Hitman Review - Episode 4: Bangkok

Posted on 08/22 10:00 in | 0

Tim (McDonald): After a brief rest period – probably somewhere cold and grey to get a nice contrast from the more spectacular climes of Paris, Sapienza, and Marrakesh – 47 is back. As such, so are we. Peter and I have both been getting Bangkok dangerous (without Nicolas Cage) in the latest update to 47’s globe-trotting Hitman 6: Hitman murder holiday, and we’ve got some thoughts.

At least, I think we have. Peter? Are you there?

Peter (Parrish): I’m back! I think I was Totally Warhammering during the Morocco experience, but for Episode 4 I’ve been able to find time to put Murray Head’s theory to the test. Does one night in Bangkok really make a hard man humble? Well, that depends upon the man, and whether by “humble” you mean “quietly murdered”.

Tim: Aaaand that’s why people come here. For references to Murray Head.

Peter: I wonder if anybody has ever listened to the other tracks from Chess. Anyway. From what I understand, 47’s last outing wasn’t all that relaxing. There was a coup in progress, a mob at the gates of the local embassy. That’s no background for a lovely holiday. Bangkok is a whole lot calmer. It’s all based in a thoroughly luxurious hotel, and the only possible disturbances will come from upstairs where Indie band The Class are recording some new tunes.

Peter: But good news! Your mission is to kill them. Well, one of them. Top-knot-sporting lead singer Jordan Cross, who is bankrolled by his hotel-owning daddy and absolutely definitely didn’t kill a former girlfriend. While you’re at it, you may as well knock off shitbag lawyer Ken Morgan (who helped get Cross out of murder-bother) as well.

This level is interesting, because it’s the second Hitman 6: Hitman mission based in single, large building. Paris worked well as an opener, a demonstration of how this new Hitman was going to function. Bangkok feels like a bit of a refinement of that ‘multi-floored structure with a bunch of stuff to do inside’ formula. It may just be me, but it felt as if there was a little more thought behind placement of throw-able weapons (mostly around the basement and staff storage areas), and a toning down of go-to ploys like rat-poisoning a drink and then performing a deadly toilet swirly.

Tim: I am of the opinion that Ken Morgan is a “contract” because the ICA are pissed off that he’s helping other people are getting away with murder and they feel he’s encroaching on their territory. Bizarrely for a criminal defense attorney who helps people get away with horrific crimes via truly ridiculous courtroom arguments, he actually seems to be one of the nicer contracts you’ve had. I’ve doubtless missed a lot of his ambient interactions, but he was certainly lovely to a fellow lawyer and to a man selling a tuk-tuk; at worst, he’s witheringly sarcastic if you’re crap at leading him to his room. And then I murdered him, because hey, money. He’d understand.

Peter: Yeah, but he’s nice to that other lawyer because that other lawyer says “fuck working for the government and trying to seek justice, I want all the moneys!” If it’s the interaction I’m thinking of, anyway. But you’re right, on the Hitman scale Morgan is pretty fluffy.

Tim: There is that, though he’s also nice to a couple of others depending on how you opt to deal with the level. But yes, regardless, he’s basically the nicest of the bunch simply because he’s not a complete dong-wrangler. I mean, when everyone else you’re assigned to murderise is basically the scum of the planet…

Anyway! Bangkok’s luxury hotel definitely has Paris vibes throughout, and it also feels a lot more confident and coherent than both that opening episode and Marrakesh’s slightly messy multiple-levels-in-one dynamic. It’s a hotel that’s basically been taken over by the band, with plenty of off-limits areas and a trigger-happy security team, but I found that all of this works in its favour. There are a couple of clumsy elements to it, but by and large it’s very content to let you get on with the business of doing bad murders however you like: knock people out and nick their clothes, or swing out of your window and start climbing drainpipes, or whatever. The hotel is your metaphorical oyster, and a lot of your opportunities feel very natural. I’d be very surprised if, for instance, the first thing most people do is anything other than phone up room service for the purpose of nicking their outfits and leaving their unconscious bodies sprawled across your hotel room floor.

I should add that in that case I actually mean opportunities as in “things you can do” rather than the game’s hinted-at paths to success which are also called Opportunities. Nowhere does the game suggest you should phone up room service. It’s just an obvious little possibility once 47 checks in and heads up to his room.

Peter: Dial-a-disguise! Yes, that’s great. It may also be slightly bugged because three people turned up when I did that (a pair at first, followed by somebody else when I left the room). 47 had quite a pile of employees in his bedroom suite by the time I was through.

