Hitman is So Well Designed, You Can Play It While Missing a Whole Button

After dozens of hours playing Hitman 2, 3, and several escalations, I realized I never learned a core mechanic.

As I mentioned on Channel F this week, I’ve been continuing to dive headfirst into Hitman 3 content —  including the Lesley Celebration escalation, released in March. It’s a difficult mission: first asking you to clear a seemingly random selection of partiers and guards in the sprawling Berlin stage. But the third level really stumped me: mainly because you can’t change your outfit, you have to get one of the guards in a particular way, and, by the way, you have to hide every single body. In a stage as densely populated as Berlin (it’s a massive rave!) that’s… very tough.

In this game, you can be messy (I always am!), but not too sloppy: guards will mow your ass down quickly if anyone sees you commit grisly murder and then slowly drag the body away for safekeeping. I died a lot. I mean, a lot.

My biggest challenge was with Florida Man (Nicholas Velmorres), who goes on a loop through the rave area, then saunters through the basement bar and skylight bar… but never really strays anywhere secluded. I found my best bet was to start in the skylight bar (where he starts off), use the winch to “accidentally” kill him with the chandelier, and just drag him off in plain sight. If I could do it fast enough, I could drop down to a secret passageway, and just embraced the chaos as I sprinted through the level, stopping to hide here and there.

After a few tries (including one where an annoying club-goer parked their ass squarely in my way, foiling my attempt to drag Mr. Velmorres to a nice locker), I nailed it! I skirted right up to the edges of how sloppy you can possibly be — and a skilled player would probably hang their head is shame if they had to watch it — but the deed was done! I completed the Lesley Celebration!

After I described my adventure on Channel F, I got curious about the “right” way to do it. Or, at least, a better way that involved at least an iota of stealth.

I looked up a guide.

It’s funny, the guide kept mentioning this thing called “instinct.” I had seen it mentioned before, of course. But it didn’t really click until I was watching Collin play the game last night (with couch handlers Imran and Paul!). Every so often, Collin did something to make interact-able objects glow. To make the characters that were suspicious stand out. It was like detective vision in the Arkham games, or any of the hundred iterations of such a thing.

Oh. Instinct. Instinct!

collin hitman 3 instinct
Here, on a fine Fanbyte Stream, Guide Writer Collin MacGregor demonstrates the instinct mechanic.

If you’ve played a Hitman game, you are probably screaming at your device right now. But, hand to heart, I completely forgot it was ever a thing. I play on the professional difficulty level (it’s like a medium or a moderate, the default, I believe), and yeah… I can imagine these games are a good deal easier with that functionality.

Here’s how I think it happened. When I played Hitman 2 when it first came out, I dabbled in one of the training stages (I remember a fake… cruise ship?) and I’m sure I was told how to use instinct, during the course of learning the game. But I didn’t stay long in the intro missions, since the game graciously lets you go in and play in the real stages, so, that’s what I did! I’m sure I used it a bit in Hawke’s Bay. But not since then, in… whatever month in 2018 the game came out.

This time around, in January when Hitman 3 came out, I didn’t fuss with any training missions, I just dived in, and played, and fell in love with the game. The rest is sort of history: I finished 3, then immediately started doing the escalations, then started playing 2 and several of the escalations there. I never stopped to consider… instinct.

hitman 3 lesley celebration target

This less of an indictment of my ability to pay attention, and more a compliment to developer IO’s incredible design sensibilities. The audio design and visual language of the game is so strong — and so clear – that even a sloppy player like me can get by, without any extra help. I make copious use of the map, I try to learn each stage as best I can the first few times through, and I generally know where everything I might need is. Interactable objects have a clear UI element on them. Guards and suspicious NPC’s all have white dots associated with them, and clear meters for level of suspicion (there’s a sound effect too). Once you can read the map, the minimap, and the various UI cues… well, I guess I’m proof that you can do ok.

I’ve said it before, but I also think the professional difficulty is fairly forgiving. Once you know the layouts, and once you know the edges of the simulation that you can potentially cheese and make use of… well, you can just about get away with murder.

So, kudos to you, IO. You’ve designed a series that works on so many levels. Even on my level… and folks, I think I’ve proven here that this is really saying something.

For the record, I actually don’t want to know how to use instinct. Sure, It would make things easier (and things like silent assassinations much more within my grasp). But I sort of love the messy fun I’m having with the series, playing it this way. It’s a big, goofy sandbox for me, and it’s become close to what I enjoy most about immersive sims: playing around with limitations, asking if any given object or mechanic has surprising results, and positively delighting when things do go my way.