I study games through the lens of experience. Let’s see how Hitman (released in 2016) stands.
Hitman is a series of games where you play a super-assassin, that can perfectly blend in the crowd and kill his targets through various means, from direct headshots to manipulation of events in such a way that the kill appears an accident. Or if things go south, he can surround the target with explosives and press the boom button. Or just slap the target with a fish and kill him, because… game logic.
At its core, it’s actually a puzzle game of exploration. Identify targets, find ways to eliminate, put all the parts together in such a way that our hitman achieves the perfect kill.
The 2016 version acts as a soft reboot of the franchise and focuses on the elements that made hitman games famous, with the addition of a mode for casual players who don’t have time to create the perfect kill by trial and error. The game is made of several very loosely connected locations and targets. The bare-bones story acts as a way to link missions together and sets the stage for a sequel (which was released in 2018).
Firstly, one major advantage of the 2016 Hitman is that it allows you to completely turn off the hud, even if that means you will have no way of knowing who can spot through your disguise and how close you are to being identified as an intruder. In short, it ensures you will fail any mission unless you already memorized almost everything in that location.
And that is what I count as a failure. Games as experience are based on simply the experience, they have no fixed routes and static elements. As of now, we cannot have games as experience but we can try to create an experience in other games. The first step in the Hitman game is to disable the hud before playing any stage. This way, the first time you experience the game will be without any knowledge or helping hand based on the hud.
So that’s what I did. And I failed. Complete failure and frustration.
Okay, next step. Partially disabled the hud. Opportunities are short missions that guide you (with a hud reticle) towards the perfect kill. Basically, they remove the puzzles from the game. So, obviously turned off. Minimap too. Turn off. We have access to the map in the intel menu, anyway.
What if we play like this? Is it a good experience?
Well, yes, and no.
It’s a very good experience of walking through gorgeous environments where thousands of people are present at once. By disabling the major distractions on the hud you can focus on the beautiful interconnected locations, colorful characters, and funny banters. It is almost a believable world, as long as you don’t overstay your welcome. NPCs have a fixed routine that will not change until you intervene. A chef will always mix the food, taste the food, talk to his helper, go back to the food. Over and over until you do something (like sneakily poisoning the food).
But forget about that, just walk around and you’ll be surprised to discover a living breathing world made of huge crowds, as never seen before in video games (that is in 2016).
What about the assassinations?
Well, if you really disable the opportunities, you need to pay attention to characters talking and then luckily stumble upon the required tool to complete the job. I didn’t feel like an expert assassin but instead, I felt like a guy stumbling from perfect kill to the perfect kill. It was almost too easy. I don’t say it was easy, because trying to find a specific tool without knowing where to look can be extremely frustrating. Walking hundred times through the same location without understanding how to properly isolate the target is fun the first few times, but after a hundredth time, it becomes an exercise in frustration.
In my first play, I try to execute the mission perfectly and not experiment with options to see what goes boom and what doesn’t. An assassin only has one chance, not tens of reloads. At the end of the day, I accomplished my mission by running around, strangling people, and taking their clothes. Why did I do that? I don’t know, I just felt that the game wants me to change clothes in order to access another area. But to be honest, I didn’t even know why I wanted to access that area. It was an exercise in exploration. After finishing the first playthrough, I can attest the second one is more enjoyable from the perspective of the perfect hitman. I know the location, and so I don’t stumble upon things, but I make my plan and I execute it without mistake. That’s what agent 47 would do.
Hitman 2016 has the potential to almost be an experience game, but sadly, it is aimed at the perfectionist who doesn’t mind replaying the same level over and over, discovering new ways of assassinating their target, from professional to silly. As a game as experience it fails, even though it has the option of being extremely immersive. Unfortunately, this immersion is only recommended for replays.
As a discovery game and limited sandbox, it’s one of a kind. With multiple options raging from professional (almost no help) to casual (step by step guidance), it is a game that could be enjoyed by a wide range of people. No matter what options you chose, it makes you feel like Hitman 47, a genetically engineered assassin who succeeds because of his cool demeanor and intellectual prowess over brute force.
Final mention, it’s impossible to have agent 47 without David Bateson’s voice, and even if our protagonist is a man of few words, it was a joy to hear him talk. Nobody could do the iconic hitman voice, that evokes at the same time a psychopathic, intelligent, and threatening individual.