If you ask a random Hitman fan what’s the best mission in the series, the response is likely gonna be Invitation to a Party or Traditions of the Trade. While I do love those as well, the one mission that practically defines Hitman for me, the one I’ve spent at least a couple hundred hours playing (and I’m not even kidding) will always remain the original Lee Hong Assassination.
What makes the mission so exceptional, might you ask? I’ll try my best to explain it, paragraph by paragraph.
1. Level design and graphics.
Let me start by saying this mission looks absolutely stunning. This amount of detail is just unbelievable for a 14 year old game. Each of the locations has it’s own unique feel - the gritty Hong Kong streets you start in, the colorful, luxurious restaurant, the slightly more subdued bar, the neat looking garden with a waterfall, the dark basement - you name it. Besides the obvious contrast between the color in all those different locations, the contrast lies also in the presentation. Just beneath the surface of ease and civility, you have AK wielding triad members and people being tortured…
The luxury and decadence of areas like the brothel and the restaurant is particularly well realized. It really feels like the property of a powerful and opulent crime lord. Hell, even in Lee Hong’s house, which in the Contracts remake is just a bunch of empty rooms, you have a gym, a well-maintained bathroom and a nice view at the sea. …
The level is huge, but thanks to the randomized safe location, it manages to avoid padding to a degree. While there’s still quite a few areas that seem useless at first, there is a lot of potential for fun shit to do. For example, if you decide to bring one of the 2 sniper rifles (one in the basement and one in the guards’ quarters) to a sniping point, there’s a lot of guards to dispose of, thus making getting through all those areas actually interesting. In general, this level offers a lot of room for personal challenges. It was really fun killing everyone in the brothel silently and rescuing Lei Ling suit only, for example.
2. The objectives.
A common sentiment is that this mission is pretty damn long. Indeed, it is a long mission, but unlike many other long missions in Hitman, it’s lenght I feel is well justified. There’s a lot of things to do in this mission and it does everything in it’s power to keep you engaged. Smith feels like a genuine character here, rather than just being there for shits and giggles (thanks Jardos for pointing that out) and the Lei Ling scene tells you a quite a bit about the character you’re playing as. I also like that the game gives you a choice to kill her and take the safe combination, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.
Then there’s of course the Jade Figurine. I love that each safe is a whole new experience - it took me a long time to figure out how to get the one in the guards’ quarters efficiently, but it was well worth the trouble. The Contracts remake got that part completely wrong - there was hardly any difference between getting the figurine from one location or another, since you were pretty much allowed anywhere.
3. The target.
Lee Hong is possibly the most defined target in the entire series. Throughout this mission, we take advantage of his appetite for women, when rescuing Smith we see that he ain’t no one to fuck around with; his paranoia is reflected in the way his mountain of a bodyguard follows him everywhere and tastes his food (another nice touch, by the way - I like how he just sips the soup in it’s entirety). The three build-up levels to this one were also crucial - they made us at least imagine how well protected and influential he was.
And now onto the assassination itself. Whether you choose to snipe Lee Hong, shoot him from the skylight, poison him (and fail to do so) or just craftily get past his bodyguard and kill him in his own house, each one of these approaches presents it’s own set of challenges and risks - it’s safe to say, there’s no easy way out. Not only that, but they do feel genuinely distinct from one another - they all involve different locations, a completely different set of actions etc. The game doesn’t hold your hand either - even when you think it does, by gifting you a free bottle of poison, it gives you the middle finger the moment you try to use it. You just have to find the subtle routes all by yourself, and it feels extremely rewarding once you do so.
Besides all that there’s of course little things that make this level all the more entertaining - like the abundance of unique NPCs with their own character models, the occasionally funny dialogue etc. It’s just a wonderful level. It’s not only my most replayed of the series - there’s a pretty real possibility that I’ve replayed it more than all the other levels from the first 2 games put together! Sure, Codename 47’s gameplay might be dated and simplistic - but the sentiment remains that Lee Hong Assassination is the most adventurous, most complete and most entertaining mission of the entire franchise. I have hope though, that Hitman 6 will surpass even that brilliance.