It’s not fair to definitively judge an upcoming game by a couple hours spent with its beta, especially a beta that only presents some introductory tutorial levels. At the same time, when the launch is only a few short weeks away and the beta demonstrating some considerable issues, there’s cause for concern. Glitches and bugs are to be expected (XCOM 2 certainly launched with more than it should’ve), but the Hitman beta’s were pretty severe. More fundamentally, I’m also worried about the AI and the way Hitman’s world works. I don’t know how current the build we played over the weekend was, but if it’s a recent one then Io Interactive has a lot of work to do before March 8.
Right off the bat, the UI isn’t great, with large, inelegant text labels hitting the screen whenever someone is suspicious of your presence, though I’m hoping that’s just how the tutorial section works and the UI won’t be so obtrusive in later missions (or that it can be customized or toggled off altogether). The AI has me much more concerned, though, as some guards seem entirely unaware of their surroundings.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for enemies to be a little near-sighted when it comes to stealth games. Metal Gear Solid 5’s guards, for example, weren’t the sharpest pins in the cushion, and when they got wind of you it didn’t always mean you were completely busted. It’s not really about you being unrealistically difficult to detect, though, it’s about when enemies don’t detect you at all. They didn’t hear doors opening right behind them, they didn’t notice you scaling a fence right next to them, and they didn’t so much as spare a glance when you scurried close enough to identify their brand of body spray. All stealth games need to be a little forgiving, but it’s no fun completely bamboozling your enemies either. Often when we were spotted, there wasn’t much of a response. In both Wes and Tim’s sessions, they got caught and were able to pummel several enemies to the ground while the hapless NPCs just sort of stood there letting themselves be punched.
Another concern are the proximity-based event triggers, the idea being that the scenes we’re stepping into aren’t really alive and dynamic but require us to connect the dots with our physical presence. For instance, the target on the boat mission apparently won’t begin a conversation unless you’re there to hear it. I can understand why: if you spend ten minutes skulking around the dock before even getting on the boat, you’ll miss that whole conversation. On the other hand, maybe you’re perfectly happy missing that conversation because you’re replaying the mission and you’ve already heard it. Maybe you’re busy setting up an ambush in a spot you know your mark eventually wander. That’s not going to work if he won’t begin to wander unless you activate him first by eavesdropping.
Point being, while NPC behavior might feel okay the first time you play a level, on subsequent replays it immediately begins to feel artificial. So much of Hitman is about finding new and interesting ways to complete your mission during repeated playthroughs, and requiring the player to jump-start the action by crossing certain trigger spots puts a damper on that, especially if it’s true of the much larger maps and missions we know are coming.
As you can see in our round-up of Hitman moments, a lot of them feature weird ragdoll glitches. Body freakouts are nothing new to games (here’s a subreddit essentially dedicated to celebrating them), even finished ones, but dragging dead and unconscious bodies quietly into different rooms is Agent 47’s jam and it’s going to be tricky to keep a low profile with bodies jittering and vibrating around like they’re demons from Jacob’s Ladder. It’s not just the dead who are restless. We even saw an NPC who was trying to call to report our assassin freak the hell out, possibly after trying to wake another unconscious guard.
Again, this is a beta. Maybe the AI is tuned down in the opening levels to make it easier to learn the game, maybe the proximity triggers won’t be present on the larger levels, maybe all the ragdoll issues are easily squashed. I hope so, because what we played didn’t feel like a game that was three weeks from being released.