HITMAN™ - First Episode

You have to be joking, right? Jesus Christ, Square Enix, what is wrong with you? I’m not talking about the people who work their asses off to meet deadlines and production goals, only to have the higher-ups in management randomly decide to change the trajectory of the game completely. I’m talking about those inept, cynical fools at the top who decide to ruin what could have been an excellent addition to the Hitman series by making the following choices in design that just baffle the mind:

DRM?

If you are not connected to the shoddy HITMAN™ servers — which will happen quite often regardless of how good your internet connection is — the game can kick you out of the story mode. Yes. The singleplayer experience. This isn’t like Dark Souls where the singleplayer experience can become a multiplayer experience through the famed invasion/summoning system, nor does HITMAN™ have any of the other components that makes a singleplayer-multiplayer hybrid like Dark Souls so unique. It literally offers nothing. Moreover, if you lose your connection in Dark Souls you still have access to the game itself and aren’t randomly thrown out of it at the drop of a hat. So why am I thrown out of the campaign if I literally am not playing with or against people? Can I not decide whether or not my feats will be featured on a leaderboard I don’t give a damn about rather than forcing me to go through the tedious process of reconnecting to your awful servers?

Worse still, if you decide to just go with offline mode, you can no longer access one of its core features: in-game challenges called “feats.” Feats have been around since Hitman: Absolution, a compromise to offer more replayability in a series that had become more linear, consisting of clinically separated set pieces to make up the meat of the game rather than the more playful and liberating approach of Blood Money almost sand box-y approach. If I were playing the online feature, Contracts, then yes. I do understand a necessity to be connected to the servers. But the campaign? And if I am not connected to your servers I can no longer explore the games through the challenges it offers me? You just bury it behind a wall of this poor excuse of a “service” that I never wanted, expected or asked for? Seriously, how are these people not thoroughly embarrassed of the mess they have made here?

Poor optimisation

I don’t have to talk too much about this. My computer is nowhere near as good as some of the other people rightfully complaining in the review section or on the community page, but I can still easily participate with the latest games of this current generation on mid or low quality graphics (most of them are still easily played on high). Yet this game is so poorly optimised, it makes everyone have a collective déjà-vu experience with graphics so laughable that it makes it look like Blood Money with a botched facelift and that’s so thoroughly disappointing. I thought I was feeling the effects of the current gen that left my computer in the dust, but it appears that everyone is suffering from these issues because the people making this game couldn’t be bothered to make a decent-looking/functioning game. Furthermore, I have often had a lot of trouble with bodies ragdolling or having a limb (usually a leg) being stuck underneath the floor, making it virtually impossible to reliably carry bodies.

Format: episodic content

What works fine with a game like Life is Strange or a Telltale Game is that the genre itself complements the narrative suspense and build-up of a TV series. Episodic content is not bad per se, it can be a genuinely meaningful addition to the medium of video games. It has the potential to bring new and exciting ways to tell a story through a medium that requires active participation of its audience in order to proceed with the story. Honestly, you won’t find me discrediting episodic content as a whole if it weren’t for the exploitative business practices that Square Enix and Capcom are currently exercising in games such as the remake of Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and other games. Games that feel disjointed and fractured, that miss any sense of a decent pace because it so clearly was a full release that was later shattered into arbitrary pieces that is ultimately to the detriment of the player’s experience just so that the publishers could squeeze out more money from you. That’s not even mentioning the fact that episodic releases do not always come out on a regular schedule (e.g. Kentucky Route Zero).

The good stuff

Beneath the layers of DRM-related issues and the abysmal graphics, there are signs of a good game. The confused, disjointed tone of Absolution is nowhere to be found. Agent 47’s sudden streak with his (poorly expressed) emotional side in the previous game — which was so uninspiring with its fixation on a young girl whose role, character and function in the game did not extend beyond being an object of the protagonist’s paternal feelings that players were forced to accept — seems to be gone and it’s a return to form with the cold, calculated killer we all know. Although the levels are quite easy to figure out, the overall tone is decidedly more akin to Blood Money than Absolution which is a welcome change.

The sound design is good. I was particularly taken aback by my own viciousness when an unfortunate civilian happened to have investigated a noise and I instinctively shot her twice in the chest, her body falling under its own weight beneath the stairs. There was no one to hear or see what I had done, but the cleverly designed voice acting truly conveyed the sounds of a person who is suddenly and brutally killed by some bald man sporting a tattoo that you can find in the grocery store. It felt sudden, painful. I’ve had my fair share of deliberate and accidental civilian kills in many Hitman games, but this one left an impact. Especially as the party and life went on just up the stairs. Anyone who would have glanced downstairs would have seen us, but they didn’t. This is, I believe, what Hitman is suppose to be. An actual murder simulator with a morbid sense of humour. Where you can strangle your targets to death in a chicken suit, pull off the perfect assassination with no witnesses and no other casualties, or double-tap a civilian who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s messy, unfair and somewhat disturbingly satistying. This is the Hitman that I know and love and beneath all these issues, HITMAN™ reveals a gem that shows the repulsive beauty of this series. Unfortunately, it’s obscured by shady marketing decisions that threaten to strangle this new iteration in its crib.

Verdict

Avoid this game for now. Seriously. Wait until all of its egregious problems have been fixed and it can actually be playable for a change. Do not buy the full release or the first episode until it has been published fully. Do not support the practices of Square Enix by pushing episodic content down people’s throats when it is to the detriment of the game, the franchise and even gaming itself. The cynic in me suspects this will all be “remedied” by a “remastered” version about a half a year or one year after the release of the final episode while the current game we have now will always remain broken and unfinished. Let’s just hope I’m wrong and Square Enix learns from its mistakes.

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