My affinity for the Hitman series runs deep. From Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, which I poured many hours into on the GameCube as a kid, to one of my favorite video games of all time, Hitman: Blood Money, that I happily played and beat again on Steam last year.
For a time, I wondered if the Hitman series would ever return after 2006’s Blood Money. In 2012, Hitman returned in a narrative focused drudgery known as Hitman: Absolution. After some minor iOS releases, the series was fully rebooted in 2016 simply titled, Hitman. Hitman 2 now graces our presence following the success and acclaim of the reboot, but it is now time to reassess and hit the brakes.
Hitman and Hitman 2 are a return to superior form for the series despite one major gameplay overhaul that I’ll discuss in detail later.
Hitman and Hitman 2 aren’t justifiably $60 games
I beat both Hitman 1 and Hitman 2 in short order recently. I bought Hitman 1 as a Game of the Year special foolishly on my laptop that couldn’t handle the graphics (but can handle NBA 2K18 and F1 2017 on low graphics). The main issue was that my third-person camera lagged a half second behind my inputs, but I powered through the six-mission campaign anyway. I did buy the game for my PS4 so I could get an authentic playthrough (having a much better time on my PS4, obviously).
For Hitman 2, I bought the full $60 version for my PS4 fully aware that the game was another six-mission breeze. I suppose more additional content will be added akin to the first game, but the drip feed of DLC that I may or may not want to pay for is excruciating.
On the contrary, there’s no game quite like Hitman. It’s a series that owns its brand of patient quirky nonsensical infiltration-based stealth gameplay proudly. That last sentence may not make a lot of sense to most people but will resonate with any avid Hitman fan.
I enjoy the new Hitman games. Neither of the games is bad by any metric. My disappointment with the latest releases was that both games launched at a full $60 price (we’ll act like that episodic thing with Hitman 1 was just a dumb mistake) with a truncated campaign experience. Instead of getting the whole pie, Warner Bros. is selling half pies at full price.
The two games only offer six locations with six main story missions. If you bought the games at launch, that’s worth $120 not including if you’re shelling out a small fortune for the expansion pass. The expansion pass for Hitman 2 is $40.
To Hitman 1’s credit, there wasn’t an expansion pass and content was added onto the game for those who paid full price. It’d be nice to give Square Enix (they published Hitman 1) props here but alas, greed overtakes goodwill in the world of business and Warner Bros. is not going to turn down an opportunity for paid DLC. Hitman 1 by the time of its Game of the Year edition release, had a slightly more full experience with added missions but the six locations become monotonous even with new hits to perform.
Compare this jargon to Hitman 2: Silent Assassin’s 20 missions and Blood Money’s 12 missions, the Hitman reboots are charging full price for half the Hitman experience. It’s not that the quantity of the missions determines the quality of the game, however. Blood Money’s 12 missions were expertly crafted and designed compared to Silent Assassin which was mostly good but had a few level design flaws.
Silent Assassin and Blood Money are full and complete video games, in a time where that’s how the game industry worked. Even Absolution was a complete game with a lot of content, it was just not a good Hitman game.
The buzzkill for the Hitman reboot is that the story campaign is two halves of a story split into two games. It’s not that the story itself matters so much, it’s that the experience of being Agent 47 and living his journey is limited within only a handful of exotic locations. The locations themselves are wonderfully designed and built, but they do become well-traveled by the second playthrough. Any new missions or replayed missions become more of a routine than a natural experience.
The easiest analogy to make is imagine playing any other major game release this year and there are only six missions. Even if those six missions are vast and filled with excitement, you’d get to the end of the sixth mission and feel unsatisfied.
The best six missions of Red Dead Redemption 2 or Spider-Man or God of War or Monster Hunter, and so on, wouldn’t make for a satisfying full game experience. Even in Hitman’s case where the story is more background to the gameplay’s foreground, it’s not in good taste to charge your consumers a premium and offer a preview.
For the devils' advocates who want to berate me, “but Mr. King, the missions are meant to be replayed several times so you can experience all the story walkthroughs and complete all the challenges…” This argument doesn’t hold water for me. Blood Money is just as replayable and has plenty more content for a game developed over a decade ago. Extra challenges or ways to complete story missions are supposed to be the icing on the cake. Hitman 1 and 2 are mini cupcakes doused in icing. Two mini cupcakes that Warner Bros. is charging $120 for.
My PSA to anyone on the fence about buying Hitman 2, wait a couple months until it goes on a major sale and hopefully bonus missions and DLC will be included. The drawback is you’ll miss out on the one-time-only Elusive Target missions which as fascinating a concept as it is, aren’t the reason anyone should be rushing out to buy Hitman 2.
If IO Interactive & Warner Bros. does put out a Hitman 3 in the next two or three years, I wouldn’t buy it at launch unless it was confirmed there is much more campaign content.
The point is, just because major game releases are all priced $60, doesn’t mean publishers are fulfilling their end of the bargain giving you $60 worth of content. This is why reviewers and critics exist, especially those who understand how important context is and the importance of when and how to spend your savings.
For or against opportunities?
The most significant gameplay feature in the rebooted Hitman series is the Opportunities feature. I’m not completely for or against the implementation of Opportunities, but I do think its a system that needs some fine-tuned revision. The dilemma is that Opportunities have a massive impact on gameplay whether you use them or not. I believe a few refinements to the system could improve the Hitman experience.
