Innovation isn’t one of the gaming industry’s strong suits. Typically when one game hits it big we’ll see dozens of clones pop up over the course of the following years, offering perhaps a refinement or two but generally sticking close to the formula. This has happened multiple times over the years; Street Fighter 2 begat an era of 2D fighters, for instance, while more recently Minecraft has become so pervasive that even entirely unrelated games now shoehorn in a crafting system.
We’re not talking about those today, though. Instead, we’re looking at a stealth game…we can trace those back the blockbuster popularity of 1998’s Metal Gear Solid, by the way. Two years after that legendary game snuck onto store shelves, it was covertly joined by Hitman: Codename 47, a slightly different take on the genre with a slightly more lethal bent.
Codename 47 turned out to be, well, a hit. So here we are 16 years later with a new entry simply titled Hitman, an episodic sequel (but overall prequel) to 2012’s Hitman: Absolution. Not the full game, of course, but we do have a beta to check out – specifically one titled Prologue. You can thank 2007’s Halo 3 bundling a beta invite with copies of Crackdown, which resulted in massively increased sales of the latter, for that.
The latest entry in the Hitman series owes a lot to Absolution. It plays much like that game, though it’s a bit less eager to sate your bloodthirst. As always, you control Agent 47, everyone’s favorite bald-headed superhuman contract killer, as he goes about his daily business. Said business typically involves garroting people, which isn’t exactly proper behavior in mixed company. You’ll need to come up with creative ways to get the job done quickly and quietly. Alternatively, you can get the job done with a bullet to the face, but that doesn’t tend to end well for anybody.
We’ll be talking about two missions today. The first is 47’s exciting nautical adventure onboard a yacht today. Our chrome-domed hero’s job is to send a fond farewell to a particular millionaire at a party, and he’s got a number of means by which to accomplish this. Getting onboard the yacht is easy enough; sure, you can’t get on while wearing whatever, but stealing an employee’s outfit will solve that problem lickety split. You’ll then need to avoid other employees who might recognize that you’re not exactly a new member of staff.
From there, you’ve got a number of options; my favorite was hiding myself as a bartender and striking when the opportunity presented itself, though this wasn’t the cleanest choice. Turns out when people see a gun they tend to flip out a little and get in the way. That’s fine. The game encourages you to explore and find other options.
The second mission has 47 on a military base to take out a mark who planned on flying away in a jet. This ended up being a much easier contract to complete as the “ideal” solution was fairly straightforward. Step one: dress up as a mechanic. Step two: sabotage the mark’s jet. Step three: kaboom. There are surely other ways to go about this, but this is easily the most hilarious choice.
In both cases Hitman shined thanks to the game’s fascinating AI. If you want to be a suave assassin, you actually need to act like one; people won’t just look the other way if you’re bumbling around like a buffoon as they do in Assassin’s Creed. People don’t like it when you bump into them. Guards will notice you if you’re somewhere you aren’t supposed to be or if you’re doing anything suspicious. As mentioned, if you’re disguised as an employee, you’ll need to be wary of certain other employees who know you aren’t what you seem. Getting close to the mark requires playing smart rather than running through a stage like a bull in a china shop. It’s a great take on the stealth genre that feels like an evolution of the previous titles.
With that said, the beta suggests that Hitman is going to be a pretty good time. How fortunate that we won’t have to wait long, because it’s going to be released on March 11th! Well, sort of. The whole game isn’t going to be released then, of course. It’s 2016 and we’re long past that model in the modern games industry. Instead, it’s going to be an episodic game! Hooray! The gaming community loves those, and we can look back to 2006’s Half-Life 2: Episode One for their inception, though we can probably trace games consumers’ tolerance for awkward purchasing models back to the PS2’s .hack series in the 2000s.
You’ll have the opportunity to purchase some content for some price in March, after which there will apparently be more later. Maybe. To try and shake this out: there’s an “Intro Pack,” an “Upgrade Pack” to go with the Intro Pack, and a “Full Experience,” which I guess is the first two combined except it appears to cost $5 more. You will probably need to purchase some combination of these to one day receive a completed product. There’s also a $140 Collector’s Edition, in case you’re feeling especially spendy.
So with any luck we might actually have a great new Hitman game to play at some point in 2016, though how finished the game will be is anyone’s guess. There’s no reason to hope that the initial episodic release of Hitman sells well enough lest the rest never see the light of day, which would be a real shame. History means everything in the gaming industry, and history has told us that’s never happened before…right?