There's a strong le Carré vibe to the latest Hitman episode, a broadening of intrigues that makes the hits in Paris and Sapienza seem rather parochial. Marrakesh is already awash with conflict, danger, and poorly thought-out disguises by the time you step into it: by the time you step out there's a feeling you've moved up in the world of international murder, into something far more dangerous.
France and Italy were picturesque places for contract killing, exuding glamour and luxury, Chanel in the air and a Mercedes 300SL in the drive. Morocco is on the brink of a coup, its people incensed over the embezzlement of 7 billion dollars from the economy by a Swedish banker and former CEO. The gleaming consulate he hides in stands counter to the roaring flares and dense, angry crowd found outside. The locals want blood, little knowing that one of their own, a lauded general from a prestigious family, is planning on using the unrest to overthrow the government, using a local school as a staging ground. It's the sort of place an assassin in a white linen suit and a polo shirt slips easily into.
It's a great setup for a mission, one which escalates the feeling of being in a spy-thriller masterfully. Io knows what it's got, and uses the backdrop to work in some elaborate infiltrations and assassinations. Propaganda printing presses can be used for nefarious ends; hooded, tortured prisoners much the same. Locals who have been forced out by the coup - and are out for revenge - can be made use of. Inside the consulate, interns and masseurs, low level personnel, can slip in and out places easier than the military and security can thanks to the unrest. The primary targets need each other - one for protection, the other for validation - but they couldn't be further apart geographically. Making them meet in the middle, in a secret tunnel which connects the thriving marketplace and the government building, is one of the level's most pleasing multi-part objectives.
Still, as interesting as all this is - and as well-integrated some of the challenges are - Marrakesh seems small compared to Sapienza, albeit much more packed with NPC activity (If you're a Hitman fan then imagine the second game's Murder at the Bazaar level meets Blood Money's The Murder of Crows. If not, imagine a really fucking busy market town in Morocco) and is a lot more muted in its colours and environments. By putting conflict and agitation at the core of its mission and level design it has created a wonderful sense of escalation, but it is also more serious in a lot of ways, less playful (you certainly won't be sniping any blow-up crocodiles).
If Sapienza was a day at the beach, shirtsleaves and slacks and humourous forays into the grimly ironic world of Hitman, Marrakech's agitprop leanings mean it's played rather more straight. Which, after a couple of missions spent dressing up as supermodels and firing cannonballs at people on golf courses, may seem rather disappointing. One of the joys of Sapienza was padding around the place undisturbed, finding inventive ways of making what should be an idyllic situation into something approaching dark farce. Marrakesh starts dark, and gets bleaker by the moment.
Which isn't to say that it is bad, merely that it doesn't have that sort of free-roaming appeal of its immediate predecessor. What it does have is well constructed hits, which can be played as almost as two distinct missions: each target is in a different environment, and unlike the previous victims they don't cross paths as a matter of course. If you're devious enough you can lure both out for a one-on-one meeting and go for a cunning double kill, but a lot of the challenges are about using the different environments - and what's in them - against their hosts. The bombed-out school has a number of peepholes and structural weaknesses to use and abuse, as well as heavy military ordinance to get the keys to. The consulate, on the other hand, is a monument to bureaucracy and vanity, and its kills are categorised accordingly. Both are satisfying taken alone. Shifting effortlessly from one infiltration to another and combining them is a joy.
What isn't a joy is the voice work, which is frankly bizarre. As you wade around Morocco listening to people - security guards, Swedish embassy staff, shopkeepers - talk in US or other inappropriate accents. It's off-putting, particularly given there's so much love poured into the environments, and works nearly as well at drawing you out of the game as the rest of it does drawing you in.
Regardless, Marrakesh is a good map with nice mission objectives - there's no faffing around getting rid of a virus here - and a great atmosphere. (The 'accidental kill when subduing people' bug also never appeared in my time with it.) Sapienza will go down as a classic Hitman level, and while this isn't up to that standard it's still an engaging episode with a varied spread of challenges, and some great sniping spots thrown in as well.