I was excited and intrigued about Hitman Freelancer – the release video was engaging and action-packed, the new game mode looked like the ultimate Hitman experience, I went in with high expectations and a sense of excitement which I have done my best to contain for the sake of an impartial review. Fortunately, I had enough time to play Freelancer that I think the excitement has faded into a much healthier respect for an overall well-realized game.
Hitman Freelancer is a new game mode for Hitman 3, which is now rebranded as Hitman: World of Assassination. Essentially, Freelancer is open-ended in nature – you plan your own campaign and embark on a series of increasingly challenging missions by selecting from a pack of several randomized contracts, unlocking weapons, gear, and cosmetics as you gather experience.
Hitman Freelancer is a new and free expansion that comes as part of Hitman World of Assassination It was developed and published by and IO interactive and is available on PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S, as well as Steam. Players who already bought the game as Hitman 3 or World of Assassination will receive it at no additional cost by updating to the latest version.
Story: As You Will
If you want a story-driven game, you will play the Hitman 3 campaign. Don’t be fooled or disappointed by the news that Freelancer is not a standalone game, since it very well could be. There’s not much of a story here, though – you’re Agent 47 doing what you do best – taking down violent and nefarious gangs vigilante style. The game will select a a series of maps for each contract, and assign what seems to be random NPCs as your targets, and you can use any means necessary to take them out.
That’s all there really is to it – this is going to be a more gameplay focused review, since that’s where most of the meat is here. Each contract has a number of missions, increasing from 3 to 6, of increasingly complex and difficult missions, with the goal of defeating whichever shady worldwide syndicate you closed down by taking down members. The final mission of each contract is taking out the leader, thereby destroying an international web of crime like a dark angel of justice.
Each map has hundreds of NPCs all going about their business, and there is a pleasing diversity to it all. The world feels alive because the NPCs generally aren’t just pulling dialogue from a pool of stock NPC phrases like you might find in other games – on one map, you can listen to a hippie who has been smuggling cocaine frets about the handover after breaking the souvenir it is hidden in, as another guy nonchalantly suggests he glue it back together. In another setting, workers complain amongst themselves about the foreman not giving them a break. In many cases, you can listen in and watch their behavior as it unfolds.
Gameplay – Agent 47 Goes Rogue(Like)
Hitman: Freelancer is a masterfully crafted game in its own right. It is a challenging yet addictively repayable sandbox that steadily ratchets up the difficulty and puts your skills to the test. The PS4 version does have some minor niggles that don’t take too much away from the experience, I sincerely enjoyed my time with the game and the only negatives I can speak of here are the very occasional framerate stutter and even more isolated game errors that I put down to connectivity issues.
The core gameplay of Hitman Freelancer works as follows: the game randomly selects either one or more NPCs for you to take out, so you never really know what to expect beyond the number of targets and the location. Some NPCs will act as lookouts, watching out for any suspicious behavior and will aggro if they spot you. This gets even more complex with the final mission of each contract – instead of having a marked target, the game will give you a few visual and behavioral clues, and you will have to identify the true leader from one of several potential targets. In this case, if you get spotted by a lookout, they will warn the leader and they will try to escape.
The Ultimate Assassin
Depending on how many missions are in the contract, you can fail one or more of them and still have a chance to redeem yourself. Failing a mission will “alert” the syndicate in other regions, and makes the following mission more challenging by having either more lookout type enemies who will immediately become hostile towards you if they spot you. This can make the delicate leader missions a real headache.
This is a challenging game mode! That said, it is highly entertaining and rewarding to play. You get to choose your own weapons and tactics to carry out your campaign. Some missions will take you a few minutes, while others might mark a target in the deepest and most secure parts of the map and pose a serious challenge.
