Hitman 3's roguelike mode, Freelancer, is launching on January 26 — the same day the game's name will officially change to Hitman: World of Assassination. I'm not the biggest fan of roguelikes, but I'll be there on day one.
Over the years, I've liked my fair share of games in the genre, including Spelunky 2, Risk of Rain 2, Chasm, and Dead Cells. Downwell and Into the Breach also work well for me because I can play them on my iPhone. When I'm playing a mobile game, I'm looking for a quick diversion, not an engrossing story. I played a lot of Hades in 2020, mostly, because its story evolved as you played. That narrative hook got me over the genre hump. Usually, procedural generation is something I need to overcome to get into a game, not a selling point.
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That isn't the case with Freelancer. I'm more excited for this mode than I would be for a new map or bespoke new missions. In fact, it's probably the thing I'm most excited to play this side of Tears of the Kingdom.
In part, that's because the way I play Hitman isn't dissimilar to how I play a roguelike. Hitman has near-endless user-generated content, in addition to the massive amount of kill opportunities IO bakes into every level. I play Hitman levels in completely different ways depending on what targets I'm trying to pick off or what objectives I'm trying to cross off my list, just like you play a roguelike in different ways depending on the goals you're trying to achieve and the run-specific obstacles the game dishes out.
As varied as those objectives are, most of them don't mess with the basics of the level. If you can find a crowbar near the dumpster in Dartmoor in the main game, you will almost always be able to find that weapon in the same location. But, Hitman's roguelike mode is changing that, which means learning to adapt. Though you may be familiar with the geometry and geography, you need to use your wits and improvise to get the tools you need. Your old reliable tricks won't work.
That's a big selling point of Freelancer. Here's how IO explains it:
"The key here is that HITMAN: Freelancer puts the strategic planning of a mission into the hands of the player. The game mode relies on randomized elements that are rolled independently of each other. The game mode gives the player all available information, but there’s no guarantee that an objective, for instance, is possible when on the mission. To succeed, it is up to the player to ensure that a payout objective is possible, by bringing the right gear, or choosing the right combination of location, brought gear and objectives.
In that sense HITMAN: Freelancer is very different from the main game – there’s no hand-holding Mission Stories with scripted custom kills that are always possible. Every iconic takedown in HITMAN: Freelancer is an emergent construct of systemic game mechanics and the foresight and creativity of the player."
As a Hitman player, that's exciting. Though I love Mission Stories as a means of introduction to a new level, a mode that fully leans into highlighting the game's strengths as a systems-driven sandbox is the best possible way to get some of the juice back into levels that, at this point, I've almost wrung dry.
Freelancer turns Agent 47 into coach and player, director and actor. It adds a new meta game, as you plan out your missions from 47's Safehouse. But, you also need to perform in the heat of the moment, and find solutions in levels that may not operate quite how you remember. It seems like the ultimate test for a Hitman player, and I can't wait to take it.