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Opinion: An Episodic Hitman is Not That Bad

Mason Sylvia

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Hitman launches later this week as a completely digital, episodic release, and there has been a lot of negative feedback surrounding the change of direction for the beloved franchise. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen an episodic video game—Telltale Games have made a name for themselves in lieu of it, with The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us—and it certainly won’t be the last. It isn’t even that unusual to see an episodic release with Square Enix’s name on it, as they’ve published Life is Strange, which just had its season finale this past October. Capcom even had a go of it with Resident Evil Revelations 2, which was met with positive reception, although its episodes were released on a weekly basis. We are no strangers to episodic releases, but some gamers are understandably up in arms over IO Interactive and Square Enix’s decision to release Hitman in sixths over the course of half a year. However, there are a good number of positive aspects to having this episodic approach and I’d like to shed some light on them in a moment, if you’ll indulge me; but, before we get into it, let’s break down Hitman‘s release model for those in the back of the class who’ve been asleep for the last few months.

The Intro Pack launches worldwide this Friday and it’s priced at (USD) $15—it contains the Prologue (as seen in the beta) and Paris locations, as well as the weekly Live Events, Contracts Mode, and Escalation Mode that have been announced. The Upgrade Pack will be immediately available, priced at (USD) $50 and will serve as an episodic season pass, unlocking the rest of the game as it is released on a monthly basis. Episode Two, set in Italy, will go live in April; Episode Three, set in Morocco, will go live in May; Episode Four, set in Thailand, will go live in June; Episode Five, set in the United States, will go live in July; Episode Six, set in Japan, will go live in August. Each episode will be priced individually at (USD) $10 should you choose to skip the Upgrade Pack, for whatever reason. Alternatively, The Full Experience is available for $60 that basically contains the Intro Pack and Upgrade Pack together; IO Interactive have also announced a physical retail version that will launch at the end of the year. With every pre-order comes the Blood Money Requiem Pack, which contains the Requiem Legacy suit, Blood Money shirt, tie and gloves, a chrome-plated, silenced ICA-19 handgun and a white rubber duck explosive, all usable immediately in-game. In addition, there is a collector’s edition available that contains a rather lovely statue of 47 in the ‘Chessmaster’ pose, a wearable replica tie and clip, an art book as well as a full digital copy of the game. Overall, purchasing the Intro Pack and Upgrade Pack will cost you (USD) $65, where the Full Experience will be $5 cheaper at $60. In addition, Hitman on PlayStation 4 will come with an exclusive, six-mission pack called The Sarajevo Six; the first of six missions, The Director, will launch with the first episode (Prologue and Paris) and each additional mission will launch on a monthly basis with each episode.

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The Sarajevo Six, an exclusive mission pack for the PS4.

It’s worth mentioning that when IO Interactive initially announced Hitman in June last year, the game was planned to be a full release in December, launching digitally first, to embrace the direction of the community involved, live world of assassination. It wasn’t until the game’s delay in September that IO Interactive issued a detailed press statement that highlighted the change to an episodic direction. The only difference between then and now is that before the New Year Update, it was planned that Hitman would launch with the first three episodes in Paris, Italy and Morocco before the last three episodes in Thailand, the United States and Japan would follow in the three months subsequent. In the New Year Update, it was confirmed that Hitman will launch with the Prologue and Paris scenes, followed by the remaining five episodes over the course of five months. The changes have sparked a lot of confusion in the community, leading to trepidation and frustration from the fan base. Just as well, there was a lot of confusion surrounding distribution of beta access via pre-ordering and accessing and pre-installing the game on Xbox One.

Naturally, a lot of people were not pleased with hearing about Hitman being an entirely episodic release, and one can’t rightfully discredit the frustration; it’s perfectly understandable. In all honestly, I was not thrilled with the episodic announcement at first and did not plan on purchasing Hitman until it was made available in physical form, in its entirety. However, as time passed, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about it and started to change my mind; experiencing the beta only solidified my standpoint and I’m rather glad that I had a change of heart. As I mentioned earlier, there are some noteworthy positive aspects about Hitman being episodic and I’d like to take a moment to highlight them. Please bear in mind that I am making no attempt to change anyone’s opinion on the matter, nor am I trying to imply that the following statements about the good and the bad of Hitman‘s release model are factual. I am simply sharing my personal opinion surrounding the episodic direction.

hitman_bonus_content

The Blood Money Requiem Pack, a pre-order exclusive.

