Hitman Season One ends with blow fish and botched surgery.
For its season finale, Hitman takes us to Hokkaido, Japan. Here it’s up to us to take our favorite alopecia suffering death-dealer around a futuristic private hospital/health spa and murder people who deserve it. We know they deserve it because most of the casual conversations between staff members involve anecdotes about how said person has murdered a puppy or something. The targets in question are a no-nonsense Yakuza lawyer and a turncoat ICA operator. While typically Hitman’s targets wander around the level leaning over ledges, waiting to be pushed or sipping on champagne, waiting to be poisoned, one of Hokkaido’s targets doesn’t move. The reason for this is that the aforementioned ICA traitor is undergoing heart surgery. Of course this being a futuristic Japanese private hospital, it’s not exactly traditional healthcare. The Yakuza lawyer on the other hand, has a penchant for blow-fish and is partial to a spot of yoga; you can probably imagine where those possibilities lead. Hitman’s shorthand for Japan is exactly what you’d expect it to be; electronic toilets, sushi and robots.
From a visual standpoint, Hokkaido is pretty stunning. The fusion of ultra-modern and traditional Japanese design makes for a rich and visually diverse experience. As with all the best Hitman levels, there are distinct areas that have a completely different vibe from one another. The hospital itself feels like something from a futuristic Anime, all glass and stainless steel (there’s even a challenge named after ‘Ghost In The Shell’). The spa/restaurant on the other hand feels warm and welcoming (if it wasn’t full of evil Illuminati types I’d totally stay there). Hokkaido is the kind of level that gets more satisfying with each play through. In fact, a largely unspoken but crucial element to gameplay is mastery of its mazes. What Hokkaido does particularly well is disguise the maze to function and appear as a convincing (if far-fetched), real world place. Everything makes sense architecturally and yet you’ll still find yourself getting lost between basements, hidden panels and options for vertical navigation.
While in older games there was a tension in this maze navigation, as you might miss a window of opportunity, this Hitman runs things on a loop. This is both good and bad. The positive side is that you can adapt to a different method of assassination on the fly, without being punished. The negative is that some tension is lost and level mastery is less rewarding, as you can spend as much time as you like trying to find all the right elements to pull off one of the set piece kills.
In story terms, Hokkaido is a bit of a disappointment. Following the reveals and developments of the previous installment in Colorado, I was hoping for the hit to take an unexpected turn, or subvert its mechanics in some way. This isn’t to say there aren’t smart choices. Indeed, this mission effectively disarms you of most of your tools, smartly forcing you to change up your tactics from previous outings and pay greater attention to your surroundings. The level also features a costume based door lock system, which is a cool idea in theory but does force you to lean hard on the disguise system which might be a bit of a limitation for some. However, it will certainly make an interesting challenge for the ‘Suit Only’ kill challenges.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Hitman game without some devilishly devised murders. There are some incredibly satisfying ways to eliminate your targets, one of the most twisted involving the destruction of the transplant one of your targets is waiting for. There’s something even darker about killing a target by taking away their one hope, leaving the level knowing that they’re alive but resigned to death. I won’t spoil any more here.
It’s unfortunate that Hokkaido happens to be the finale. I say ‘happens to be’, because it doesn’t feel like a finale. This episode could’ve been the third instead of sixth and it wouldn’t really make a difference. The level still ends with a cutscene of you escaping to the same (admittedly badass) music. It still ends with a gorgeously rendered, ambiguous spy movie conversation, only this time with end credits. It doesn’t feel like a season concluded, but more like the pilot of a new show that intrigues you and promises something bigger to look forward to. Hokkaido didn’t take risks or surprise me like Colorado but in terms of pure level design it’s one of the best offering of the season. Ultimately it would be unfair to criticize Hokkaido for what it isn’t so instead I’ll appreciate it for what it is – a really good Hitman level.
Bring on Season Two!
Available on: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 4; Publisher: Square Enix ; Developer: IO Interactive; Players: 1 ; Released: October 31, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99
This review is based on a retail version of Hitman purchased by the reviewer