Ah, the glamorous life of an international assassin. What other career gives you the chance to hobnob with world leaders, models, fashion designers, chess masters and other celebrities — and then murder them?
Such is the lot of Agent 47, the protagonist of "Hitman" (Square Enix, for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC). He's executed some difficult contracts over the years, but now he may be facing his toughest assignment yet: anchoring his publisher's ambitious experiment in episodic storytelling.
See, the "Hitman" you can purchase today (for $15) is just the first chapter in a yearlong epic that will take our ruthless killer all over the globe. Square says it will release six more chapters ($10 apiece) through the end of 2016; you can order the whole package in advance for $60.
For now, you get a couple of tutorials and one big, flamboyant assignment set in a sprawling Parisian castle. That's the setting for a fashion show, a top-secret auction, a fireworks display and heaven knows what else, but 47 has two targets in particular: designer Viktor Novikov and ex-model Dahlia Margolis, the ringleaders of the nefarious spy operation IAGO.
Agent 47 has a ridiculous arsenal of lethal tools at his disposal. He can get up close and garrote his victims, or pick them off for afar with a sniper rifle. He can poison them or kill them with a bomb blast. He can drop a chandelier on their heads.
Once the job is done, you can ... wait for the next chapter. Or you can replay the scenario and try different approaches. Can you take out Viktor and Dahlia without hurting anyone else? Can you try on all the disguises available to 47 — or finish the mission without using any of them? Can you unveil all the secrets hidden throughout the palace?
You can also complete contracts on some of the hundreds of people who have assembled in Paris for the fashion show. And you can test your skills in "Escalation," a series of increasingly challenging contracts.
So there's a lot to do at the palace, and "Hitman" obsessives will want to explore every inch. Fortunately, it's a well-detailed setting filled with lively characters, some of whom aren't exactly welcoming of a bald assassin with a bar code tattooed on his head.
There are a few aggravating technical glitches, like exhausting loading times when you try to reboot a scenario. And the artificial intelligence of the secondary characters is at times goofy: It's way too easy for 47 to slip away from suspicious security guards.
Most frustrating, though, is that I was ready to move on after just a few visits to the palace. I'm enjoying "Hitman" so far, and for $15 I got a solid five hours of lethal amusement. But the wait for my next contract is going to be killer. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten