Season 1 of “Hitman”, the experimental episodic release of the long-running franchise, has reached its end in terms of new missions.
Publisher Square Enix and developer IO Interactive’s decision to scrap one big release in favor of six (mostly) monthly entries continues to divide the gaming community. But many who jumped in when Episode 1 hit in March have been pleased with the results. amNewYork gave the initial release if “Hitman” three stars out of four, a score that I stand by after eight months with the game.
Rather than re-review the game with a new score, what follows is a look at what worked and didn’t work with regard to the episodic nature of “Hitman,” along with some thoughts for how to improve a future second season.
Half of the six full levels — that excludes two smaller, re-imagined levels exclusive to Full Experience and Upgrade Pack owners — were among the better levels in the 16-year series history of “Hitman.” Episode 2 in Sapienza, Italy is arguably the high point of the franchise.
The sheer size of the missions made them fun to explore, memorize and clear the challenges to unlock new weapons and starting points. Each locale provided enough content in the form of main missions, side contracts and limited-time events to occupy until the next episode dropped.
Speaking of the limited events, called Elusive Targets, these were a brilliant idea. You have one chance to track down a target during a few-day window and emerge unscathed. If you fail, there’s no do-over. These contracts are intense and provide a big relief when completed successfully or, often, a hilarious moment of failure when things backfire due to human error.
And of course, what would “Hitman” be without over-the-top, at times cartoonish assassination opportunities. Finding and executing — forgive the pun — always are a treat. A friend I was taking turns with on the first mission in Paris wanted to kill one target with the other target’s body. It sounded absurd, but we found there was a for-points challenge in the game for doing just that. Kudos to IO for anticipating chances for creativity.
With “Hitman,” the good outweighs the bad, but it’s not all roses.
The story, told in short cutscenes at the completion of each main mission, offers no substance. The scenes are loosely connected to a larger conspiracy that comes with more questions than answers after Episode 6 in Hokkaido, Japan. “Hitman: Contracts,” one of the series’ lower moments, had a more compelling narrative than this.
The episodic release structure also created a unique problem for “Hitman.” When a new episode was more mundane than earlier entries, gamers were left to dwell on it for a month. In the case of Episode 3 in Marrakesh, Morocco, an all-new entry took nearly three months to materialize. It didn’t help that this was the weakest link. Square Enix appears to have not so coincidentally decided to release two of its best missions first and wrap with another strong effort, leaving the middle more muddled.
Nitpicking complaints, like a heavy reliance on American voices for international NPCs in each level, are worth noting but don’t destroy the experience.
With a second season in the works, IO would be wise to make some changes to its episodic model.
For starters, the game cannot afford to go more than a month without a new, full mission. Even over the summer, when gamers are (a little) less likely to be inside all day, its easy to forget and move on from even a good game. New video game releases heat up as the weather cools, and “Hitman” may get overlooked.
More Elusive Targets always are welcome, but added bonuses for completion would be awesome. Each successful assassination should merit some form of unique weapon or outfit, even if it’s merely cosmetic. Maybe add a little in-menu trophy case to memorialize the completion of these one-time deals.
And seriously, hire some voice actors to do international accents. The employees at a hotel in Thailand really ought to sound like they’re from Bangkok instead of Brooklyn. That’s an easy fix.
One more thing: Reward loyal, early supporters of Season 1 with something nice in Season 2. Whether it’s special weapons or a discount on the season, the right thing to do would be to make the player base feel rewarded for taking a chance on what others dismissed outright.