There’s a weirdo stalker in the hotel too, who doesn’t have a capital-O Opportunity attached, but I’m fairly sure must be necessary for one of the more obscure challenges or something. He likes Class guitarist Heidi Santoro. A lot.

Tim: I actually don’t think I encountered him. I’ll keep an eye out on my next playthrough, which will probably be before we finish writing this review. (Update: I have encountered one stalker who was hanging around in a suite. I didn’t realise he was a stalker until I choked him and stole his clothes, which were listed as “Stalker”. I wonder if I could shoot him in the face while dressed as a guard and get away with it?)

Peter: Actually, his dialogue reminds me that Bangkok feels like a return to some of the better (funnier) conversation exchanges in this game. Almost all of the Western tourists staying in the hotel are terrible people, but they’re often terrible people in entertaining ways. Hitman seems to have this misanthropic lens, through which almost all the NPCs are snobs, idiots, jerks, or all three. I think there’s a theory that this is how 47’s messed up brain sees the world, but it’s probably just the tone IO enjoy using.

It is starting to get a bit weird hearing the same five English-language voice-over artists in every single region of the world, though. Understandable (budgets, etc), but weird.

Tim: Yes, I was going to comment on that. It’s still not quite The Elder Scrolls‘ pod people territory of pretty much everyone in the entire world sounding identical and saying the same things, but still a bit odd. I’m also slightly disappointed they didn’t at least opt for some accents in these levels, but… well, you’d have to either go expensive, or risk going a bit racist.

Peter: Right, it’s a tough call. I should say the small cast do a pretty great job, it’s just getting a bit too noticeable that it is a small cast. On a similar note, I’d love for the dynamic music swells to have a bit more variety as well (again, budget restraints I’m sure). The ‘Bond’ tone worked for Paris, and there was a neat little reveal tune for the Underground Lab in Sapienza; I’d even love more of that sort of thing. That’s on my wishlist for a Season Two. I will say the ‘you should be escaping now’ track works to get me moving every time, even though it doesn’t change.

Tim: I’m rather pleased with the breadth of assassination available. Most of the capital-O Opportunities are pretty in-depth and clever this time around, and my first killing of the murderous rock star made me laugh quite a lot. I’ve got a couple of plans in motion already for more ways of killing the targets off, and most of the possibilities are a bit more interesting than “poison this thing.”

Peter: Did it involve drums? I love the one involving drums, because it suggests that Agent 47 is either extremely dedicated to preparing for every eventuality, or he’s some kind of savant musician.

Tim: Actually, no; it involved choking a man to death by shoving his face in his birthday cake until he suffocated. Although the drumkit one is also hilarious, but for entirely different reasons. The careers 47 could’ve gone for if he hadn’t opted for International Man of Creating Murder Mystery…

This does raise a point as to how it’s a little odd that all of the Opportunities work out for 47 even if there’s basically no bloody reason to do so, though. I thought I’d screwed up the cake one because I didn’t poison it, but no, everyone but the target left the room immediately after and I was able to commit murder by baked goods. The fact that completing Opportunities inevitably leaves you completely alone with the target, no matter what, is beginning to feel a little forced. Not really complaining, though.

I’ve encountered a bit of a bug insofar as Challenges only display for me if they’re already completed, regardless of whether or not I have the new setting switched to Full/Minimal/Off so I can’t really talk about whether there’s anything as darkly hilarious as “drop a toilet on the coup leader” from Marrakesh. (I’ve since fixed this via restarts and tweaking. There is at least one Challenge that looks hilarious.) I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, although I’ll admit I’ve nearly done every Opportunity already without too much hassle. Despite that, I wouldn’t say this level is easy – there are a lot of off-limits areas, targets are well-guarded, and it’s one of the only levels so far where the lockpick appears to be completely and totally useless because every door is locked by swipe card.

Peter: I’d started taking the lockpick as practically a default option, so I think that change was specifically to screw with people like me (and that’s fine, I like that this level knocks away some of those crutches).

Tim: Agreed. I will add that I’m starting to get mildly frustrated by some of the recurring design elements, but in a way that likely wouldn’t annoy me if this was one whole package rather than episodic releases. I spent ten minutes last night looking for a screwdriver, because apparently toolboxes and maintenance sheds are not places where you would find them, and I still have no real idea where to find the swipe cards to access more of the hotel. I’d assume the cleaning staff would carry the keys, but nooope. (That would, admittedly, be a little easy, but wandering around looking for a screwdriver or wrench is no fun at all. It isn’t an issue when you’re used to the level, but why the hell does maintenance not have one?)