Hitman games have mostly been based around finding the best way to dispose of your target. In the original series, the game emphasized points of interests within your game map. You would have to explore your surroundings and logically connect the interest points into ways to assassinate your targets.
You could go directly to the target and shoot or choke out the target. Sometimes you can poison your target. You can drown your target. You can push them off a high ledge. Blow them up. Take them out via sniper rifle. Or within each map, there is an indirect approach where you can trigger an “accident” to happen and kill your target that way.
Absolution introduced the Instinct feature where Agent 47 could highlight interactive objects and areas on the map that were within his vision, which is fine. But having Instinct replace the points of interest feature doesn’t do justice to how important the POI feature was to Silent Assassin and Blood Money. Every time I started a mission I would map out a room I wanted to check to see if that room had an item or advantage I could use to assassinate the target. Half the fun was in the journey of figuring out how to get to a certain room that may or may not have the solution to beating the mission.
The map’s point of interests feature was basically the opportunity system without a guide. The difference was that there was no incentive in the old Hitman games to creatively kill a target. This feature was more of a novelty than a core aspect of the game. The only goal was to perform your hit as unseen and silent as possible. I prefer this approach to gameplay design because it intuitively feels more immersive and logical. Agent 47 (the infamous Hitman you play as) is an assassin, not an exhibitionist. There’s already a lot of suspension of belief because Agent 47 has a distinguishable barcode on the back of his head that no NPC dares ever question.
The Opportunity system featured in Hitman and Hitman 2 does away with the points of interest feature. The map menu interface is rubbish. The Opportunities feature provides a guide that practically hand holds you through assassination attempts. Some Opportunities are less laborious than others and it doesn’t completely take the challenge out of the game, but it definitely makes the game easier when a marker tells you the exact location of an objective and what to do.
Hitman 1 did away with Opportunities in its four DLC missions, Patient Zero. In Patient Zero, the menu was rid of the Opportunities screen leaving the Intel screen. The Intel screen provides clues and info needed to get to or take out a target without explicitly putting a marker on it. I found this to be a more gratifying approach but it helped that I was familiar with the huge sprawling maps.
The Opportunities system can be turned off, and for a couple missions, I neglected to use it at the expense of lower XP and less direction from the game. The trouble with going in blind is that the maps are so large, without a proper map, it makes navigating and finding your own intel and opportunities a chore and a half.
My armchair advice would be to implement Agent 47’s handler Diana more into the game. Combining Diana’s dialogue with a better map could lead to a more immersive experience. By no means do I want Hitman to become a hyper-realistic game. Rather, I want to combine the aspects of a fair challenge with more semi-realistic options for advice integrated into the gameplay.
I played and beat the first Elusive target mission for Hitman 2 starring semi-famous actor Sean Bean. The Elusive target missions are an intriguing system where players have a two-week real-time period to take on a new and original target.
The catch is, once you complete the mission, the target is gone forever. There’s no option to replay it. If you die, you lose. The stakes are frighteningly high until you discover that you can restart the mission so long as you haven’t completed any mission objectives. If there wasn’t a restart feature, Sean Bean would’ve likely gotten away from me as I had to restart several times trying to figure out where to go and how best to eliminate him.
Locking away content forever that could add to a game’s library of slim original content is puzzling. Why not release Elusive Target missions several months after their expiry date? I would assume the idea from Square Enix is to keep players coming back for Elusive Target missions, but all the missions occur on the same maps the main missions occur on. Even with deeper more expansive maps, six locations per game stretches the game too thin.
Ghost Mode Online Multiplayer
Hitman is trialing a new online multiplayer mode that I played precisely once and have come back with this detailed report.
The mode is basically a race against a fellow Hitman in parallel universes where you track down five targets on the same map. When one Hitman successfully eliminates a target, the other Hitman has limited time to take out the same target or else the assassin gets the point. If one person screws up and causes mass hysteria on their map, the other player’s map is unaffected.
I got about two minutes into a Ghost Mode game before I was informed I lost connection to the servers. This mode is still in Beta, so I’ll leave you with that to consider. I am on board with the idea though.
How much does the plot matter in Hitman games?
The simple answer is not much. The gameplay carries most of the weight for whether a Hitman game is fun or not. That being said, a plot is necessary, and it’s much better when said plot isn’t in the way of gameplay.
Plot getting in the way gameplay was the defining issue of Hitman: Absolution. Many missions were less about assassinations and more about evading guards and completing mission objectives to further a preposterous and uninvolving story. Agent 47 is one of the blandest characters in gaming, so trying to put any emotional stakes in a video game with him involved is dicey at best.
Agent 47’s only quirk is his often referenced backstory of being a perfected clone killing machine who can’t remember his past. No game since the first ever Hitman, which I’m not sure anyone alive today has played, delves far enough into that plot to give it any credence.
The Hitman reboot does eventually weave around to Agent 47’s past transgressions, but by the end of Hitman 2, very little closure remains.
The conjoining plots for Hitman and Hitman 2 made little sense to me. There are secret societies and organizations and none of them seem to be up to any good. There’s a Liam Neeson-like guy who follows 47 around for reasons. By the conclusion of it all, I’m not sure if anything significant was accomplished which is a stark contrast to Blood Money where the ending missions and scenes were much more impactful.
But alas, these are Hitman games, not Deus Ex or Mass Effect where the story plays a vital role to the game experience. So long as a semblance of a plot exists that involves Agent 47 doing what he does best, that’s all the Hitman games require.