Hitman's latest episode, "Freedom Fighters," is very serious. Agent 47 infiltrates a militia compound in Colorado in pursuit of four targets. There's not a lot of room for fun on the compound, for Rube Goldberg-esque murder traps that make Hitman memorable, but this fifth episode is great in another way. It's hard.
Colorado's targets are a strange group: an ex-assassin, a bomb-maker, an interrogation specialist, and a former Interpol agent. Their paths cross on occasion as they make their rounds through the level, but they mostly stick to their own routes. Most of them are tailed by guards, making getting a moment alone with them unlikely. And even if you can somehow peel off their entourage, the odds of finding yourself in an unobserved spot are slim thanks to the level's layout.
If only I could get inside that spooky house.
The compound's distinct areas, all with their own requirements for access, make it feel big and challenging. This kind of layout hasn't been too difficult in previous Hitman episodes -- you just need the right outfit for the right job. But getting those outfits without getting caught is tough, because there are just people everywhere.
The main house -- only accessible to hackers and militia elite -- has the requisite costume sitting right outside its gate, but good luck slipping into it when you're always in the line of sight of at least one NPC.
In another instance, an opportunity requiring a specific item on one guard was made tricky by his patrol back and forth through a crowded, open area. While the level is full of boxes and general clutter to hide behind, there are almost no blind spots, and NPCs are regularly on the move.
The compound is also an apricot farm. That's why I have that apricot.
This set-up amplifies moments that would be forgettable in other episodes. For instance, it took me multiple tries to get into the shed where Ezra Berg, the interrogator, kept some important information. There were two guards I needed to take out before he returned, but my takedowns kept being in view of another NPC I hadn't seen, or one who would appear at the most inopportune moment.
Something so simple as to be negligible in previous levels became a tense challenge thanks to this NPC placement. I railed, I save-scummed, and I eventually succeeded -- only to find myself having to head to a new part of the map with its own guards and requirements.
Kill a target in a glass house? Sure.
Opportunities provide some guidance through the level, but even they felt a little tougher than usual. The ones I played with were all multi-step affairs that took me back and forth across the map. Though infiltrating places is a staple of Hitman, here they feel more tense given a certain hit-and-miss quality to your disguises. Someone who can see through them seems to always be just around the corner, especially when you're rushing around in service of opportunities.
The opportunities themselves were largely grim -- training accidents and sabotages, none of the more light-hearted situations that we've seen in levels with civilians. But their complexity made them enjoyable, and I'm sure there are plenty available from NPCs I haven't eavesdropped on yet.
You can imagine what a slurry lagoon is for.
Speaking of eavesdropping, Episode 5 features some excellent dialogue to uncover. A lot of players have pointed out the strangeness of hearing people in Bangkok or Italy speak in American accents. Given that Episode 5 is on American soil, you'd think that would be an inconsistency that's finally been solved -- but the level is full of non-Americans. This is partially explained away by the international nature of the militia compound, but there's still that minor incongruity that I've just come to accept as part of Hitman.
While the dialogue isn't always funny, there are still Easter eggs to be found. For instance, two characters discuss different Hitman kills. One playthrough found them talking about a 'kill everyone' run of Sapienza; another had them discussing a clever Paris kill the folks at Rooster Teeth pulled off:
This self-awareness (at another moment an NPC waxes poetic about his gun) lends a very subtle lightness to the level that keeps it from being overwhelmingly. It isn't quite as personality-filled as NPC dialogue in previous episodes, but these NPCs are here to serve less as characters and more as obstacles to keep the level tense.
The episode culminates by pushing the Hitman plot forward (yes: there are photos attached with string). This happened in a sudden rush that left me a little cold. The plot's been more hinted at than present in the series to date, and I won't lie that some of the reveals were lost on me, or just didn't register. Mostly I was frustrated that, given the more narrative nature of the level's end, there was only one exit point, since cool escapes are one of my favourite Hitman features. I'm curious to see how the plot ends out, and given that there's only one more level to go, I can understand this set-up, but it was still slightly disappointing.
Episode 5 feels tough in an engaging, interesting way. It shares some similarities with Marrakesh, but it seems to have added and refined features. It's hostile but not too stressful, straightforward stealth but not unforgiving. It's tough as nails. I can't imagine what a suit only/silent assassin run would look like, but I'm excited to try to find out.