Are we really going to review each and every one of the episodic entries in the new Hitman as they launch? Well, we've started so we might as well finish, even if the amount of interesting things we have to say diminishes with every content drop. But seeing as you're bearing with us, in return we'll aim for increasing brevity with our analysis. Fine with you? Ok, let's get started.
After his exertions during his excursion to Marrakesh, the bald pate of Agent 47 is this time off to Bangkok, visiting an exclusive hotel full of guests that might checkout, but who will never leave (except for in a bodybag perhaps). The story focuses on a rock star with a suitably murky past, and an unscrupulous family lawyer who they go to great lengths to make sure you can't feel sorry for. Both of them need to meet their proverbial end in Thailand, and as far as we're concerned, preferably as hilariously and/or creatively as possible.
It's messy work, but someone's got to do it, and that someone is murderous antagonist Agent 47 (and his in-ear assistant Diana Burnwood). With his agency handler whispering away in his head like a conniving Cortana, 47 stalks the hotel looking for opportunities, earwigging on the conversations of those around as he looks for the best angle from which to do the deed. While the episode might be smaller than its predecessors, it still offers plenty of avenues of exploration, and it won't take long before you're given a couple of leads (and further scouting around the location will get you even more).
Once you've got the lay of the land you need to find your way in past the first layer of security. It took us longer than normal to sneak in behind the scenes and access some of the harder to reach locations, but once we had we returned to the usual setup of gated areas that required different costumes to access (or the cunning use of drainpipes and the odd judo chop). There's staff uniforms galore down in the basement and a few utilities to take advantage of (emetic poison, for example, is nearly always found downstairs away from the target), and then upstairs there's security that needs to be circumvented one way or another. This is Hitman, though, so going in heavy is nearly always inelegant and often it's downright disastrous for all concerned.
We'll not spoil any of the different assassinations, but there's some fun stuff in there. Ok, we'll spoil one for flavour. We knocked out a session musician in a swanky lounge and took his clothes and his place, introducing ourselves to our mark before attempting some mischief in the recording studio. Once again IOI has woven plenty of potential into the sandbox, and we played it for around six hours, finding multiple opportunities and then seeing a handful of them through to their conclusion. There's certainly the potential to spend much longer here if you're a completionist, and if you can't resist a challenge you'll find lots of them here. For the rest of us who don't have the endurance to spend the required 20+ hours in one sandbox to see everything it has to offer, the time you spend there will be typically Hitman: it's violent, sure, but ultimately it doesn't take itself too seriously and you can approach the game in multiple ways.
Adding further value is the new escalation contract added with Episode 4. There's a huge number of these five-stage missions across the game's existing maps, and completing them is a genuine challenge. They're a great way of adding value. The first one to land in Bangkok involves hiding dead chefs in a walk-in freezer, which is quite macabre and the fact that there's no saves adds an extra shiver up the spine when things get tense.
We're probably not going to bother reviewing the Bonus Summer Episode as it's being released in drips and drabs (the drips being two missions that came out last month for those who own "the full experience", the drabs being the additional mission landing when the content is made available to all as a separate DLC). With that being the case let's briefly mention them now. IOI has done a great job in transforming Sapienza for "The Icon", with the town square turned into a movie set. There's some tongue-in-cheek ways of disposing of your target (the actor/director who's pissed off his employers) in what's actually a very restricted location. Lots of the side streets are closed off, as is the main mansion, but there's enough going on elsewhere to entertain you for a couple of hours.
"A House Built on Sand" is the second mission, another two-part job set in Marrakesh. This one is a much more traditional Hitman assignment, and befitting the North African city it's set in, it's the much drier experience of the two. Still, there's ample opportunity to get a little creative across both stages of the mission in what is also a much smaller space. Both make good use of their original environments and they're more interesting than revisiting the old locations to tackle escalation contracts thanks to the changes. Sapienza once again rules supreme and both this and its original incarnation remain the pinnacle of what this latest Hitman has to offer.
Which brings us back to Bangkok and Episode 4. Once again IOI has delivered a solid new sandbox full of dastardly death-dealing. Hitman is holding steady now, and we'd be surprised to see it fluctuate too far away from the level of quality it's currently offering. Technically we're not taking the Summer Bonus Episode into account for the score below (not that it would make too much difference if we did), so we'll simply leave things by saying that Hitman continues to entertain and we're still very much looking forward to seeing what Episode 5 has to offer.