proves frustrating because of how much gating it does, requiring the player to get different costumes to unlock certain areas of the map. However, the mechanics and options here are so solid that even the weaker levels feel like the high-points of other games in the series.

It helps that IO Interactive decided to back off on the humor. I went back and replayed Hitman: Blood Money earlier this year and the comedy comes off as juvenile and out of touch with the Hitman character. This one keeps the tone a lot more grounded and allows some of the more absurd kills to give the player amusements instead of odd characters and offensive, over-sexualization of women.

One of the problems with this game’s release are timed events called Elusive Targets, contracts you can only do once with no chance to reload but only exist for a short amount of time. Anyone who has a life outside of video games, or decides to pick up this game down the line, will miss these entirely. I was unable to play any of them and it’s a shame because this seems like the final gauntlet for players who want to demonstrate mastery of the systems and maps. I’m holding out hope that down the line people who missed these events will get a chance to play them.

In addition to the highly replayable story missions, there are Contracts Mode and Escalation Mode. Contracts are player made missions where targets must be killed in a specific way with certain conditions. Escalation is a developer made series of missions that get gradually harder and harder in which the player cannot save or load. I haven’t had a chance to play either of these, but both seem to provide even more content for players worried there won’t be enough playtime from the main game.

Hitman proves to be a rousing success, taking the formula of the series and iterating on it. It creates compact, highly-interactive sandboxes that rewards multiple playthroughs and optional missions both community and developer made. Given the success of this first round of episodes, it’s likely that there will be a second season and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing