I am a cameraman, wading my way through the crowds of Marrakesh. I’m on my way to an interview, between my GNN news crew and Claus Hugo Strandberg, an illustrious businessman hiding out in the Swiss embassy.
Except I’m none of those things.
In reality, or some version of it, I’m Agent 47: a world-renowned assassin in pursuit of several targets including Strandberg. He himself leads a double life as a world-renowned embezzler and fraud. I’m not headed to the embassy, through a throng of protestors demanding Claus be brought to justice, for just any reason; I’m there to eliminate him. And I’ll do it the best way I know how.
I’m going to drop a moose on him.
The world of Hitman is filled with idyllic vistas, beautiful locales, and absolutely terrible people. Those who find themselves on Agent 47’s list are, for the most part, deserving; they participate in the most heinous white collar crimes, each ranging from devilish to cartoonishly evil. As Agent 47, you eliminate them in a variety of ways: stabbing, drowning, poisoning, or shooting. Those are often last resorts, though. What developer IO Interactive encourages — and incentivizes players with — are story-driven opportunities. These are established points of confluence, where circumstances and ingenuity align to allow a Rube Goldberg-style elimination of a target, often resulting in a clean kill where 47 is totally free of suspicion.
Opportunities are a little unconventional. Some of them don’t even result in eliminating a target, but simply gaining access to new areas — a crucial resource in any Hitman puzzle box. In the Bank level set in New York, Agent 47 can overhear employees discuss a potential finalist for a new role at the company. They’re in the bathroom, dealing with a bad case of nerves. Should Agent 47 enter in after them, the finalist might emerge with surprisingly less hair and a strange barcode on the back of his neck. That’s no problem, though. Certainly not for 47.
Soon, HR puts Applicant 47 through a final exam: an inkblot test. The bankers want 47 to look at each image and describe why he relates words like “power” to them. Surprisingly, Agent 47 doesn’t keep up the facade; he describes grim scenarios of murder, destruction, and ruthlessness. In one, he describes a scenario where he’s content to work outside the norms of the societal contract in order to profit and succeed.
The investment bankers love that shit. 47 is hired. This mysterious new applicant is allowed nearly free access to all levels of the Bank in order to scope out their new workplace.
It’s a sincere and funny moment where Agent 47’s absurd existence is called to the forefront. If a regular level of Hitman is a microcosm, humming along in scheduled, predetermined harmony, Agent 47 is the aberration. He’s a virus, trying to circumvent each level’s white blood cells, get what he needs, and get out.
Agent 47 is where he shouldn’t be: a fish out of water. There’s inherent comedy to that situation that IO Interactive — somewhat in older games like Blood Money, but much more in the reboot games — dials ever upward.
One of my favorite opportunities that actually can lead to an assassination happens in the 2016 Hitman. Over in Bangkok, Jordan Cross, a singer for acclaimed New York indie band The Class, is your next target. To get close to him, Agent 47 can incapacitate and pose as a drummer flown in by Cross’s recording label for his new album. This means you can walk right into the studio where dirtbag is recording but, of course, 47 will have to drum. Hard. While his interview in the Bank is a bit of a mask-off moment for 47 that ends up working in his favor (they always do), here 47 keeps up the charade in his own way, sits down, and smacks out a stone-faced drum solo.
Impressed, Cross takes him outside to the balcony to chat. Only Agent 47 returns.
Hitman is a very dark series at its core. It’s a world of murder and intrigue, where treacherous, murderous people are dispatched with in cold, callous fashion. I mean… It’s a game about assassination after all. That’s pretty grim on its own, even without mountains of additional lore surrounding each indecently wealthy target. These can sometimes forge a more complex, nuanced visage, or just add more fuel to the wood chipper you’re about to chuck them into. In one case you can literally chuck a guy into a wood chipper.
It’s also got rogue organizations and vast, interlinking conspiracies that would feel right at home in the Mission: Impossible, James Bond, or Bourne series. Every target is somehow linked to a network of increasingly sinister acronyms, mononyms, and nom de guerres. There’s IAGO, Providence, the “shadow client,” or the Constant. When Agent 47 enters a new level, it’s a world humming with average everyday life, unaware of the swift undercurrent of espionage below… until 47 starts twisting the status quo into balloon animals against his enemies.
