Whether it’s a clever mechanic, brilliant piece of music, or some unique feature that fuels the ludonarrative, Best Bits highlights the things that make us love games.
A murder has been commited, and for once you’re not responsible. Set in a grand country estate, Dartmoor might just be the culmination of everything the new Hitman trilogy has been working toward. I’ll add a small caveat here, I have yet to play the rest of the game. Having been left buzzing, I felt there should be no delay in adding it to our best bits series. I will also keep this spoiler free.
The formula for a great Hitman map has many parts but the Mission Opportunities are a newer addition to the series’ level recipe. While the older games still offered quirky ways to pull off your assassinations, Opportunities added a more codified way to add narrative to the mission and help players achieve more elaborate executions. In helping players there is always the risk that the game oversteps and ends up discouraging exploration and creativity. While they can be turned off in the settings, it can be hard to ignore the temptation and comfort of a quest marker telling you where to go and what to do.
Opportunities don’t just offer solutions, they are the primary way to enjoy much of the series’ writing and humour. IO Interactive have become masters of extracting a grin or a short exhale of breath from me thanks to the dramatic irony of their scenes. While 47 could compete with a 2b pencil for depth of character, contrasting him and his morbid profession with caricature environments and characters delivers some wonderful moments. In essence the best opportunities are the ones that take you on a journey rather than the ones that provide a simple solution.
What makes Dartmoor’s central opportunity, “Means, Motive and Opportunity”, so good is that it helps you engage with the map on a mechanical level, setting you up for further replays. In doing so I think it solves the struggle between the desire to deliver a more curated narrative experience and making the levels a pure sandbox.
The opportunity suggests you disguise yourself as a private investigator invited to the mansion by your target. In assuming his role and hunting down clues to solve the ‘whodunnit?’ there’s reason to visit almost the entire map in the hopes of finding a valuable clue. On the way you’ll learn plenty of additional routes, hidden areas and potential means to your own planned murder.
Dartmoor is far from the largest of the series’ maps and certainly not the most vibrant, yet investigation will make you intimately familiar with it, the closer you look the more you’ll be rewarded both narratively for your immediate task and with potential methods that beg a replay. More than once, I was given the perfect moment for a silent assassination yet my interest in seeing the narrative play out in full stayed my hand.
By contrast, the fan favourite Sapienza is much less welcoming. The map is beautiful and filled with numerous hidden areas, but there is less going on in your first playthrough to arouse curiosity and tempt your return. Now, many Hitman players are far more diligent than I, and will rinse a map of every possible method, ticking off the many challenges required for full level mastery. I however am often put off from returning to a mission later on as it might mean a new starting area and a new set of rhythms to learn as I tackle unexplored areas.
Where other levels might put higher degrees of onus on the player to gain a certain level of familiarity, Dartmoor makes this a breeze. The detective’s clothes will get you into almost everywhere and the narrative gives you the motivation to make the most of it. Where the path of least resistance in other maps might leave you feeling as though you’ve missed out, Dartmoor’s gives you an open ended sightseeing tour.
At this point with the rest of Hitman 3 waiting for me I’m not sure how they will top the experience of Dartmoor. Even if they don’t, at least there’s an old English manor filled with potential, still waiting for me.
If you like pulpy mysteries then you might enjoy my review of the audio-drama series Agents of the Throne. Or, for more stealth mischief why not check out Nevi’s article on the brilliance of Untitled Goose Game’s musical timing.
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