We’ve seen episodic releases before with games like The Walking Dead or Life is Strange, but Hitman is the first time we’ve seen a action based game break the mould and the game is so much better for it.
Hitman fans all have favourite missions we’ll play over and over again, leaving a few missions that’ll only be played a few times in comparison. With this year’s release IOI snatched away the bag of Hitman sweets and gave them back to us one at a time, forcing players to savour each one. While around launch this was a bit of a divisive topic, it’s turned out to be the right call.
Launching with the first episode in March this year, Hitman has been slowly released over the last eight months. Ten missions spread over seven locations that would have been blasted through in a couple of days by some and a couple of weeks by others, but by trickling out at a slower pace IO Interactive has forced gamers to play as Hitman should be played. Running the same mission over and over again, learning the maps until you can get around them without even thinking, learning what the cast of characters will do and when they’ll do it, learning all the guard routes and wringing much life out of the rich locations as possible. This repetition builds and each time you learn something until it’s all burned into your brain and culminates in the perfect hit.
In other Hitman games this is where the content would have run its course and it would be up to you to put your own restrictions in place or make your own goals. This time around all these extras are already there for you. By creating dozens of challenges for each location and introducing location mastery, IO Interactive have built the the perfect way to gate content. It forces you to seek out new and creative ways to kill your targets, some of them are only realistically achievable when you’ve learned the intricacies of the map and the way the cast of NPCs act and react. The mastery also rewards you for exploring alternative ways of doing things. After a few plays of older Hitman games you learn the most efficient way of getting to your targets and rarely deviate from that. By rewarding you for doing things differently IOI steer you into exploring more of the content they’ve created in these locations.
The biggest risk with holding back content and trickling the release was that playing the same missions in the same way would get stale, by giving you gentle nudges to try different things and actively rewarding you with more toys for your sandbox IOI have made sure that there’s enough to do, and it’s easy enough to find, to keep you playing between episodes. If that wasn’t enough, the player made Contracts give even more life to playing the same location by mixing up targets or adding complications to how you have to get these kills.
IOI’s Elusive Targets are the ultimate challenge for those who might start to feel like they’ve got everything they can out of a location. The suspense of knowing that one mistake could ruin everything is incredible. Some members of the Hitman community are crying out for more of these, but once again IOI is handing out the murderous sweets sparingly and it creates a sense that each of these Elusive Targets truly are special and a real event that you need to experience.
Not only has the episodic structure, and the way IOI have developed a system to make getting the most out of each episode’s content easy, made this year’s Hitman possibly the best yet, it’s teed itself up to be the perfect sandbox assassination delivery system. There are plenty of Hitman fans out there desperate for more episodes and the modular design, both narratively and in terms of presentation in the game, makes it perfectly viable for a new season of episodes to click right into place. We know that Hitman is going to get a Season 2, but after the success of Season 1 it seems like an obvious call for IOI to continue to support Hitman with further seasons. If you’ve held off picking up Hitman because you wanted to have the whole experience on a plate in front of you, you’ve missed out. The Season 1 experience of Hitman and playing everything as it was released was unique and it’s gone now. The community rallied around it and the excitement on forums and the subreddit was incredible to be a part of, I can’t recommend playing Season 2’s episodes as they come enough. It’s a whole new experience and one you should try.