Will Hitman’s episodic plan signal a change in gaming?
When the latest Hitman was announced, fans assumed it would be a standalone title. Players would pick it up at the store and marathon the campaign and any online extras.
But something funny happened on the way to its launch. Seeing how titles such as Life Is Strange were growing in popularity, IO Interactive changed the game.
The team made the full leap into episodic gaming. It’s an ambitious plan that’s meant to expand Hitman’s world of assassination, so that it’s richer and more compelling than before.
The first step in this vision is that IO Interactive is creating a multi-game storyline. They’re expecting Hitman to run like a TV show with multiple seasons.
Back to basics
The developer worked on giving players a high-density sandbox. The first part of the game I played took place 20 years in the past as Agent 47 was being trained.
These training missions give players a sense of the team’s refinement of the gameplay. Like in previous titles, Hitman is all about stealth and eliminating targets with as little trouble as possible.
Often that means using a sniper rifle to dispatch a mark a hundred yards away or sneaking into an office to strangle them with a garrote.
But what fans loved were the unconventional ways Agent 47 could kill targets. Some of these instances made the deaths look like accidents or they could involve a bit of dress up.
IO Interactive harnessed this idea and streamlined it so that players can spot the special circumstances and execute them.
They call these “Opportunities”. They open up as Agent 47 explores busy maps and stays observant as he navigates through the scores of computer-controlled actors. They outline steps that players can take to earn a unique assassination.
Master of disguise
In the training facility tutorial, I was tasked with boarding a yacht and eliminating the thief Kalvin Ritter. The mission was a simulation.
I tried boarding the vessel outright but was turned away by security. I had to come up with an alternative route that led me to another part of the pier where a mechanic was working on cargo. I subdued him, hid his body in the bathroom and used his outfit as a disguise to get aboard.
That’s a concept that players will rely on heavily in Hitman. Wearing the right uniform can give players access to areas that are normally closed off. With the outfit on, Agent 47 can blend in the crowd or with the staff, serving drinks.
It opens up avenues for assassination as he overhears idle conversation that could reveal tidbits of useful information.
The second tutorial mission is another simulation taking place in Cuba. Agent 47 has to terminate a defector and chess master Jasper Knight before he leaves aboard a plane.
I discovered an Opportunity to sabotage the jet he was leaving on. The process of switching disguises, hiding bodies and avoiding suspicious workers was more complicated than the yacht mission, but the payoff was much more gratifying.
I ended up sabotaging the ejector seat, and when he entered the jet and went through safety inspection, he “accidentally” shot out in the air and smashed into the airplane hangar roof.
With everyone in an uproar, I casually exited the area through the front door.
Control the crowd
I tested out the crowd’s reaction and fired a gun. They all freaked out and started flooding out the hall. During another instance, I wandered around and saw a duo browsing the gift store wondering if they could take an item. Others were talking about their own agendas with a friend or over a smartphone. It’s like a fuller vision of what Assassin’s Creed has been trying to do.
That’s also how I stumbled across my first Opportunity. A blogger had a broken camera and needed a replacement lens so she could interview Novikov.
Players can help her out by finding the new part and then plant a bomb inside the camera. With Opportunities, players get hints at the next step, but it’s up to them to find the right trigger to continue the mission.
Elsewhere, I learned that Agent 47 looked like a model who was supposed to be the star of the event. That presented some fun alternatives, where the protagonist can strut on the runway.
What I enjoyed about Hitman is that players have the freedom to explore these options and the reactions that are believable most of the time.
I say “most of the time” because with a game like this, there are bound to be bugs and plans that don’t always work. But IO Interactive has made the world compelling enough that if players do come across a hiccup, it’s not a burden to try again.
Along with these episodic missions, IO Interactive plans a major “life component” with Hitman. This involves fresh content that gets players to fire up the game daily.
One of these is Escalation Contracts where a mission gets more difficult with modifiers tacked on. For example, players will have to complete a task and hide all the bodies they interact with or Agent 47 could be banned from wearing disguises.
On top of that, Hitman also features Elusive Targets. These are hardcore marks that appear for a 48-hour period and players have one chance to eliminate them. If they mess up, they’re gone forever.
From what I’ve seen, the new Hitman could mark a turning point in gaming. If the episodic approach is a success, it could mean a new model for top-tier games.
It could signal another shift that mirrors what’s going on with television and movies. The success of longer format and bigger-budget TV shows has captured Hollywood and the audience’s imagination. Shows like Game Of Thrones are rivalling films and are proving to be more compelling.
Videogames could be going in that same direction, where blockbuster games no longer come out in huge yearly doses but arrive in monthly chunks that have fans filled with anticipation.
The first episode of Hitman is scheduled for release on March 11 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. – San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service
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