IO Interactive have stated that one of the reasons for their decision to make Hitman an episodic title is to allow for developments to be made based on the feedback response they receive. As such, the game will be developed based on what players have reported to like or dislike about the game. For example, despite the fact that the Hitman Beta was an older build compared to the current build of the main game, Travis Barbour, Community Manager of IO Interactive, posted forum topics on Square Enix’s official forums to allow for community feedback. Nick Price, Studio Communications Manager at IO Interactive, has stated on a Hitman Beta Twitch stream, “Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff we’ve fixed. The changelist is too long for me to get on here but performance fixes and triggering and lots of other things are different. The missions themselves are the same.” Having a game that will grow and adjust based on the feedback it receives is a very positive feature. Traditionally, the game would launch as is, and unless it was a large issue to be fixed via a patch or update, the development team would simply say, “Thanks, we’ll try harder next time.” With Hitman, you’ll be able to see changes come in patches as well as the next episode; the next episode may even contain more content if it’s reported that the previous episode/current state of the game is lacking. Hitman will be a live world of assassination, but it will also seemingly be in live development; that is, of course, if IO Interactive stay true to their word. It’s gone on record several times that IO Interactive are aiming to create a living, breathing, evolving world; while it’s ambitious, it is certainly achievable if it’s done correctly. Does Hitman need to be episodic for that to happen? Most likely not, but it certainly makes it easier.

Just as well, Hitman will have a slew of content to compensate for only the first episode being available this month. As it was stated previously, only the Prologue and Paris scenes will be available when Hitman launches this week, and we won’t see Italy until some time in April—a specific release date has not yet been given. While the the entire beta for Hitman was the Prologue itself, not everyone had a chance to experience the beta and the Prologue will certainly be worth playing through again, just to experience the changes from the beta build to the launch build of the game. In supplementation, the weekly Live Events will be available on day one and will consist of Elusive Targets, which are one-shot assassination targets that reward the player with bonus suits for Agent 47 based on his attire in former games. The Elusive Targets are appropriately named—they are custom-created characters added to existing locations; when a player starts the Elusive Target mission, Instinct is disabled and the player must rely on the information provided in the unique briefing on their target to track them down. You have a limited amount of real-time to complete the assassination and the way you kill them is the way they die for good. Conversely, should you fail and the target escapes, you have no second chances. Whether the target leaves the world of their own free will or by your hand, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good. It’s worth noting that you will be able to play the locations and missions offline. To play the live events, download updates or see things like leaderboards, you’ll need to be online. Contracts Mode makes a return from Absolution, where you select your target(s) and assassinate them in the way you choose, essentially creating a mission out of it for other players to try and complete. Like before, IO Interactive will pick their favorites and include them in the Featured Contracts section. Escalation Mode is a new feature in Hitman that will test your mastery of each location by giving you a target and adding new elements; for example, you may have to kill your target with an assault rifle—the next stage could be an assault rifle with a waiter disguise, and the next stage could be all of the above, but not before disabling the security cameras. It’ll provide a fresh challenge to players and will keep quite a few people occupied until the next episode launches.

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A size comparison to showcase Hitman’s locations against Absolution’s.

One of the more negative aspects about Hitman‘s episodic release is simply the people who are put off by the direction; there are a handful of heavily anticipated titles—Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Division, DOOM, Quantum Break, Mirror’s Edge, to name a few—launching between this week and Hitman‘s physical release at the end of the year. While IO Interactive have stated that each episode of Hitman will release each month, some people might find another (full-length) game in close proximity that they may want more. With their gravitational pull toward these other titles, there’s no guarantee of returning to Hitman at the end of the year. Naturally, there may even be a few people who refuse to purchase an episodic Hitman whether it’s now or later. IO Interactive could prove some hesitant people wrong, but only if they tackle their ambitions correctly. Should they release each episode in an untimely manner or if the content does not meet its quality-for-value mark, Hitman and IO Interactive could take a rather significant hit. At this point, the direction IO Interactive are taking Hitman is set in stone and the most we can do is hope for the best and see where this road leads us; either way, it’ll be most interesting to see how the next five months pan out.

Hitman will launch worldwide this Friday, on March 11, 2016 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Video game enthusiast, James Bond aficionado, Tomb Raider expert, and lover of Beefeater gin. I'm a creature of habit and I'm either found buried in a book or working through my video game backlog when I'm not working my day job.

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