Hitman kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t pay any significant amount of attention to it when it came out. All the coverage on this site, in fact, can be summed up in just a series of Trailer Roundups, nary a review or preview in sight. It was a rather obvious void in our coverage.

It’s not that I wasn’t ever a fan of the franchise. It’s more that I kind of knew what to expect and, well, it wasn’t all that exciting of a proposition to encounter more of that. I know how bald men like to wear ties and shoot nuns in a cornfield for some indecipherable reason. Do I really need more of that? Probably not. Scratch that: definitely not.

Or at least that’s what I thought because this Hitman wrecks anything resembling an expectation. Even crazier is that it seems like it could have only existed after building those expectations for the past 16 years and culminating in this modern age of games. It’s episodic in a series that has traditionally found its greatest success in building monumental set pieces into its narrative arc. This felt, at the time, like a sign of relegating the property to the video game equivalent of the Friday night death slot of television (which, fun fact, is apparently outdated).

But this ended up being the game’s greatest strength. It gave developers a reason—an excuse, really—to design these levels they’ve always wanted to: overflowing with possibilities. These chunks of game are so far beyond what even the best of the series has offered before, tucking away secrets and shenanigans the same way the campers of Heavyweights fettered away sweets.

It certainly helps that they’ve stopped forcing the issue of heavy-handedness. This is a game that has fully relinquished any guise of control of the reins. The holiday DLC was just about killing the Wet Bandits of Home Alone fame, for fuck’s sake. I don’t mean just some guys that kind of look like the dudes from the movie but literally the same characters. (Plus it was free and in support of the World Cancer Research Fund!)

There’s also the great innovation of the Elusive Target, making the coolest part of repeatedly diving into the past games more systemic. All you get are some clues about your target and then you are given a set amount of time (something like 48 hours) to finish the job. If you die, if they run, or if the mission ends in any way, you don’t get to try again. Success is dependent entirely on your mastery of your tools and your ability to improvise.

Perhaps nothing else more succinctly puts into terms of what makes Hitman work. If you don’t think like an assassin, you just won’t make it. And that makes this the number ten game of the year.