I can pass for a level-headed assassin in Hitman most of the time, especially with a little practice. But, when the game gave me an "Elusive Target" who I could only pursue once this weekend, my Agent 47 became a murder version of the Keystone Kops.
Elusive Targets are a much-awaited feature in the new Hitman game, which has been rolling out episodically since its launch in March. They appear at unspecified times in the game, and they're only available for 48 hours. These targets aren't highlighted in Instinct like your usual victims are. You have to locate them using your own knowledge of the level and the little bit of intel you've been given. Once you've killed the target, you can't back out of the level, and if the target flees the level or 47 dies, you can't play the mission again. Unless you Alt+F4 at the right moment, there's no second chance.
For this first Elusive Target, I knew that I was going after a guy named Sergei Larin, an art forger wearing steampunk glasses and a leather apron, knowing only from intel that he'd likely be on the third floor in the Paris level at some point. By the time I started my hunt for Larin late Saturday night, there was already a wealth of YouTube videos and walkthroughs, but I decided to go in blind. There's something about replaying Hitman levels that makes me feel like a time traveller, that I'm even sort of cheating by trying to slickly assassinate someone again. That is nevertheless core to the Hitman experience. With Elusive Targets, I loved thinking that this was the closest the game might come to making me feel like a real assassin.
I've played the game's Paris level a lot, so I guessed that Larin would probably go check out the art in the attic. I started in the kitchen, thinking I could walk upstairs disguised as one of the kitchen staff, but I must have picked the wrong staircase. The guards wouldn't let me up. No problem. I found an alternate route.
Nothing to see here. Along the way I fell afoul of a guard and choked him out, then jumped into his suit so I could go up to the attic. Of course, the attic was full of guards, most of whom could see through my disguise. I spent my time ducking behind crates and statues as my suspicion meter ebbed and flowed with guards' patrol patterns. Grateful for 47's strong knees, I crouched and slunk around, waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Just when I was about to give up, the target appeared. I was so excited that my hunch had been correct that I stood up. My suspicion went off the charts, and Larin breezed out the door while I fled through the attic trying to find a box to hide in.
I did not find a box. I did find more guards.
Oops. This is normally the part where I'd save-scum and try to play better, but that wasn't an option. Usually, if I panic in Hitman, I just pull up an old save. That usually helps me keep my cool. But with only one shot at the target, the high stakes frazzled my thoughts.
The guards had to die.
I usually don't kill non-targets in Hitman, but it felt pretty good to take those guards out. And, once I'd shot them, I decided the best course of action — obviously — would be to take out every guard in the area and then just kill the target if he ever came back. So I snuck back into the main part of the attic and headshotted another guard with my silenced pistol. A guard I hadn't noticed spotted him and ran over. I knew what had to happen.
I call this "Still Life With Body Bag." And that's how I spent about ten minutes systematically murdering everyone upstairs. I've always scoffed at "kill everyone" playthroughs of Hitman, but it felt pretty good. At one point I shot a guard while he was dragging his dead buddy across the floor. I could almost see 47 frowning at me, but I had to do what I had to do.
Somewhere in this mess of shooting, dragging, and playing dead body Jenga, Larin, the target, wandered back into the room, followed by his bodyguard. They both looked down at me, crouched by a stack of suited bodies. I swear we stared at each other for a moment. Then Larin ran, and I shot his bodyguard in the face and added him to the pile.
Larin had run to the back of the attic to phone for help. I followed him coolly. No, I didn't. In my panic, I tripped over every last piece of art in the level and even smacked into a wall before I managed to stumble through the door and headshot him. Target down.
Then I strolled out the front door of the level like a complete and total badass.
Nothing to see here either. Leaving levels suavely is the coolest part of Hitman, but in this case my exit was a cymbal crash at the end of a bad joke. I couldn't stop laughing as 47 casually meandered through the party, his bumbling attic antics apparently forgotten.
My crowning glory:
It was nice of the game not to give me a negative score, all things considered. The more smoothly you kill your target, the better your score. After the Elusive Target expired I watched some Let's Plays and saw players infinitely more patient than me pull off slick, high-scores skills. It made me wish I could try the mission again, that I'd been more patient. The once-in-a-lifetime nature of Elusive Targets pushed me to think — and fail — on my feet and encouraged me to try things I'd never done before. The guns blazing route, never my first choice, was a lot of fun, and the nature of the target made what would have been a big Hitman fail into an enjoyable and hilarious adventure.