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The Hitman series has always been a game about planning, execution and when those two things fail you: improvisation. Since the days of Hitman: Blood Money, those nuances of the game have perhaps fallen by the wayside, but with the addition of the Elusive Target contracts, these immersive elements are back in a bigger way than ever.
My main issue with Hitman: Absolution and to a much lesser extent this year’s Hitman is that the stakes were never very high. Constant auto saving, instinct and all of the small usability features added to the game have made it so forgiving that planning and patience have become obsolete. In most cases, you can just blunder through each mission and reload your game the moment something goes awry. While this forgiving approach is sure to work in favor of attracting new audiences, it has left the core fanbase wanting.
Elusive Targets change all of that! With these contracts there are no saves, no retries and not even a clear indication of where your target is. True to the name, each Elusive Target must be found using clues and intuition. You can’t rely on a map or memorization because each mission is unique and available only once.
Whether you win or fail, the contract will never be playable again. One shot is all you ever get! One shot to play the role of a true hitman, with no retries, do overs or overt hints about how the mission is to be done.
This is one of those rare occasions in gaming where a truly new game type emerges from the well treaded ashes of an established franchise. While the idea of a “one life game” isn’t entirely new, this is the first example I can think of where a major publisher is daring enough to do this with a popular property. While on paper this may seem like a minor change, the nature of the stakes being raised so much entices the best parts of the franchise to come out in full force.
While the vanilla version of Hitman is already pretty good, the Elusive Target missions elevate the experience to greatness. Without an objective marker perpetually placed over your target, every bit of intel becomes crucial. Without second chances, planning and execution become invaluable. Elusive Target contracts outright demand your attention, patience and ingenuity. This is a game mode where the game’s tools aren’t just convenient, they’re essential!
Knowing the layout of the level and where key items and disguises are will certainly go a long way towards a successful mission, yet when it inevitably starts going off the rails, many players new to the Hitman series will discover a beauty and elegance to the game’s mechanics that is normally obscured by our compulsion to reload every small mistake.
The Hitman franchise shines brightest when you’re forced to improvise or conduct damage control over a situation. When everything is going perfectly, the game is little more than a glorified walking simulator with rote memorization aspects, but when things start going south and the player is forced to find on-the-fly solutions to escalating problems, the game truly comes into its own.
It’s no secret that Hitman draws a lot of inspiration from 1994’s Léon: The Professional. Specifically the scene where Léon dons the SWAT outfit and walks right out the front door in plain view of those trying to catch him. This beautiful contrast of calmness in the face of danger is something many games try to personify with steel jawed protagonists and stoic one liners, but no series to date has pulled it off as a core game mechanic except Hitman. Afterall, Hitman is not a game of stealth, but a game of subterfuge.
With these contracts, this teeth clenching feeling of calmly bushing past enemies that would otherwise shoot you on sight comes full circle. The bitter taste of making a mistake will quickly be washed over by the sweet savory flavor of cool headed nonchalance as your enemies rush past you, desperate to get an understanding of the commotion left in your wake.
This is where the improved AI really comes to life. As your identity is compromised, this information spreads organically though the characters in each level. You may be hunted by some, but others will be blissfully ignorant to your true intentions. Staying one step ahead of the AI is a game of cat and mouse that forms a uniquely worthwhile gaming experience.
The Elusive Target contracts only come around every few weeks, giving them a feeling of weight and consequence. For Hitman, this is the serious season play that games like Rocket League and Overwatch are known for. With only so many contracts each year, your measure as a worthwhile hit man is truly put to the test. I honestly get goosebumps just thinking about the few people who can pull off missions like this time after time without being seen or heard. It’s one thing to get this right on the seventeenth try, reloading all the way, but to do this with stakes this high consistently is a true achievement.
So far, the Elusive Target contracts have been coming out twice per month, though they don’t appear to follow any particular schedule. The last contract (#5) premiered on July 1st, so it’s likely that we’ll see another one about halfway through the month. Perhaps it will be featured as part of the episode 4 update that will introduce the Thailand level of the game. If you’re a fan of Hitman or just high stakes in general, this new mode is a must play!