Hitman Freelancer: The Best Kind Of Hitman Is More Hitman
Whether you win or lose, you get to play another Hitman mission
9:25 AM EST on November 15, 2023
Hitman’s Freelancer mode came out way back in January, just in time for me to no longer have a place to write about it. Now that I do: Some of Freelancer’s systems can feel a little too complicated, but it’s basically new Hitman, whenever you want it, and that rules.
Not unlike Hitman’s own pricing and naming conventions, Hitman Freelancer is a little confusing. The core gameplay of a Freelancer campaign is the same as any other Hitman level: you’re dropped into a location and tasked with taking out some targets. Instead of your target being a centerpiece character, they seem randomly selected from a map’s NPCs: a waiter, a party-goer, someone standing on the beach in Sapienza in full view of everyone and determined not to move. Like the main game’s campaign, you progress through levels and targets, but here a campaign is composed of different “syndicates.” Each syndicate has a theme that caters to different playstyles: assassination syndicates will feature stealth kills; eco crime syndicates push you toward electrocutions or making a target’s death look like an accident. Taking out a certain number of lower-level syndicate targets brings you to a “showdown,” in which you have to identify your primary target from a group of possible suspects by matching them against clues provided by your assistant, Diana. Beating one of these levels defeats the syndicate and sets you up against a new, harder group of syndicate targets. Completing four such groupings wins the campaign.
Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never actually done it.
Freelancer is a roguelike mode, which means there’s no save-scumming or starting a level over. If you fail a showdown, or too many lower-level missions, you fail the campaign. It’s a little more forgiving than something like the one-and-done of Hitman’s Elusive Targets, but given that you have a whole campaign’s worth of progress and gear to lose if you fail, it’s harsher too. A lot of Hitman’s pleasure comes from repetition and mastery; while you can still draw on that here if you’ve played the levels enough in the vanilla game, that experience will only go so far in helping you take out your target.
However familiar I feel with a level, pursuing a target the stage wasn’t designed around makes even my most-played levels feel new. Areas I might only have passed through in the main game can become sites of intense drama and suspense. Hitman’s NPCs are often its best feature anyway, and it’s fun to let them have the spotlight, even if they only get that spotlight because they’re doomed. This becomes especially fun when it comes to deciphering the clues, or “tells,” of the showdown targets, where characters get to have a bit of personality in their propensity to read or smoke cigarettes, and you have to juggle careful observation with navigating a level’s dis-used areas as you follow them on their paths.
Freelancer gives you a central base of operations, a big house 47 seems to live in alone and where he spends most of his time in the basement where all his weapons are. As you gain XP, you unlock different areas of his home. Some of these unlocks are ornamental, like motivational posters that line a basement corridor or the ability to change the music. Others feature useful starting gear: a wrench in the garage, a banana in the kitchen. Guides tell me you can craft poisons and syringes from unlockable areas outside the house, but I have yet to unlock outside the house because I am an impulsive Freelancer player who loses a lot. As such, my version of 47’s house is mostly empty, made for staring longingly at the door to the big backyard and its gleaming lake. While it is a shining mark of my own failure, I’m also sort of charmed by my sad, solitary version of 47, who putters around refusing to unpack his moving boxes or go outside if not for work. The house adds just the right amount of character to 47, a sort of longing for stability and room to have company that we all know he’ll never really achieve because he’s always jetting off somewhere to murder people.
There’s a lot going on in Freelancer’s progression and stats and unlocks and syndicates and impermanent gear– developer IO Interactive made a whole video that explains it all better than I could. IO seems to love to throw complicated systems atop what is, at its core, a game about going to places and putting on other people’s pants. Some of these additions bring new pleasures: The randomness of the targets and the building stakes of a campaign keep me on my toes. The familiar locations feel re-made without their usual gear and narrative devices. But for me, Freelancer’s biggest pleasure is its most simple: when I boot up a campaign, I’m presented with the promise of new Hitman missions, and if I fail a campaign I get to have more Hitman missions. What’s not to love?
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