The free new mode is out for Hitman 3 (now renamed to Hitman: World of Assassination), and I'd been looking forward to it since it was announced early last year as something that might help reinvigorate my interest in the game. I love Hitman, but at some point you've done everything there is to do.
I've spent a few hours playing it today and have some thoughts.
For the most part, I think the mode does work, and definitely does drive me forward in a way that the previous story missions didn't really do.
I mean, the story mode is great, but with the mastery system, the game was pushing you to replay each mission over and over again in order to get all the different little in-mission achievements so that your mastery would go up. At the same time, most of your equipment unlocks in the old story started to become irrelevant pretty quickly, because there were a lot of copies, and a lot of items that just weren't that useful (e.g., assault rifles and shotguns in a game that doesn't really want you to go loud in the first place)... the useful unlocks you were earning were tied to the missions themselves, such as starting disguises or dead drop locations.
In Freelancer, with each mission you're both earning XP to level up your safehouse, and earning a currency ("merces") to buy equipment (merces can only be spent with vendors in-mission, as far as I can tell there is no way to buy stuff at your safehouse). Both currencies provide you a long-term goal and make you feel like you are actually building Agent 47's career, rather than being swept along by the story.
As far as I can tell, the safehouse unlocks are all cosmetic. At the beginning most rooms are locked, but as you progress you get to enter a dressing room to check out your suits, go upstairs (you start in your basement), and even walk around outside (and go fishing!). At first most of the house is filled with cardboard boxes and the like, which as you level up can be replaced with actual furniture. That part is kind of neat... it's like doing these missions is helping Agent 47 to move in.
There's also an elusive-target-like tension, because the stakes are high. Failing a mission will halve your current merces, and you'll also lose all your assassination tools. There's no re-trying in this mode, so it encourages more careful play than the base game, which could be save-scummed to oblivion. It's nice that skilled play and patience actually matter here; I suspect it will make me a better player.
But I don't think it's a perfect mode. There are definitely things I'd like to see added or done differently.
Probably my biggest beef has to do with the importance of the nominally optional "objectives." Each mission will have a number of different things you can do that will earn you extra merces; this can be somewhat controlled by which syndicate you decide to attack, as each one will pull from a different pool of objectives. One might be poison-themed, another sniper-themed, another one suit-only-themed. The thing is, though, that these objectives are worth massively more than you'll get for simply completing the mission. E.g., you'll have three objectives that each reward 1,000 merces... while the amount you get for completing the mission is only 200.
They've also made some decisions about equipment that tie back into some of my problems with the big focus on doing the objectives. In order to make the items you can buy from on-mission vendors more valuable, much of the equipment that you could previously acquire on-site has been removed from the stages, like poisons. Moreover, items like poisons are one-time use; if you assassinate someone with a lethal poison vial or a syringe, then that vial/syringe is gone and can't be used for the next mission. Well, all of this together creates situations where one of the mission objectives might be to kill a target with lethal poison... and yet you don't have any lethal poison and have no means to get any. Maybe the in-mission vendor will have it in their inventory, but very likely not.
Getting equipment you want can definitely be an issue. A specific problem I had at the beginning was that you start with no lockpick, which in the base game was a tool I was basically never without, and I felt seriously handicapped until it finally showed up in the vendor's inventory. And there simply seems like there's no way to target a particular piece of equipment you really want to have... including my beloved Krugermeier pistol.
Finally, and somewhat bizarrely, Freelancer mode seems to have dispensed altogether with the dead drops and starting locations mechanics from the base game, when it seems like something they should instead be leaning into. In Freelancer, when you start a mission, you always start in your suit, and your starting location is random... and you can end up in some pretty strange places, considering. E.g., I played a mission on Dartmoor in which I started on the third-floor balcony... even though people who aren't mansion staff aren't allowed up on that floor at all. Instead of starting you in random locations, why not allow you to pick starting locations, or purchase them for merces? And why can't you build a closet of disguises to start with just like you can build an arsenal of weapons and tools?
All of that said, and while I've focused a lot on the negatives, Freelancer mode is still an awfully nice addition to Hitman that feels like it fits the core conceit like a glove. I've always liked rogue-lites, and it's nice to feel that your hard work assassinating people has a more tangible benefit by rewarding you with better tools, better weapons, a swankier pad, and... money (is it just me, or is it weird that that there wasn't money in this game before now? What was Agent 47 killing people for previously, anyway?). It leaves you feeling that there's always more to be accomplished, while the punishment for failure keeps the whole thing tense.
So, if you'd gotten bored with Hitman over the years, like I had (that first game was released in 2016, remember, and the formula hadn't really changed at all until now), then you might consider giving it another shot, seeing as it's a free update and all. I only hope that at some point they make a few adjustments in line with some of my complaints, though maybe some of my thinking on these issues will evolve as I keep playing. We shall see, on both counts.
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