How’s Hitman?

I cannot say that the new Hitman DLC/Season Pass/Franchise game really appeals to me at my core. I like stealth games, and I definitely like Metal Gear Solid, but Hitman always stood in this weird middle ground. On the one hand, it wants to present you with high profile targets to assassinate in diverse and interesting locations; on the other hand, it want to emphasize creativity in the murdering with lots of options to get to the same goal. But, neither of these things coalesce into something profoundly entertaining.

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I’ll give you an example: the first tutorial missions task you with (respectively) killing a master thief on a boat. Immediately, the tutorial emphasizes Hitman’s unique contribution to the stealth-action mold: outfits. A lot of the game consists of 1. knocking some guy out 2. when nobody’s looking, 3. then stealing their outfit 3. and hiding them. Apparently, people pay attention to uniforms more than faces, so the vast majority of people won’t be able to tell the difference between you and, say, an actual bodyguard who works on the boat. Only certain people, designated with a white dot over their head, will find you suspicious, but that’s about it. So, you can either knock out the maintenance guy, or a security guard and find your way onto the boat.

The game gives you a first recommendation as to how to kill Kalvin the Thief: wait and watch his movements. Follow him from afar to his secret meeting with Mr. Norfolk. Then, simply use a silenced pistol to pop him in the head when the other guy isn’t looking! From there, you just walk off the boat. Hurray, murder is fun! And then you find out there’s about 5-6 different ways to do this, each with their own variations. From poisoning Kalvin and drowning him in a toilet, to disguising yourself as Mr. Norfolk and blowing Kalvin up with a mine, to having Kalvin die in a freak lifeboat accident, there’s a ton of different paths to the same goal. Hitman often rewards creativity if you like replaying missions over and over again.

But, here’s the thing: all these paths, functionally speaking, lead to the exact same objective. The guy/girl/whatever dies in the end, no matter what methodology happens to align with your taste. Sure, some of them are fun to see, or they’re much more elaborate, but there’s rarely much motivation that goes into it beyond that. I think the original Hitman games got this pretty well – they pretty much set you out and trusted you to figure out how you’d solve the problems preventing you from killing your target. And, you’d probably happen upon some newly discovered method of murder somewhere in the process. The goal was the goal, and the developers trusted you with the means. And if you messed up, you died – save, reload, try again.

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The new Hitman, on the other hand, turns the “variety” of Hitman into a bunch of prefabricated objectives. Use rat poison on the guy! Kill him using a remote detonator! Killing him without being seen and without ever removing your suit! This list of arbitrary difficulty spikes are known as “Challenges”, and it’s one of the most blatantly gamified ways to force creativity and “replay value” out of a one-and-done game style I’ve ever seen. I hate it, in the same way I hate Donkey Kong 64 incessantly making you play the same stages over and over again for surprisingly little rewards except for check boxes to check off and big lists to be filled with…meaningless stuff.

And, other than that and improved AI, Hitman feels exactly like its predecessors, like playing Hitman 2: Silent Assassins out of a time warp from 15 years ago. I just don’t see what, exactly, changed in all those years other than adding a bunch of stuff for people to do who want to mess around in the imaginary assassin sandbox for hours. It’s fun for a little while, but the appeal drops quickly. Maybe this sort of thing appeals to you, but for me it just doesn’t click, at all. I’m not sure what I was looking for, exactly, when I started playing it, but I certainly didn’t find it.

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But hey, you know, it’s fun to just mess around in an open world game with some fun little hidden tools to complete missions. I suppose I can’t say Hitman’s latest iteration isn’t “fun” – it hearkens back to the older games and definitely tries for “James Bond” more than “gritty grimdark”. I like that it bothers for suave and sophisticated, and even the violence seems pretty tame by comparison with most modern games. IO Interactive definitely want to emphasize the fun of the whole concept, which they performed admirably by pretty much copying verbatim their older Hitman games, but that’s not really a valid complaint I suppose.

I plan on going further to see what I find, but for the moment I’m pretty content with Hitman. Despite hating the collection aspect of CHALLENGES and the silly online/offline dichotomy (different save games for both – it’s weird), I can’t say I’m disappointed or that I’m hilariously excited. Rather, I’d call myself…content.

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.

1 Timothy 6

I’m content with calling it simply a “fun game” and leaving it at that. Derivative? Sure. Interesting in its own way? Sure. Revolutionary? Not really. But Hitman has no pretense to be any of those things, so why judge it against that standard? I guess I just don’t have strong feelings about it either way.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.