Put down the coconut!
Overwatch, I’m going to let you finish, but Hitman was one of the best games of all time! OK, well maybe not of all time, but as my personal favorite game of 2016 it got my vote for Destructoid’s Game of the Year. While we’re at it, the E3 reveal trailer is one of the best trailers for a video game I’ve ever seen and I still watch it from time to time. I’m tempted to say Hitman was a great “return to form” for the series, but it would be more accurate to say it is a wonderful evolution to adapt to the modern video game scene.
Many people felt that Absolution was an awful step in the wrong direction after the masterful Blood Money. While I did enjoy it and think it is not nearly as bad as many people make it out to be, it will definitely be seen as a tumble in the series’ ever increasing quality now that we have hindsight. I say “ever increasing,” but I’m still not quite sure if 2016’s Hitman will be regarded better than Blood Money. Only time will tell. If season two is as good as season one or even better, it will be an easy choice.
Ratings and reviews around the ole digital block are not in the golden nine or ten range, but it appears most beef is not with the gameplay (which does have its flaws) but more often with the episodic release format and the always-online requirement. Nine out of ten times I am against episodic content and release. This is the exception.
While many episodic games make you wait up to several months for the next piece of content while the studio mostly goes radio silent, Hitman released a new level every month except for June and July, which got a summer episode instead. Not only are the levels so large and complex that it makes a month the perfect amount of time to enjoy each release, but IO Interactive also fills the void by providing lots of free content and updates to improve the game. There is seemingly a new elusive target every week or two, and there have been multiple free missions where IO experiments with the formula a bit. Always online is unfortunate. Besides the elusive targets, its only purpose is seemingly a measure against piracy.
Before we can jump into excited talk of season two, we have to look at how the actual game has evolved beyond the politics of DRM and release format. The three things that jumped out at me immediately were its casualization (to use a single umbrella term to refer to various mechanics), change in tone, and evolved use of disguises and restricted areas.
The word “casualization” is a fearsome one, but I could think of no better term to encapsulate the structure of Hitman. I am talking about those things here because accessibility and adapting to modern game design are not inherently bad. Challenges detail every possible kill and action, which when completed raise your “mastery level” of a given location which in turn unlocks weapons and items. Challenges were also in Absolution but instead served to raise your score. Items were unlocked in Absolution and prior games by carrying them out of the mission. While I miss the challenge of doing this and being rewarded for exploring the levels, the new alternative of unlocking them by killing targets in multiple ways is equally satisfying. I do miss having a cool secret spy hideout to show off all my guns, though.
The hitman vision, called “instinct,” is a toned-down version of instinct in Absolution where it had a meter and showed NPC paths. Here the paths are no longer shown, but you can still see where everyone is in real-time, including targets but excluding elusive targets. It’s just the modern realization of the map from previous games. In Contracts and Blood Money, you had to press start to see a map of the area, and on it you see all NPCs and targets moving in real time. The only difference is that instinct highlights all interactable objects. Showing items you can pick up is fine, but highlighting kill opportunities such as various things dangling from the ceiling feels like something we should have the option to turn off. When I played the levels for the first time, I made clean sweeps in OCD-like fashion, exploring every nook and cranny. In doing so I saw probably over 90% of the possible kills just from instinct vision. You can turn off instinct entirely, but it would be a handicap compared to previous Hitman games, since the map in the pause screen of the new game doesn’t show NPCs nor their movements.
Opportunities are the most casual addition to the new entry. They basically walk you through a kill method step by step. While you may need to look at challenges to see what kills you need to further your mastery, opportunities are only necessary if you’re sick of retrying and want to figuratively turn on easy mode. Both challenges and opportunities can and should be turned off on your first several playthroughs, as they completely eliminate any sense of discovery and exploration. Now that I actually type that out, maybe IO should make them only unlock once you beat a mission for the first time in the future.
While I don’t like the feeling of every possible move in a game being foreseen and intended, the fact that you can turn these off is the end of the argument. The mystique of always finding new things in older games may be gone, as water-cooler discussions are no longer “Oh really? I didn’t know you could do that! I did this!” but rather “Oh yeah I saw that in the challenges, it seems cool.” However most people don’t seem to read through them too much on their first playthroughs. I get a lot of entertainment out of watching various let’s plays to see how different people approach the missions and how they react to funny things.
