Sean donned his sharpest suit and red tie this week to play Hitman for the #52Games52Weeks Challenge, Week 10;
This week I spent most of my time with Agent 47 in his latest outing, “Hitman”. You can read my review of “The Intro pack” here but I want to dig a little deeper on that today and talk about why, in my opinion, an episodic release was the right call.
Let’s get real for a second – Square Enix botched the message about Hitman moving from a full retail release to a timed, episodic one. There’s no way to get away from that. At first it was a full title. Then 3 of the games 7 maps were to be available at launch followed by a full retail release later in the year. Finally, they settled on a fully episodic release. All the changes were confusing and left a mixed message. A quick glance around Twitter confirms this; “Where is the rest of the game?”, “Why is there only 3 missions?”, “How do I unlock mission 4?”. The delayed and poor communication of the structure change has left some despondent about the series but I’m convinced that it’s a consumer friendly move and NuHitman is a damn fine episodic game so far…
These days, the majority of Episodic games are narrative driven experiences. Telltale’s ever-growing portfolio and Life Is Strange are tantamount to this fact – these story driven, visual novel-esque games really work when broken down into chunks like a TV show. They leave cliff hangers, inspire conversations about how people played and what they chose, building hype between episode releases. It’s a smart strategy for games with a plot hook. Aside from plot heavy games, there aren’t many other genres that have dipped their toes into the episodic pool and those that have had found it difficult. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 managed to last 2 episodes before its third was cancelled. Resident Evil Revelations 2 sales “didn’t disappoint” but were hardly stellar either. It must have been a difficult decision for Io Interactive and Square Enix to release Hitman in chunks but I believe it will pay off for them in the long run because of one reason…
Hitman: Absolution. The game that split the Hitman fan base in two. For some long-time Hitman fans (myself included), Absolution was a mistake. To many, it was seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the rise in popularity of linear, plot focused games and the criticism of Blood Money’s difficulty and lack of accessibility. Many others liked that Absolution was more focused, guided and narrative driven. The user reviews on Metacritic read like a Marmite discussion thread – “Worst geam EVA!1!11” vs. “BEST HITMAN GAME SO FAR – 11/10”.
I imagine that at this point, Io Interactive put their collective heads in their hands and sighed exasperatedly. They couldn’t win. Blood Money was criticised for being too laborious. Absolution is criticised for being too simple. Both received their fair share of positive reviews but for differing reasons. Of course, it’s impossible to please all the people, all of the time but when addressing the issues with one game, they inadvertently created new ones for their next.
With the release of NuHitman in 2016, new and old fans alike were waiting with baited breath to see which type of Hitman we were going to get. Was it going to be Absolution styled or Blood Money flavoured? Is it old-school Agent 47 or a baldy Sam Fisher stealth story. Incredibly, it’s both and we only had to part with £12 instead of £49 to find this out.
In my eyes, The Intro Pack is an olive branch to gamers. It says “Hey, we know that the last 2 games in this series were wildly different and you aren’t entirely sure what this new game is going to shape up like. Well, here are 3 levels that introduce everything that this new series is about and if you try it, we are pretty confident you are going to like it” – and many already have.
Of course, episodic games will always have their detractors and those that rush through Hitman with the simple of aim of “Completing” each hit have complained that the 3 missions in the Intro Pack are short – but in my opinion, these people are missing the point. NuHitman is not an open-sandbox of slaughter like Blood Money and Silent Assassin but similarly, it’s not a hand-holding chauffeur like Absolution. It’s balanced on a knife edge between the two and that’s what makes it so replayable. You can do whatever the hell you want (within reason) but you get an occasional gentle nudge in the right direction to get so much more out of the game – something I think stemmed from its newly episodic format as they wring every map of every drop of replayability. The developers needed to keep you engaged and to convince you that buying the season pass is as good idea and it shows in the incredible quality of the Intro pack. To me, rushing through Hitman is like backpacking across New Zealand with your eyes closed. Sure, you get from A to B but you miss all the amazing scenery along the way – and its scenery that Io and Square created to ensure the game has value to each episode and to keep you entertained until the next map drops.
There are plenty of other advantages to the Hitman episodic releases other than allowing gamers to pay a small amount up-front and forcing the developers to leverage everything they can to make the episodes worth buying. Feedback from The Intro pack will likely have an impact on the quality of later instalments. If there is something that nobody likes, IO Interactive can get rid of it. As each map drops, we will get a new wave of community created maps to try rather than the usual Spike of UGC followed by a long lull. If we find ourselves falling out of love with the series, we are under no commitment to buy any further maps.
In short, Hitman does episodic gaming in a way that has not been seen since the 80’s and is all the better for it.
Roll on Sapienza and Marrakesh.
This article is part of Sean’s quest to play and complete 52 games in a year and to write something, nay, *anything* insightful about each one AKA the #52Games52Weeks challenge. You can catch up on his progress so far by visiting the links below:
Week 1 – X-Men: Destiny
Week 2 – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Week 3 – LA Noire
Week 4 – LEGO Marvel’s Avengers
Week 5 – Nubla
Week 6 – Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space
Week 7 – Ironcast
Week 8 – Gunscape
Week 9 – The Fall