Hitman creator Io Interactive purchased itself from publisher Square-Enix earlier this year, retaining control over its signature stealth assassination series in the process. A new GOTY edition of the title is now available, complete with all original content and a new Patient Zero campaign variant. Meanwhile, the studio has revamped the look of Hitman and rolled out a highly impressive Xbox One X update.
This upgrade follows the proud tradition set by Io with the PS4 Pro patch, which introduced improved performance, a 1440p resolution bump and a little while later, full HDR support. It was a great enhancement to an excellent game, but the Xbox One X title update takes thing even further and the result is one of the most impressive upgrades we've seen yet for the new system.
It starts with the resolution options. Hitman now offers two options that determine image quality - a high quality mode and a high frame-rate mode. The former renders out the game at a full, native 4K, with a subtle pass of temporal anti-aliasing on top. The high performance mode targets 60fps, but does so with a 1440p resolution as opposed to the standard 1080p deployed in similar modes in Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4.
It's the quality mode we prefer. Hitman is an absurdly detailed game and the jump to native 4K makes a huge difference in terms of overall clarity. It's not just about resolution though - this game is rich in incidental detail, right down to lavishly modelled soda cans. Paired with native ultra HD, it's a remarkably beautiful game. Hitman also uses parallax occlusion mapping more than any other title we've seen, giving an extra dimension to otherwise flat surfaces. Rounding off the upgrades, texture filtering is also amped up, enabling sharper surface detail at a distance while shadow quality is further enhanced.
Comparisons with Pro are interesting - the Sony console only has one quality mode, which is broadly equivalent to Xbox One X's performance set-up. There's one subtle change though - Microsoft's console pushes out detail further into the distance on both modes. Meanwhile, all of the quality-based enhancements - resolution, shadows and filtering - aren't available on the Sony system.
So why offer two modes on Xbox One X then? Well, it's all about frame-rate stability. With the high quality mode, you can toggle between a capped or uncapped frame-rate. By using the 30fps cap here, Hitman offers a mostly stable experience at native 4K, dropping under the threshold just a touch in the most packed environments such as the Marrakesh stage. Performance mode's drop to 1440p and lower quality settings allows the game to mostly run at 60fps - though depending on how dense the scene is, it can vary from 50-60fps. Tellingly, comparing Xbox One X's performance mode to the unlocked PS4 Pro game, the Microsoft console hands in a 20fps advantage in virtually all scenarios, the differential only limited by the 60fps cap. And remember, the X is pushing out its LODs too.
The exception to the rule is the taxing Marakesh stage, which sees the delta reduce to just 10fps - likely a result of the punishing CPU load on this level. While Xbox One X has demonstrated a strong GPU advantage, this stage highlights that at their core, both systems are still using very similar AMD Jaguar CPU cores. And traditionally, this has posed a problem for Hitman performance - but even here, Io Interactive has taken steps to boost throughput.
It's achieved by using a technique we've seen before in titles like Destiny 2 and Halo 5 - half-rate simulation. Essentially, the underlying processing of the game world is handled at half the rendered frame-rate, and this manifests in the form of half-rate animations on some (but not all) NPCs. It seems to have been included on both PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but the behaviour seems more aggressive on the X, with more entities running at reduced tick rates, so perhaps the Pro could turn in faster results with some tweaks.
Still, overall, outside of problem stages like Marrakesh and Bangkok, Xbox One X does manage to get reasonably close to delivering 60 frames per second across the game, which is an impressive feat indeed. This might be a perfect game to test using a Freesync display, as it should eliminate all judder if all works as hoped.
So, to summarise - Hitman's quality mode offers a great native 4K experience, almost always locked to 30fps. It's one of the most detail-rich, beautiful games on Xbox One X. You can unlock the frame-rate here, but we don't recommend it. Performance mode is less successful at holding 60fps but it comes reasonably close and feels great as a result. It's not perfect but it's the smoothest Hitman experience seen to date on consoles.
We've also got to put in a good word about the game's HDR implementation - which is common to all platforms now. This isn't a game that blows you away with bright highlights but it makes use of HDR in a way that does enhance the overall experience by allowing for a greater range of exposure on-screen at any point. When exploring a darkened room, the outdoors will appear very bright but you can still clearly see what's happening outside. This effect of moving between rooms of varying brightness is greatly enhanced when using HDR and it does enhance the mood. The focus here isn't on a mind-blowing HDR showcase, but on making the game look more 'correct' - but in doing so, there are select scenes that just look stunning. If you can watch our video in full HDR, you may catch one or two of them.
Ultimately, with the GOTY release and the Xbox One X patch, Hitman continues to impress. Io Interactive has done a tremendous job supporting and expanding upon the original concept, enabling this to become one of the very best - if not the best - games in the Hitman franchise. It looks great, plays well and takes good advantage of every console platform.
The best has been saved until last though, with Hitman on Xbox One X offering higher performance or a significantly improved 4K experience, giving users the choice on which to use. What was always a great game to play is now also a highly impressive showcase title for Microsoft's new console. If you don't own the game, and you've just invested in the Xbox One X, we highly recommend adding it to your collection.
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