These comical opportunities are what make Hitman click, though. Yes, it’s all well and fine to poison a target’s sushi and be done with it. But while it’s brutally efficient, it’s also too on-the-nose. You’re rewarded with meta-progression for taking advantage of all the different outfits Agent 47 can assume, all the intel and gossip he can utilize to his advantage, and ways in which a death could look like a tragic accident — rather than a planned sequence of events.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as stealing back the keys for a water scooter and handing them to the reckless moron who loves to endanger himself driving it. Enjoy watching him sail off, unaware of the remote explosive you’ve slipped into his side compartment. Other times, it’s organizing the series of emetic poisoning, bathroom knockouts, and hiding in plain sight that places you inside the Swiss consulate for a target’s one-on-one, underneath a giant moose statue, held aloft by wires of questionable tensile strength.
There’s a lot of joy to be found in orchestrating the most over-the-top, complex ways in which you could eliminate an enemy. The moose might be planned, but what about placing a remote explosive in a toilet? Then just drop some of that instant diarrhea on some food. Or maybe wrench open a gas valve, catching a would-be hot dog cook by surprise. Sometimes even odd hiccups create new bits of fun. The infamous “homing briefcase” was initially a bug, until IO Interactive decided to make it an official part of the Hitman arsenal. A slow, unwavering briefcase, spinning forth eternally towards its target is the kind of absurdity that fits right in Agent 47’s designer pockets. It cuddles right up next to the rubber ducky explosives and a seemingly magical coin able to distract anyone.
It’s a testament to each level’s incredible malleability that even over repeat plays. I’ve rarely tried to go the route of firearms and fiber wire. I’d pick up a sniper rifle and get a vantage point, but then it felt too much like other games; it wasn’t Hitman if I was just sitting in a nest, waiting for the opportunity to take out my targets before walking away.
The bizarre comedy of Hitman is its lifeblood. It’s what makes this otherwise effusively grim series so much fun. When I explore the intricate, dense levels IO Interactive creates, it’s not just to find a new corner to duck behind for cover during a firefight. I’m looking for a flamingo costume that will give me newfound access, or opportunities to embed myself further into the mundane. Maybe I can find a can of Spaghetti-O’s to lob at an unsuspecting guard, too.
And, of course, things go wrong. Things go horribly wrong all the time in Hitman. Watching them fall apart around you is just as funny. In the blink of an eye, Helmut Kruger, international modeling sensation, can go from exploring the grounds to hiding in a bin after some partygoers see him chuck a fire extinguisher at a foreign diplomat. Of course, Agent 47 both is and isn’t Helmut Kruger. He can just knock someone out, become them, and jog around while guards search everywhere for the expressionless model they can no longer find.
These stories define my Hitman playtime — more so than the prewritten narrative does, certainly. That’s because it permeates into every inch of Hitman. It’s a world aware that it’s been breached by an outsider, that will both hunt you and playfully joke about mysterious happenings around the level as Agent 47 carries out his task. And when, ultimately, you drop that moose on an unsuspecting interviewee, it’s the culmination of careful planning and adjacent narrative buildup.
There’s as much construction to a Hitman opportunity as a good joke. The chance to disguise yourself as a masseuse ends with 47 snapping the target’s neck, following a line about how the number of people looking to kill him is really creating some “tension.” While a target pauses to gaze out a glass window, monologuing about the harsh realities of the world, they might as well just wear a “Kick Me” sign.
In its best moments, Hitman shows a Wile E. Coyote that always gets his roadrunner. Or maybe Agent 47 is more of a Bugs Bunny type — using elaborate costumes, props, and increasingly strange situations to foil his belligerent, straightforward enemies. Dressing up like a famous orchestra conductor and making his nemesis sing until it literally brings the house down on his own head isn’t outside the realm of Agent 47’s faculties.
With the upcoming Hitman 3, IO Interactive is leaning even more into its own brand of self-aware comedy. There’s already a lot of talk about the murder mystery level where 47 can potentially play a Hercule Poirot role. There are even small references to 2019’s Knives Out.
I’m pretty excited to find just what kind of trapdoor shenanigans IO Interactive is hiding in that level and all the others. The studio is looking ahead to a James Bond game after this, which would fit the bill for more wacky hijinks in a self-serious world. But Agent 47 will always be the best in the business — a wrinkle in the system, both straight-faced and robotic, while playing into the dark, inherent comedy of Hitman‘s world of assassination. No one drops that moose better than 47.