If nothing else, the days leading up to the release of Hitman have certainly been interesting. Between the Friday release date - unusual for a worldwide release, and for a digital one - and the episodic rollout of new content, this latest instalment in the contract killing series is launching in a rather atypical fashion. The fact that Square Enix saw fit to open the game's outdated beta to PlayStation Plus users just one week before launch was even more baffling. Unfortunately, for many players, this beta left a sour impression, thanks in part to its wildly inconsistent frame-rate. Now, with the launch-day version of Hitman in hand, we were eager to see if these issues have been corrected, and how the previously unseen Xbox One version stacks up.
Starting off with the PlayStation 4 version, we were immediately pleased to see a noticeable performance increase right out of the gate. Compared to the beta, we're looking at a boost of 10 to 15 frames per second, with performance that remains above 30fps the vast majority of the time. The second training area fares even better now, and manages to turn in something approaching a stable 60fps throughout: a taste of what could have been. So while performance remains rather variable, the more serious drops in frame-rate we encountered in the beta have been completely eliminated here.
While the improved performance is certainly great news, we're still not huge fans of variable, unlocked frame-rates - a concern we expressed in our analysis of the beta. The good news here is that the game's developer, Io Interactive, is clearly listening to feedback and has taken steps to address our concerns. Hitman now includes the option to cap the game's frame-rate at 30fps. As a result of the improved performance, it's now possible to enjoy the game at an almost completely stable 30fps.
That's all well and good for PlayStation owners, but how does Hitman fare on Xbox One? First impressions suggest a near identical presentation; we see the same 1080p rendering resolution with all of the same visual features intact. Unfortunately, when it comes to performance, the results aren't quite where they need to be. The first two areas on Xbox One exhibit frame-rate numbers more in line with the PS4 beta than the final game on Sony's platform. This means drops well below 30fps in the busiest areas, with jarring spikes up to 60fps. Thankfully, with the addition of the 30fps cap, it's possible to eliminate these spikes, but the drops below 30fps remain an issue - at least in this first mission.
Once we ventured into the meat of the game, however, things took an unexpected turn. The introduction sequence for this map is mildly disappointing, both consoles dropping below 30fps with PS4, predictably, commanding a slight lead. Things look up once we're handed control, with both versions crossing the 30fps barrier as PS4 maintains its advantage. This continues as we explore the surrounding garden, but just as we make our way indoors something changes - Xbox One takes the lead.
While the difference is minimal, just 3-5fps at most, the Xbox One version actually manages to run faster than the PlayStation 4 code throughout the interior areas of the Paris map. The difference in performance is fascinating here, and something we would never have been able to notice if not for the option to uncap the frame-rate. It's not entirely clear what's happening, but it is interesting nonetheless.
When compared to the first training mission, the measured results on PS4 actually seem consistent - performance numbers seem contingent on the size of the crowd in any given area. While exploring the crowded bow of the ship, for instance, the frame-rate dropped into the mid-30s. The Paris map, in comparison, features even larger crowds and the frame-rate adjusts accordingly. There's really nothing out of the ordinary happening here on PlayStation 4.
On Xbox One, however, the boost in performance that we observed in Paris is more interesting. The busiest areas on the ship saw sustained drops into the low 20s, and we expected similar results in the more crowded Paris map. Yet the frame-rate manages to remain steady in the mid-30s instead. What exactly is responsible for the drops in the training mission and why are we seeing improved performance in a more complex map? It's not entirely clear, but we're reminded of Assassin's Creed Unity and the slight performance advantage evident on Xbox One in busy sequences.
The key thing to note here is that, in most situations, Hitman manages to stay north of 30fps. With the frame-rate cap engaged, players can enjoy the game with minimal interruptions in fluidity. Hitman is not a fast-paced game, after all, so the lower frame-rate has minimal impact on the experience. It's a handsome, if understated, game with acceptable performance on both platforms. The difference in performance is almost academic when using the frame-rate cap.
That said, there is one other bone to pick, and it applies to both consoles equally - loading times. Using stock hard drives, both consoles weigh in at over 90 seconds of loading when starting up the Paris map. That's a pretty significant amount of wait time to be stuck with, and it can make the transition between the main menu and gameplay rather frustrating. Beyond that, simply bringing up the menu mid-game results in a noticeable pause as the game loads in the relevant information. Hitman certainly seems like a game that would benefit from a faster hard drive. Thankfully, retrying a failed mission requires much less time, so it's not likely to spoil the experience more than once in the game.
Ultimately, Hitman turns in respectable performance on both consoles. It's not quite as consistent as we'd like, but the majority of the game can be experienced at a stable 30fps. It's an interesting take on the Hitman series that shares more with the older releases than the more linear Hitman Absolution. Next time, we're going to delve deeper into Glacier 2, the engine powering the game, and examine the PC version. In the meantime, just know that, aside from some minor issues, Hitman is solid and worth checking out.
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