Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.
New Hitman is my favourite Hitman. Its levels are some of the most intricate, well-designed puzzle-boxes on PC, with countless entertaining ways to solve them. I love those early moments where you're wandering the level in disguise, learning its patterns and mechanisms, working out how to complete your objective. Then attempting something, inevitably screwing it up, and improvising to dig yourself out of a hole.
My favourite games are the kind that encourage and reward creative thinking, and that's something Hitman does brilliantly. If you have an absurd idea, the game will almost always accommodate and react to it. And even if your plan is hopeless, it's still fun to experiment, poking and prodding at the systems until they fall apart.
And the levels look beautiful. IO Interactive has some of the most talented environment artists in the business, and Agent 47's world tour in Hitman takes him to some amazing places. There's Sapienza, of course, which sees him travelling to Italy's sun-soaked Amalfi Coast. I love the upmarket spa and high-end hospital combo in Hokkaido too, and the jarring presence of the ultra-modern Swedish embassy in Marrakech. The variety of countries and locations you visit to cause trouble is very James Bond.
I wouldn't say the AI is smart exactly, but IO has definitely done a better job of making them feel like people. So if you get caught trespassing in a restricted area, you won't be immediately shot on the spot. A guard will warn you to leave, then guide you patiently to the exit if you refuse. It’s more forgiving in general, and the optional ‘opportunities’ to point out possible ways to complete the mission are a welcome addition.
These little AI touches make the NPCs around you feel a lot more organic and reactive. Although they are a little too eager to drop whatever they're doing, no matter how important, to follow the sound of a thrown coin. There's a cyclist in the Sapienza level writhing on the ground after an accident who will suddenly stand bolt upright, miraculously healed, if you drop a coin nearby.
But quirks like this are, weirdly, a part of Hitman's charm. It's a game with a sense of humour, and there are numerous cruel and ironic ways to deal with your targets. The forgettable storyline is told through cinematic, self-serious cut-scenes, but then you get into the game and suddenly you're killing people with explosive golf balls and dressing up in silly outfits. Hitman is at its best when it embraces the absurdity of its assassinations—especially in the brilliant bonus missions, which cleverly remix a few levels, including turning Sapienza into a B-movie set.
Hitman's level setups aren't quite as imaginative as those in Blood Money. That game still has the new one beat in terms of interesting premises. But in every other respect it's a much better game. The systems are richer, the AI is sharper, the controls are more refined, and the addition of side missions like elusive targets and escalations keeps you coming back for more long after finishing it.
After the disappointing Absolution (which had some great levels hidden among all the forced cinematic nonsense, to be fair), it's great to see IO Interactive realising and doubling down on what people really love about their most famous series: namely big, open sandboxes full of possibilities, amusing ways to kill people, and a variety of ludicrous costumes to wear while doing it. I can't wait for the next season.