Let's Play videos can be appealing for a variety of reasons. Sometimes you watch them because you like the personality of the presenter. Other times you want to get tips or tricks and seek a video walkthrough. And often gameplay videos are engaging because someone is trying to pull off a particularly impressive challenge, like, say, playing Dark Souls 3 with a controller made from bananas, or speedrunning a title to near perfection.
It's 1978. You're standing in front of a cabinet of monsters. This is Space Invaders, and you'll fight the monsters until your space-craft is irredeemably compromised. Once that happens, the game will end. Once that happens, you'll begin again, with the world wiped clean. Every game always ends. Nothing remains between games but high scores, memories and finger grease.
There's an old adage that tragedy is easy, comedy is hard. Tragedy falls into more easily definable universal truths. We all grieve more or less the same things: the death of a loved one, abandonment, the deterioration of one's mind and body. Simply show a dog growing old waiting for its master never to return and watch the waterworks flow! But comedy? That's a tricky one as humour is entirely subjective. And even when the content is clever, the delivery of a gag could see the humour fly or flounder. Pause for a half second too long or talk a little too quick and you'll botch the punchline. It's all in the execution.
Hitmanᵀᴹ (which, for the sake of our sanity and yours, we'll just call Hitman from now on thank you very much) has just wrapped up its first season, and it's fair to say it's been a success. Since March this year, IO Interactive has delivered a succession of murderous playgrounds dense with the kind of devious detail that helped forge the studio's name back with the lauded Blood Money, and to my mind this reboot is at least the equal of that modern day classic. This new Hitman has frequently been outstanding.
Hitman is a series of some wonder. It has been since its inception in 2000, and the latest instalment (helpfully differentiated as Hitmanᵀᴹ) is a hugely welcome return to form. Despite its focus on methodical professionalism and minimal exposure, the series has always been surprisingly lenient with allowing you to play it wrong. We've all done it; a Silent Assassin attempt goes awry and instead of rage-quitting, something snaps and we start getting even. Running around with guns blazing, innocents fleeing in panic while security piles in. It becomes a fight against the odds, an endurance challenge where luck is as important as skill. In one glorious fumble you go from elite professional to deranged mass-murderer.
Here's a hot take that's both more than a little lukewarm and likely isn't all that controversial: I think I preferred Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes to its full-blown follow-up The Phantom Pain.
In Play is a column taking a weekly sideways look at new game releases.
Hitman is a series that lives or dies on just how imaginatively morbid it can be. One of the real joys of these games is finding the most obscure way to murder a target and then patting yourself on the back for the pure deviousness of it all. But just how deep does this dagger-lined rabbit hole go? How many ways can you possibly kill a target in just one mission? Being the most stabby member of the team, we nominated Ian to find out. He lost count (and a tiny portion of his sanity) at around 32; some with the same weapon, but always different styles. Bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher? Check. Knocked out cold with a fire extinguisher and then suffered a snapped neck? Also check. We may have created a monster.
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.
The new Hitman game is out today... sort of. As you've no doubt heard, IO Interactive decided to split Hitman up into episodic chunks rather than release it all at once - a move that has proved divisive among the community. We'll get into the pros and cons of such an approach in a bit, but first the basics:
In gameplay terms, a few hours of play with the Hitman beta suggests a return to form for the series, bringing back traditional stealth action paired with bigger environments, dynamic lighting and a gigantic leap in NPC counts across the game's various locations. It's a promising taster of Agent 47's latest adventure, but last week's PS4 beta saw an experience marred by some really choppy performance, paired with an unlocked frame-rate further adding to the overall inconsistency in the experience.
So what was the issue causing frame-rate drops down to the low 20s... CPU? GPU? We wouldn't really know until we got our hands on the PC beta, released last weekend, mirroring the exact same content. We were also curious to see the extent to which Io's evolved Glacier engine would scale, and whether 1080p60 gameplay was possible. In theory it should be easy for an enthusiast-level PC version to power past the performance issues of the PS4 game, but unfortunately this isn't quite the case with Hitman. Scenes heavy in NPCs can still bring performance down to its knees, even on highly capable PC hardware - and frame-rates remain highly variable.
From a general visual perspective, the PC version offers up the kind of upgrades we see in many cross-platform releases. Basic image quality at 1080p resolution is improved via the ability to use SMAA, presenting us with a crisper image that resolves more detail across the artwork. This is joined by upgrades in shadow quality, level of detail streaming, texture filtering and ambient occlusion.
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With the biggest levels yet seen in a Hitman game, developer IO interactive gives the series a full reboot on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One - pushing for huge dynamically lit stages, teeming with hundreds of AI characters. The size of each level is taken up a gear over 2012's Hitman Absolution, and the studio claims over 300 characters are now fully simulated, as compared to the previous 40-50 limit. However, based on the PS4 beta, crowds of this size appear to take a toll on finite console resources - and this early taster puts a question mark over the state of the final game's performance.
In a nutshell, this PS4 beta acts as a prologue to the full game, throwing us into two tutorial missions with Agent 47. You're let loose on a cruise ship (and then later a military base), letting you try all the tools in his arsenal before things kick off properly on its March 11th release. Curiously, the full package itself will be meted out in monthly chunks, with Italy and Morocco stages to be added in later months. But for now, both training exercises give us a moment to explore our stealthy options - and the technical choices behind the series reboot.
It's quite a jump from the last-gen; PS4 runs at a native 1920x1080 with a form of post-process AA over and above. It also retains the superb suite of lighting effects seen in Absolution - bloom, light shafts, and some crisp reflections are on show - resulting in a look that marks an evolution of the studio's existing Glacier 2 engine. Stage design is impressively detailed too, and though we're missing the sheer variety of areas seen in the Paris fashion show (revealed at EGX), each area on the cruise ship is distinct.
Well, this is more like it. We're at a heaving fashion show, where the marbled halls of a grand Paris palace that sits on the sun-kissed banks of the Seine is click-clacking with the heels of thousand dollar shoes while champagne glasses tinkle in the courtyards. What better place for a spot of dress-up? First there were the slacks and t-shirt smuggled from an unfortunate soul in a makeshift dressing room that helped us get past security and to the uppermost levels, but that was just the first rung on the ladder. What we found in the loft, though, is surely some kind of fashion end-game.