Hitman Freelancer is here! We tested the World of Assassination to find out if it was worth the wait.
Review Copy provided by IO Interactive, Reviewed on PlayStation 5
A World of Assassination
When Hitman’s World of Assassination was revealed at E3 2015, IO Interactive probably didn’t expect the Odyssey they would go on with this project. Over 8 years and 3 releases, IO Interactive went from being owned by Square Enix to being picked up and published by Warner, only to go independent with the final entry.
This sounds messy on paper, but IO Interactive also casually released the best stealth game ever made and one of the best titles of the past 10 years. While other franchises tried to be more accessible to wider audiences, the Hitman Trilogy doubled down and focused on the core strengths of the series while also being respectful of its own legacy.
And now that you can buy all of them without confusing naming schemes for all the editions and DLC and whatnot. If you want to get into Hitman today, just buy Hitman World of Assassination or just Hitman 3. You get the content of all three games as well as their DLC and it is the ultimate package of a video game, if you’re into that.
If you have never had any contact with the Hitman series before, let’s make quick introductions. In Hitman, you play a.. hitman. Agent 47 is the greatest assassin in the world and he is sent around the globe to kill the people deemed ‘untouchable’.
We’re not going to talk about the campaign here directly; just know that Hitman boasts some of the best sandboxes in all of gaming. And if you’re looking for a game you can spend hundreds of hours with, Hitman’s World of Assassination is the one. It’s the kind of title that you never really master; you can only improve. And the new Freelancer mode encourages precisely that.
Freelancer is a cumulation of everything that makes Hitman’s World of Assassination so amazing. It combined the pressure of the Elusive Targets, special missions that don’t allow you to save and you only get to try once. The more freeform nature of the Escalations that get progressively harder and more specific and the beautiful sandboxes from the campaign.
In Freelancer, Agent 47 goes after various syndicates around the globe, making ample use of the 18 locations. It’s a roguelike. At the start of a campaign, you get to pick a Syndicate you want to go after, which is usually defined by some overarching theme.
The Armsdealers will involve optional challenges involving the different weapons types and the Organtrader will challenge you to make use of poisons and other ways to temper with your targets.
A campaign is structured around you checking off a certain number of targets until a showdown becomes available. A showdown has you assassinate the leader of the Syndicate, the problem is only that you won’t know who it is. Instead, you get some vague descriptions and hints that’ll help you identify the target out of many.
This is the primary gameplay loop of the Freelancer update. Pick a target, try to prepare as much as possible with your limited resources, and improvise on location. Your goal is to take down several Syndicates in a row. If you fail to take down a Syndicates leader, you’ll have to start again. That is why Freelancer is the kind of mode you should only try after finishing the campaign because knowing these maps becomes very important.
What amazes me so much about Freelancer, is probably because it forces you into gameplay styles you’re probably not used to. If you play Hitman, you tend to go for the flawless execution of a target with some elaborate scheme that’ll let you escape smoothly. After all, a real Hitman goes for the Silent Assassin, Suit Only scores, right?
Freelancer gets rid of the traditional scoring system. It doesn’t matter how you’ll get the job done as long as you can get it done. Especially without the option to save mid-mission and none of the mission stories that let you set up targets available, you’ll have to get creative.
Whenever you chose to tackle a target, the game will assign the status of the target to a random NPC on the location. This can be a guard, a civilian, or service staff. You’re also dropped at a random spawn point, which can sometimes play into your cards or be the bane of your existence. Trust me you don’t want to spawn behind the ruins in Sapienza while your targets all stroll around in the city unless you have a sniper rifle.
There are also a bunch of optional challenges that are defined by the overall theme of the Syndicate you’re taking on. Those get randomly assigned to a location and for some, you’ll have to bring extra equipment.
And then there are prestige objectives that have an even bigger payout and can range from setting up accident kills to doing the tried and true Silent Assassin, Suit Only runs. Those are especially fun in Hardcore mode.
Having to kill just one at first might not seem like a big deal. But once you have to take care of three of them who are spread all across a huge map, you’ll have to get creative and eventually, things get messy. Luckily, some of the extra objectives even encourage you to get into combat and make a mess. But what Freelancer is really testing, is your knowledge of the individual maps, mechanics, and your ability to improvise.
The maps will have special cases that hide a support item you can pick, merchants selling special equipment, safes with money in them, and optional carriers that’ll also drop money. It replicates the main missions to a lesser degree, as you constantly have to come up with new ways to execute your target with what you’re given.