On weapons, there are dozens to choose from – but you have to collect them first. While there are many items you can pick up on any given level that you can either use to incapacitate your target, only items with rarity can be kept after the mission. You can then either save them. Fail a mission, and you lose all the weapons you were carrying. Fail a mission in alerted territory, and you fail the campaign as well. These elements added layers to the challenging nature of Freelancer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The levels are all lifted from the Hitman trilogy. This might seem lazy on the face of it, but the Freelancer game mode is an excellent showcase of how meticulously crafted these levels are – there are sometimes hundreds of NPCs wandering about with varying levels of complex behavior and interaction, each of them absolutely sprawling with possibilities. The level design is truly immersive. It’s difficult to encapsulate how varied and well-wrought these levels are; it’s almost as if this mode brings out the very best of them.
The Safehouse acts as your hub of operations You unlock areas and cosmetics for it as you level up in Freelancer. While it’s cool and somewhat satisfying to see it all coming together, it didn’t feel like this area served much of a purpose. It could have easily been done in a menu format. I am glad it wasn’t done that way, but for the most part you can ignore everything outside the basement level where you actually plan your contracts and select your weapons.
Freelancer is a third-person stealth/action game. Agent 47 controls beautifully, once you get used to the controller layout. I never felt betrayed by the controls, only my own clumsiness – for example, I loaded into a mission in Bangkok which placed me at a bar. I wasn’t quite paying attention and pressed the wrong button, poisoning someone’s drink and triggering mass panic. Bullets started flying and I failed the mission. Another time, I was walking through a crowd in a nightclub and tapped the wrong button yet again, subduing a random patron. The armed guards put me down rather quickly.
The AI is fairly convincing. Things can get very chaotic, and you have to think on your feet – someone might spot you doing something you’re not supposed to, and you have to either take them down or run away and hide if you can until the aggro dies down. NPCs can alert others to your presence, and compromise your disguise – enemies that are aware of your description and wrongdoing will attack you on sight.
Sure, the AI does give you some leeway – so long as nobody sees you climbing into a box or cupboard to hide, you are safe. If you’ve played Hitman before, you will know how overwhelming gunfights can be – you’re not Rambo, and sometimes dozens of enemies will attack you all at once, punishing any mistakes with death. It’s classic Hitman, really, but with modern fluidity and world design.
Graphics and Audio – Immersive and Intuitive
Hitman has never looked as good as it does today. The world is incredibly detailed and lovingly crafted which makes for one of the most immersive games I have ever played. No matter where you go in this game, nothing ever really feels out of place, from the NPCs to the items you will find scattered around – many of which you can pick up and use in some way, either as a weapon or distraction that will help you achieve your goal.
For example, if you’re in a tropical setting, you will find the area to be incredibly lush with plenty of foliage for you to hide in. You will also find things like coconuts lying around that you can use as improvised melee weapons, or to bean a guard and knock him out for the count. Everything in and around whichever city or place you are visiting seems well-researched, from the types of vehicles you will find (and escape your mission on) to the flora and fauna, be it the well-kempt hedgerows in the English countryside or the dense underbrush in and around a remote Columbian town.
The architecture is another highlight – it all feels so authentic, whether you’re traversing a grungy, bustling city in China or a swanky island resort in the Maldives. Adding to the immersion is the diverse voice acting – it’s all done in English, but the NPCs will have appropriate regional accents. The exception to this is typically the guards you find on each level – these are usually American accents, which is easily forgivable in light of the otherwise impressively diverse voice work.
There isn’t much by way of background music, but instead you will find that music is circumstantial and appropriate to the setting. I was particularly impressed with the Berlin nightclub. The blaring dance music gets louder and louder as you approach the dancefloor. As you explore the rooms and passageways adjacent to the main club areas, the treble and mid frequencies are much quieter, leaving you with a thudding bass, rattling loose objects – the sound behaves very convincingly.
Hitman Freelancer doubtless pushes the PS4 to its very limits – I had a smooth experience but did experience some framerate dips and a few instances where the game crashed. Fortunately, it did not interfere with my progress. The massive and gorgeous levels do take a long time to load, understandably, so I am not faulting the game for this at all – merely including this information for the reader’s benefit.
I reviewed Hitman Freelancer on PlayStation 4. The review key was provided by Keymailer.