Hitman is silly, but it’s never been so on the nose about it. Contracts and Blood Money were for the most part serious stealth games that made you feel like a badass. The amazing work by Jesper Kyd helped deliver that emotion. Silliness was restricted to some goofy costumes, the absurd video game logic of fooling people by putting on different clothes, and some wacky easter eggs like this and this. Absolution probably leaned too far into the serious hole and felt mostly drab and dead.
Perhaps to distance themselves from the previous game, IO has made the latest installment much goofier by not only adding more absurd costumes and weapons, but also lots of hilarious dialogue by NPCs. You’ll often hear people talking about the most ridiculous of things, or maybe guards will run by yelling “Someone’s doing something they shouldn’t!” My favorite line so far was when I was being arrested in Bangkok with a coconut in hand and the cop yelled at me “Put down the coconut!” Unintentionally silly were the lines delivered in Japanese on the Hokkaido level; you can’t fool me, I know a fake and bad Japanese accent when I hear it. Anyway, it would have been easy to mess up the tone by making it too stupid, but I feel they found the perfect balance. Until writing this I wasn’t aware of any easter eggs in the 2016 game, but after searching for the above videos I discovered they do exist, and they are hilarious! One thing I’m sure we’ll get more of in season two that I won’t have to ask for is silly costumes.
In season one and its bonus missions we were able to dress up as vampire magicians, plague doctors, ninjas, and even Santa Claus. As much as I’d like to be able to wear the clothes of any NPC, it would be an unrealistic amount of work on the part of IO. That, or they’d simply make less varied NPCs. Two things that I think would be interesting to experiment with in perhaps a bonus mission is wearing targets’ clothes and women’s apparel. It’s already pretty laughable how nearly everyone is fooled by 47 merely donning different clothes, but to up the funny factor it would be fun to dress up as the target and interact with other targets and NPCs. Mechanically it could give you tons of access to various places or even perform special actions.
Agent 47 dressing as a woman and fooling people, including those he is talking to face-to-face would be to jump the shark, but you’re lying if you wouldn’t laugh at the idea of stone-faced 47 fooling people in just a dress talking in his deep and unaltered voice. Seeing Chuck Greene in stupid costumes acting serious with that grimace of his in Dead Rising 2 cutscenes comes to mind, but Dead Rising 2 is a completely different level of camp perhaps. As I explained before, there is a fine line you must walk, or else you get too stupid, which is why I suggest experimenting in a bonus mission before applying to a major episode.
The ability to wear various disguises to get access to certain areas or events has always been a staple of the franchise. The system changed significantly in Absolution, where the game became more strict about what outfit you wore. It also made disguises more fallible than in the past, making it necessary to hide your face using instinct when near people in similar garb for an effect of realism. The 2016 game has expanded and improved on this. While hiding your face is no longer necessary, there are “enforcers” (the guys with white dots above their heads) who will recognize you are not one of them if seen up close or for too long.
Now you are explicitly told when you are trespassing on your HUD, and areas that require certain outfits or authorization are more often than not guarded by NPCs to mark them. Often they will search you for illegal items. At release, you had to guess what you could keep and what you couldn’t at times, but IO later updated the game to let you know if you would get caught and what items are illegal. The way each level plays out has been heavily focused on getting into these restricted areas. I’m looking under a microscope here, but I think they may have focused on this a bit too much in season one.
Several locations felt similar in that they focused on large, multi-storied buildings divided up into different levels of authorization. Marrakesh was outside, but still dominated by gaining access to restricted areas. Colorado and Hokkaido changed it up a bit more. Colorado especially felt less centered on conquering checkpoints to get into areas that targets don’t leave, rather focusing the challenge on setting up the kills and being unseen. The targets also had routes that took them through areas of varying authorization. Once you got to the area that targets wouldn’t leave in prior levels, there were several easy methods of killing them without being seen. The restricted area mechanic isn’t going anywhere and it doesn’t have to because it’s good, but I hope at least some locations in season two are not so focused on it.
Speaking of Colorado and my love for it, one thing it did well is focus on the targets and ways to eliminate them. Sure, it may not be as large and sprawling as Paris or Sapienza, which are fan favorites, but it is more refined. Much of the Paris and Sapienza labyrinths are unused outside of elusive targets and contracts. While those large levels are wonderfully constructed, they are designed as sandboxes rather than to serve the main missions which you will spend most of your time on. All those streets and apartments in Sapienza are cool, but our targets never venture further than the docks or the church.