And while this is probably not for everyone, if you already are deeply in love with Hitman’s sandbox and fantastic gameplay. This game mode can provide you with hundreds of hours of entertainment. Since most of the objectives will be random, you always have to come up with new ways and strategies. Just sniping a target from the distance is not always an option.
And the showdowns at the end of a campaign are always tense, as losing will reset your current campaign. Since you only have a few hints to work with, you’ll have to do some detective work before. All of that while dodging assassins, lookouts, and guards. The pressure these Showdowns put you under is fantastic, they’ll test your capabilities as an Assassin and more than the main game, force you to commit.
Home Improvement and Tool Management
You’ll spend the time between missions in Agent 47 new hideout. A basement in some undisclosed location somewhere in the wild. As you slowly progress through campaigns, you’ll unlock more and more parts of what turns out to be a small mansion. At first, most of this just seems to be cosmetic, a small space for your to just relax and prepare for your next target.
To the average player, a banana on the kitchen counter or a battery in the garage might look like decorations but in the hands of a master assassin, these are just more tools. here is also where Freelancer’s roguelike elements come in. During your campaign, you’ll acquire weapons as well as tools.
You can buy weapons with the money you earn from traders within missions or take off guards or find them in the level. If you take them on a mission and die, however, that weapon will be lost. Tools on the other hand, are all lost when you fail a campaign. And you get a random free tool whenever you kill a target.
This is the roguelike element of Hitman Freelancer. Bring the right tool for the job and make do with what you have. And it is what keeps the mode interesting, Freelancer wouldn’t be half as fun if you had access to all the spawn locations, costumes, and weapons from the main game. And even if you fail a few campaigns, you’re still gradually leveling up your hideout.
The hideout might only seem like a cozy place to hang out at first, but as it gradually opens up and you get to decorate it. More and more little things become available to you.
You can fish outside and eventually extract poison from the pufferfish. You can randomly fish up or take one of the various household utensils with you. This makes failing campaigns a little less frustrating over time, as you get more and more options to get back on track.
And the hideout, in general, is just a cool place to hang out in. It mixes that cabin core vibe with the kind of super expansive mansion reserved for dramatic romance movies or serial killers.
Freelancer’s Hardcore more is probably the best thing Hitman’s World of Assassination has going for it. And no, this is not some ‘I’m a hardcore gamer flex’, I haven’t even managed to clear a campaign on this difficulty yet, but I’m having the time of my Hitman life here. As you probably suspected, Hardcore is Freelancer just harder.
All the territories will start out alerted, which means there are more cameras, guards are more attentive and targets will always be able to spot you. You’ll also have to choose a prestige objective and complete it. Otherwise, the whole campaign will fail.
This mode is for masochists only and I can not stop playing it since I unlocked it. The mode is not exactly balanced as it should be, the only consultation is a higher chance of getting rarer items and equipment.
But it’s the challenge that keeps me playing. The adrenaline rush of barely making it out of a showdown alive, only for the next target to be brutal to get to and even tougher to kill with limited resources. This is the kind of Hitman that I can play for months without even making any meaningful progress.
Because for me, the joy of playing this game is not beating all the challenges; it’s learning all the ins and outs. Hitman is as I mentioned before, nothing you’re ever truly master. It’s something you’re just getting better at until you can execute spontaneous plans with terminator-esque precision as the unseen grim reaper.
And the Hardcore mode is something you will fail at, probably over and over again. But losing is fun right? And since you can’t just look up the best strategy for every single random setup in Freelancer, you’ll eventually learn how to trust your gut and just for it.
If you buy Hitman World of Assassination today, you’re getting the best stealth game of all time on top of an impossibly enormous wealth of content is. Personally, I’m jealous of everyone who gets to discover all its content for the first time. Every single level is full of charming little details and Hitman’s levels are entire worlds within worlds.
But Freelancer combines all of Hitman’s best aspects into one of the best sandbox experiences of all time. This sounds like high praise, but this simple mode which is built off of already excellently designed levels and gameplay, only increases Hitman’s already incredible replay value.
You’ll be able to spend months if not years, with this mode if Hitman is the kind of game you fancy. It’s probably not for everyone, but if it were, it wouldn’t be Hitman.
I would only ask IO Interactive to add support for the special versions of some of the locations as well as some additional challenges and maybe modifiers to Freelancer. It would only improve the mode if you let enthusiasts tinker with the options and difficulty by adding more arbitrary challenges on top, similar to the Escalation Missions.
But at its heart, Freelancer feels like the victory lap for the World of Assassination. This is the ultimate version of these games and I can’t wait for what IO Interactive is coming up with next—really looking forward to that James Bond game now.
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