IO Interactive’s Hitman series is infuriating. At times it reaches new highs of video game enjoyment and then gets dragged back down by nasty little flaws. The stealth sections are exquisite but the cheap AI and the occasional rubbish boss battle have plagued the entire franchise since day one. All these pros and cons can be found in the first game, 2000’s Hitman: Agent 47. Immensely fun for the most part but stops short of being among my favourites. I can defend my stance quite easily by just mentioning Mission 2 and Pablo Belisaro Ochoa, Agent 47’s prime target. Over powered and clichéd to boot he is all kinds of infuriating.
To be honest, the whole of the second mission is pretty drab. Sandwiched between two excellent encounters in a Hong Kong restaurant and a Budapest hotel (an terrific piece of level design), Agent 47, (a mysterious contract killer and the game’s protagonist) is sent into the jungles of South America. Already it feels wrong as the beauty of this franchise is the urban setting among civilians, buildings, gangsters and terrorists. When just moments ago I dressed as a waiter and dropped some poison in a Triad leader’s dinner, creeping around a forest finding an ancient idol for some natives seemed like a huge step back. This a three stage mission but only involves one target, Pablo Belisaro Ochoa, your standard Pablo Esque-obar (sorry) with a generous dollop of Tony Montana thrown in. A powerful and influential drug lord with his own private army. He’s a Scarface reference which surely has not been over done enough, right? Once you reach his mansion you must dispose of as many of his henchmen as you can. This is itself not much fun as the bad guys in this game have super human senses and reflexes. One mistake and these guys can take you out quickly. You can be halfway up a mountain in camouflage hundreds of yards away. Doesn’t matter. If you get their attention they will immediately shoot you and possibly kill you. Yes, I know the objective is to avoid combat but would it kill the designers to make the henchmen a little more realistic and fair in their accuracy?
After disposing of the soldiers you need to sneak into Ochoa’s house to kill him and destroy his operation. This part feels more like Hitman. Sneaking around a mansion slitting throats and disposing of corpses. Alas, you eventually need to get to the boss, who can only be approached head on. Once you get to confront Ochoa he his so completely blitzed on cocaine that standard pistol shots do little damage. Keep pumping away at him with your .45 and he’ll laugh if off before cutting you to pieces with his M-60. The only way to beat him is to keep firing away with an AK-47 and hopefully you’ll land enough head shots to take him out. It’s maddening that a game which champions the soft approach should stoop to such lows as an over powered boss with a huge gun.
Thankfully, there is a better way to defeat him. In the game’s first stage there is a rather nifty little sniper rifle hidden in a guard tower. If you carry this with you until you reach Ochoa’s mansion there’s a nice little spot where you can hide behind a tree, aim between a chain link fence and shoot Ochoa in the back of his cheap fat head. You’ll need to carry the rifle in your arms though. Stash it in your inventory and it disappears when you get to the next stage. If you aren’t bothered looking for the sniper rifle you can always purchase one at the beginning of the mission, depending on how well you did against the Triads in Hong Kong. It ain’t cheap but it is worth it.
When Deus Ex-Human Revolution was roundly criticized for the boss battles I knew exactly what they meant without playing the game. At least Hitman was decent enough to provide a sneakier way. Probably. The fact that the only way to bring the sniper rifle from stage 1 to stage 3 is to carry it in your arms and not in your inventory makes me doubt that this sweet little backdoor kill was intentional. Hitman games are many things but fair isn’t one of them. But I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Shooting Pablo Belisaro Ochoa this way is the most satisfying assassination you are likely to experience in a game, especially if you’ve tried the maddening alternative.