Much of the unused space in those levels is full of chandeliers and poison-able consumables. If you’re going to focus on sandbox type levels, put in more unique kills. Even hiding bodies could use some more interesting concepts. The bio-hazardous material crates in the Sapienza laboratory were as unique as it got in season one, with most bodies going into everyday dumpsters or closets. How about some laundry chutes, or letting us stick bodies into those already-modeled port-a-potties?
Let’s talk about difficulty and play styles. Firearms are almost pointless. You die too easy in this game, straight up. As much as I love playing stealthily and get sort of annoyed when I see people tear through games like Blood Money guns blazing, it’s unfortunate that the option to play that way is effectively gone. The fact that you die so easy and can’t even use the old mechanic of shooting X number of guys in the head to prevent a death completely nullifies the point of machine guns since you can’t hide them, silence them, aim them very well, or get off many kills without being slaughtered.
The silenced handgun is potentially useful, but like the fiber wire has been rendered useless thanks to throw-able objects locking on to heads and the ability to snap necks. You probably had to give up your gun before getting to where a target is located due to the frisking, but you wouldn’t have to give up items like coconuts and scissors. Lethal items like scissors will lock-on and instantly kill anyone, otherwise you can use blunt objects or nonlethal a takedown followed by a neck snap. If you managed to get a gun in, you’d risk missing with the poor aiming. The only use is getting in close by scaling the outside of a window and shooting in at a target from far away (assuming you don’t have scissors), but it’s more work and you have no chance in a firefight.
The fiber wire is 47’s most iconic tool, as it allows for a silent and bloodless takedown and immediately transitions you into dragging the body. Since blood as evidence is no longer a thing and snapping necks after a non lethal takedown is quicker than the fiber wire choking animation (again, assuming you don’t just throw scissors at their head), there’s not much use in using fiber wire. In previous games, leaving murder weapons behind would dock points, so using fiber wire helped in that regard as well, but now you can just leave stuff behind.
Snipers are silenced and are a legitimate way to kill targets annoying jesters, but I always choose against them since they are illegal items and there is no briefcase in which to carry them. Briefcases and metal detectors were apparently supposed to be in the game, but cut at some point. My guess is that metal detectors would be redundant with the security checkpoints where guys frisk you, but I think briefcases need to return. Not only does it help you get in with a weapon, but it would help you get out if leaving weapons behind counted as evidence and thus went against your rating for the mission as it did in the past. That evidence aspect was probably cut alongside the difficulty levels for the sake of making it not too challenging for newcomers.
While it may be too late to do this now, the addition of difficulty levels would allow for more of these intricacies. You may be able to live longer and shoot the place up on lower difficulties, while on higher difficulties you’d need to leave no blood or evidence behind. Commend IO for patching in the Silent Assassin ranking in for five star hitman emblem runs, but it shouldn’t have been missing in the first place and I want to see more ranking names based on the way you played. I liked getting different headlines in prior games based on how you completed levels; being called things like “psycho” or “trained marksman.” Even more unrealistic than adding difficulty levels or newspaper headlines would be the return of the limited number of saves on higher difficulties. It would encourage better mastery of levels and create more tension, since now you can just save-scum until you do something right on your first try.
Before finishing with fun talk of what locations and targets we want to see in season two, I think the way security cameras function could be improved. As it is now, if you’re seen by one in any situation, you get a notice saying “You’ve been spotted on camera” and thus you must go destroy the video evidence at the designated location within the level to avoid a penalty. Does it not make more sense for it to not matter if you’re on camera or not unless you are seen committing a crime? For example, let’s say I’m dressed as a chef on the ground of the Sapienza villa. I’m not trespassing, so I shouldn’t be punished for being seen. If I was in 47’s suit and trespassing, then it should penalize me. Likewise, if dressed as a chef I am seen killing someone on camera, that should be a penalty. Now it gets tricky: what if I, a chef, am witnessed killing a target and everyone knows to look for the killer who is dressed as a chef? Of course, the time following the kill I should be caught if seen on camera, but if you want to think with real-world logic then they should be able to check the tapes from before the kill to see if any chefs were on camera. In this case is it not possible to program the game to give you a warning of some sort that you were seen on camera, but so long as you are not witnessed committing any crime (including lock picking or poisoning something) in that outfit then you are not penalized for being seen on camera and thus not have to destroy the video evidence? It’s complex so IO may have thought of it and just said “Fuck it, make them go get the tape no matter what.”