Peter: I know what you mean. I like some of the more restrained object placement in this one, but sometimes you’re trying to second-guess a location that would make the most ‘sense’ and just getting it wrong. For example, there’s a wrench on a maintenance trolley thing near the front entrance. The trolley makes it a reasonable spot, but there’s no real way for you to anticipate it would be there (other than it’s early on in the mission and you’ll probably just find it by wandering past).

Tim: Which you’ll probably forget about by the time you need it, unless you’re playing 47 as a kleptomaniac. Which I stopped doing about two episodes ago because the inventory, while perfectly workable, gets quite messy when you’re carrying 19 random objects with you.

Peter: So far I’ve found one Master Keycard, but I’ve forgotten where. Inside one of the higher penthouse suites, I think. One of the staff in the basement talks about having lost hers, but I’m not sure if that’s the same one (because they’re a long way apart).

But that’s getting a bit bogged down in minutiae. Bangkok is another single-building level with some decent routes to the main target (be that physical traversal, or disguises), and some funny Opportunities. If Paris was the slightly rough-around-the-edges ‘proof of concept’ level (boosted by the extra training levels and the relief that Hitman was properly back), this is a similar style of architectural location with a refinement of those ideas. The mechanics are gradually getting tweaked as we go along too. I’ve noticed that people get irritated a lot quicker when you bump into them, and won’t always run to the most conveniently secluded toilet when rat-poisoned. Stuff like that.

Tim: Yeah, I poisoned the drummer guy’s drink and he ran into the back and started puking into a bin. On the one hand, it was sort of secluded if you get the timing right, and there’s a handy freezer to dump his body. On the downside, because he’s a civilian, if you nick his clothes it counts as Trespassing. Piss off! I had to go and be sick in a bin and you didn’t give a toss then! Still, that little oddity aside – which is likely down to the way the engine works in terms of NPCs being fine with other NPCs in restricted areas, and is unlikely to ever change – there are lots of lovely little touches.

Peter: Oh, and the ongoing narrative is starting to come together and make some sense now. They’ve actually done pretty well with that. If you think about the total running time for the post-mission bits they’re only at about 20 minutes, but they’ve sketched out a reasonable slice of intrigue. Given how minimal it is (and I know there are added clues inside the levels themselves), I’m quite satisfied.

Tim: I quite liked the end-of-mission cutscene for this one. It’s nicely understated and is mostly a “47 and Diana/the ICA are starting to figure out what’s going on, so here’s a recap in case you haven’t” but it works quite well to chivvy things along as we start off the game’s final duo of episodes. I was a little afraid it was going to try to do too much after Marrakesh’s ending cutscene which hints at all sorts of conspiracies and dark secrets and so on, but I’m now pretty confident it’ll be able to wrap up quite nicely in the remaining two episodes. Still hoping for a second season, though.

On a technical note, the opulent outdoor regions of the hotel noticeably dropped the framerate to about 40 FPS, but that’s still perfectly playable. Indoors was, as ever, basically perfect.

Peter: I’ve stopped trying to predict how Hitman is going to perform, because it seems to change with every patch (sometimes better, sometimes worse). There’s always a segment that chokes to about 40 FPS no matter what graphics settings I use.

Tim: Hitman: Agent 47 Frames-Per-Second In At least One Area Per Level.

Tim: Anyway, yes, I think we’re in agreement in terms of this being a good level, polished a lot from the game’s earlier sections; it takes the general idea of Paris but switches it up quite nicely. I think it’ll be a month or two before I can really “rank” it in terms of levels as I’m not quite sure it’s got the replayability of some of the others, but it’s definitely back on track after the digital stumble that was Marrakesh. I think the glorious sandbox of Sapienza is probably my favourite, but after two sprawling levels, I’m really liking having another tight, focused location that still affords plenty of opportunities.

Peter: You can tell IO were really pleased with Sapienza’s little alleyways and unique areas because they keep basing Elusive Contracts there (the wannabe Pope, the Twins, Gary Busey, etc). The next level, Colorado, is supposedly going to be an oil refinery. Then again I first heard it rumoured as a kind of weirdo Scientology compound, so that could all be bollocks.

I think my main complaint about Bangkok would be Ken Morgan’s rather boring restaurant-to-lobby-to-outside-back-to-restaurant path. He’s only really interesting if you exploit the Opportunities, so becomes a bit dull on replays (a bit like the virus part in Sapienza).

Tim: Yeaaah, that is kind of meh.

Peter: Right now though I think this is my second favourite of the four ‘proper’ levels, but some of that could be that New Murder-Sandbox Smell. As you say, it’s reassuring to see the quality nudge back up after Marrakesh (which wasn’t horrible or anything), and setting matters up rather nicely for the penultimate and finale episodes.

Tags: Hitman

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