Ignoring the rather painful, train-wreck of a film-adaptation back in 2007, and the similarly awful-looking reboot due out this summer, the Hitman brand is synonymous with the IO-Interactive video-game series, centred around the ruthless assassin known only as Agent 47.
After debuting the first Hitman title back in 2000, the Danish studio gave 47 an upgrade in both style and gameplay every two years, but following the runaway success that was Blood Money, there was an excruciatingly long wait for fans. The fifth Hitman game, Absolution, was finally released in 2012 and, although the improvements to the overall engine were easily felt, something was definitely missing. Put simply, it didn’t quite feel like a Hitman game anymore. Gone was the wit and charm of one of gaming’s most fiendishly inventive series, replaced only with a by-the-books storyline and a rather annoyingly cinematic tone, dissolving any real sense of fun or player creativity.
With the latest title taking its bow at E3 this past month, it seems only relevant to explore the ways in which IO-Interactive can get their award-winning series back on track. Here are five things that we hope come included in the new Hitman, due this December.
1) Bring Back The Sandbox Approach
The traditional Hitman gameplay involved throwing the player into a pre-set environment, packed with a huge amount of interactive features and NPCs. They were then given the task of assassinating one or many targets, in any manner they deemed necessary. The only requisite was that the player had to kill the designated targets and escape alive – everything else, from the final death count, to the stealthiness of their kills, was entirely up to them.
Absolution didn’t entirely do away with this idea, but it did certainly make it a lot more difficult. Missions for
example, were broken down into smaller stages with far tinier objectives, usually based around simply moving from one end of the map to the other. You could get to that objective point however you wanted, but all you had to do was get there – sometimes this would be as simple as knocking out a guard, stealing their outfit, then walking the few hundred feet to the exit. There was no drive to do something inventive or explore the level in its entirety.
Therefore, the most important ‘fix’ would appear to be to simply return to the old-school Hitman style of gameplay. One substantially bigger and richer environment, multiple targets/things to retrieve and one exit point, that’s it. Keep it simple, load each mission with even more ways to go about doing the deed, and the game would be infinitely more fun to play, not to mention that it would encourage further run-throughs after completing each stage.
2) Weapon Customisation
47’s trademark Silverballer pistols were lost for a large
portion of Absolution, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when they returned it did make you realise that they were just pistols. Blood Money allowed players to experiment with different scopes, silencers and gadgets for their guns, with each choice marking a different way of playing the game. No silencer? It would no doubt end up in a shootout. Fancy a scope? Long distance would always be on the cards.
By bringing back weapon customisation, and dramatically increasing the amount of weapons available, again the game becomes instantly a lot more fun to play. The possibilities become almost endless. Fancy going postal with a gigantic gold revolver that shoots nails? Why not? Go a little crazy. Which brings me on to my next point…
3) Make It Funny
Due to some strange desire to make the whole thing
annoyingly dramatic and po-faced, Absolution lost a lot of the trademark dark humour that once-upon-a-time came standard with a Hitman game. Contracts let you loose in a hotel as a bellboy. Blood Money unleashed you on a suburban street whilst dressed as a clown. What happened to the wacky costumes and the silly NPC routines?
Without these little jokey distractions to remind you that the whole thing is one giant deluded fiction, the game starts to take itself far too seriously and ultimately, you almost feel bad for playing it. It feels too real – it’s difficult to have fun. And what’s the point of playing a game that isn’t fun?
4) Stop Making Agent 47 Seem Human
As silly as it sounds, Agent 47 isn’t a human. He’s a clone, created to be the most ruthless and efficient killer possible. His defining characteristic is that he shows pretty much zero emotion. In Absolution, the entire game’s plot revolves around 47 attempting to save a young girl from being experimented on, thus, giving him a conscience.
Again, this comes back to a matter of simplicity. There is no need for emotion or even dialogue when the game itself ultimately comes down to nothing more than an assassin killing his targets. This is what the series is at its core, and this is what attracted fans to it initially.
The idea of 47 is that he is a ghost; he is mostly certainly not a lovesick dough-eyed Frankenstein-style creation who just wants to “understand” or “feel”. The whole point of him is that he is a blank-slate for the players themselves to shape and mould. Some are sneaky and quiet, others are loud and brash. 47 is who you make him, and giving him a personality beyond “stone-cold killer” removes that entirely.
5) Creative Level Design
The most memorable missions in Hitman history, from ‘Traditions of the Trade’ to ‘A New Life’ and beyond, are all defined largely by one thing: great maps. Interactive hotels, lavish mental asylums, gigantic opera houses and even the White House. So why then was Absolution mostly reduced to abandoned libraries and crummy science labs with barely anyone in them?
The desire to explore and invest in a game like Hitman comes with the richness of its content; players will keep going back to the same missions time and time again if they’re relatable, amusing and most importantly, if there’s plenty of hidden avenues that they haven’t explored yet. Bring back the inventive settings, and the game lasts significantly longer.