Now then, what types of targets would be good? They do have a story going on if you forgot, so they do have to make sense in the context of that plot. However, much like my issue with Suicide Squad I’ve felt 47 and the agency should be more devoid of morals, instead assassinating whoever their contractor asks. Season one felt like killing a bunch of irredeemable devils. There absolutely does not need to be some heavy-handed message involved in killing some nice dad in front of his kids or something, but killing normal people might be fun too. I’d like more unique targets in general, actually.
Most of the targets in season one were CEOs, businessmen, politicians, and the like. The most interesting one was Jordan Cross in Bangkok, since his profession as a musician created an interesting scenario with exciting kill and costume opportunities. Of all the targets across Contracts and Blood Money, the one I remember the most is Meat King from one of the first levels of Contracts. Meat king was bed-ridden and a huge mass of flesh as his name implies, making for an approach different from most missions. Erich Soders in Hokkaido was similar and I commend them for making a unique target, though it was perhaps the weakest target in the game since all the kills methods besides just shooting him were messing with buttons on the various medical apparatuses.
So here’s my one idea for an interesting target: a guy who’s into BDSM. That premise alone makes ones mind run wild with the possibilities. Sabotage the BDSM “equipment” or take on the role of his master yourself (if they aren’t willing to do the female 47 goofs, make the target homosexual or have the ability to blindfold him). Kill him by drowning, choking, constricting, beating, stabbing, electrocuting, any number of things.
The number of targets could be increased. Another reason I love Colorado so much is because it had the most targets (four). Make use of those big levels and give us more people to shred and pancake. Go crazy and put like eight or ten in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be eight to ten different sets of kill methods; make the sheer number a challenge in itself by grouping them together. What if instead of just Jordan Cross, you had a band of five guys who were mostly together in a group? You could still have a giant moose fall on all of them or something. It would just make moosing them or blowing them up with explosives that much more fun. Have targets interact with each other more, too. Maybe even have one be killed by another.
So at last, let’s talk level locations. Let’s just get one thing out of the way: cut out the non-target stuff. The virus in Sapienza, the tornado shelter in Colorado, and talking to the guy in Flatline from Blood Money are not fun. Hell the entire laboratory section of Sapienza downright sucks, to be honest. I’m a hitman, not a scientist, Jim.
I have three ideas that I think would make for fun levels in season two. First up, a level that would fit in with the theme they have going now: the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain. Think of a blend between Murder of Crows from Blood Money and that wrestling level from Absolution. Tons of people partying, wearing festive outfits. You can still have some buildings to go into with typical restrooms, kitchens and whatnot, but focus on the outside and people like in Marrakesh. Have the running of the bulls go on a loop, and a small arena where bullfighting is taking place. One of the targets could be a torero performing in the arena. If you want to go next-level stupid, have 47 put on an unconvincing bull costume and be the bull. Of course this level hinges on whether or not they’re willing to design bulls.
Next, how about a trans-Siberian train? Being in Russia hits the “world location” check box like Spain would in the previous level, and the long narrow shape of a train is an immediate change to the level formula. You can have some cars off limits and require special uniforms and copy paste in your typical kitchens and restrooms. But think of throwing people off the train, or under it. Detach train cars, become the conductor and/or sabotage the entire damn thing to crash. Perhaps it goes on a loop and stops at a few small locations with a limited amount of time before taking off again. The challenge of the level would be on killing in plain sight without being seen.
The level that is always on my mind and would be the most fun of these three is an amusement park during Halloween. Well OK, all the costumes and decor associated with Halloween just scream Hitman, but maybe you want to save that for a seasonal bonus mission like the current Holiday Hoarders. Fine. But come on, spend the time and effort to make an amusement park with various rides that you can sabotage. Stop a ferris wheel or ride it to snipe from, cause a roller coaster to fly off tracks killing perhaps the multiple targets riding it, or even aim it to fly off into the ferris wheel that other targets are riding. Sabotage one of those huge slingshot rides to snap and launch a target way into the sky. Even if you don’t incorporate Halloween, you can have park mascots. Be a Disney World knockoff with King’s Island-type rides.
Theme park rides and live animals may make some of my ideal levels impossible, but a man can dream right? Even if they stick to their formula I have every bit of confidence they’ll make fun and exciting levels because Hitman is a great game. It may have seemed at times like I was being very critical, but I simply don’t like to mention things without giving the best possible explanation. Any complaints I expressed are ultimately small. If you haven’t played Hitman yet, I suggest you start! And if you have, what are you looking forward to in season two? What kind of changes, targets, or levels do you want to see?