Viva la revolución!
The latest chapter of Agent 47’s globetrotting game of assassination takes us to the Moroccan city of Marrakesh. A major departure from the posh palace and sleepy Italian village that played host to Hitman’s previous chapters, ‘A Gilded Cage‘ throws players into a sprawling city as they seek to neutralize a corrupt businessman and his benefactor, a despot looking to take advantage of the country’s chaotic political climate to stage a military coup. It’s an ambitious setup. And the tension is as thick as the bustling crowds that you’ll stealthily fade into throughout this chapter, where heavily-armed soldiers and mobs of protesters clash in the city’s streets, creating a chaotic killing ground for armchair assassins to explore.
While the first two installments in this episodic title certainly managed to impress with their grand scale and meticulous layouts, A Gilded Cage is a much more ambitious contract than what we’ve seen thus far. The sweltering Moroccan city of Marrakesh is easily twice as large as the sizable seaside village featured in Hitman’s second episode. And its markets and busy side streets are teeming with hundreds of NPCs, hidden underground tunnel networks, and dozens of murderous opportunities just waiting to be discovered. By far the most atmospheric location to date, the level of detail in this African setting is truly remarkable. Stall vendors hawk their goods to passerbys, peddling fried snails and counterfeit gadgets as tourists toke on hookahs as they lounge in idyllic open-air cafes. You’ll even stroll through an vast, ornate lamp shop that casts a moody glow upon the bustling bazaar. If it weren’t for the ongoing riots and looming military presence, you’d probably get the feeling Marrakesh would make a pretty fantastic vacation stop.
The episode itself is divided between three main areas: a packed outdoor market, an ultra-modern Swedish consulate, and a derelict schoolhouse that’s been converted into a staging area for the planned coup. While the market is the most visually striking location of the bunch, it largely serves as a buffer between the two targets, corrupt private banker Claus Strandberg who has found protection in the Swedish consulate, and General Reza Zaydan, his accomplice who is readying his forces at the school. Most of your time in the market itself will be spent discovering opportunities and juggling costumes as you find the tools to gain access to the areas where your targets are holed up. This is no easy task, however, as the overwhelming number of NPCs in the environment makes performing take-downs and sneaking into restricted areas much more difficult than in the previous chapters. With so many more eyes on your bald assassin, you’ll need to go about your actions much more carefully this time around. In many ways this area feels like a bit of a throwback to Hitman: Absolution‘s Chinatown map. I just wish it didn’t feel like so much of the area was comprised of mostly wasted space, especially when considering the fact the level’s design makes it all but impossible to lure your targets into the bazaar itself.
If you delighted in the various methods of dealing death that the previous episodes set at your fingertips, you’ll like what’s in store in A Gilded Cage. There are plenty of sadistic avenues to explore in the city of Marrakesh. For example, when taking down the episode’s corrupt capitalist, you can pose as a cameraman who’s supposed to film a television interview with your target. After slipping away from the rest of the crew, you can drop a giant ornamental moose on the hapless crook’s head with the flip of a switch from the control room. If antler-borne assassinations aren’t really your thing, don’t fret. You can opt to leave a remote mine in the camera instead. Doing so will allow you to turn this Prime Time interview into an explosive blockbuster. Another creative and highly entertaining way to dispatch one of your targets includes posing as a prisoner to gain access to Zaydan, allowing you to deliver an up-close-and-personal coup de grâce to the traitorous General. Overall, while none of these hits is quite as memorable as, say, sneaking into a meeting as a vampire magician to kill your prey, à la Episode One, or blasting your target with an antique cannon while they tee off like in Sapienza, you’ll still find plenty of other devilishly inventive methods for getting the job done.
As previously mentioned, Marrakesh is simply huge. While having so much more ground to cover is certainly welcome, it comes with a price in terms of performance. This is especially noticeable when considering there was no shortage of densely populated areas in the two episodes, yet they still managed to run with an impressive degree of fluidity. However, the crowds are even more dense in Marrakesh’s market district. This, combined with the much more open environment, leads to some seriously noticeable dips in the game’s frame rate. This transition from silky-smooth sneaking to frequent stops and stutters is really disappointing, as it overshadows the otherwise impressive spectacle of the lively Moroccan setting. During my review playthroughs of the episode, I also experienced a handful of other bizarre technical gaffes. Some of the most common issues ranged from character models wildly clipping through each other in certain areas, and textures, such as windows on the city’s many buildings, flickering at random. The most amusing of these glitches, however, was the time my weapon model vanished into thin air. While it appeared to be missing, save for the shadow it left across my back when holstered, the gun remained fully functional. Seeing Agent 47 go Rambo through the Swedish consulate, blasting security guards and diplomats alike with his fully-automatic imaginary assault rifle like the world’s meanest looking 8-year-old was a hell of a sight to behold, to say the least.
Perhaps the most underwhelming aspect of A Gilded Cage is just how little it does to advance the story. After three chapters, things remain just as vague and far removed from the rest of the experience as ever. Without any real context behind what you’re doing, it’s all but impossible to really care for what’s being said in the cutscenes that bookend this chapter. All you’ll really get from the few minutes of story is that scary and powerful people from a secret organization are feeling the heat now that Agent 47 keeps foiling their plans, but that’s pretty much all you’ll get from the underlying story this time around. Here’s hoping these story sequences begin to coalesce into something worthwhile in future episodes, because as of right now they’ve done little but provide the barest semblance of a plot that feels as cold and impersonal as Agent 47 himself.
Despite a handful of technical issues and its failure to really add to the story in a meaningful way, Hitman’s third episode still manages to deliver an engaging game of cat and mouse that will definitely appeal to those who’ve enjoyed the previous chapters. Marrakesh is a vast city, full of secrets to uncover and schemes to devise as you work to eliminate your targets, and you’ll definitely want to complete the myriad challenges the episode offers. While the quality of the episode doesn’t quite match its ambitious scale, it’s still a contract well worth taking. And we can’t wait to see where The Agency takes Agent 47 next.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Square Enix ; Developer: Io-Interactive ; Players: 1; Released: May 31, 2016; Genre: Action ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Square Enix