The largest issue with the season one finale of Hitman is the vast gulf in quality between narrative and gameplay.
After episode 5’s mad scramble to try and start to tie the story up, episode 6 feels like business as usual. Go here, kill some people, leave. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to shake the formula up a bit based on the last instalment’s reveals; have 47 on the defensive and try to not get garrotted by the barman or something. But it’s gone begging.
Ok, that’s not entirely fair. This episode does shake up the formula, in that you’re already undercover in the clinic. It’s great to see the Tobias Rieper nod (as always), but the game forces you to go in without any weapons or gear. This forces you to improvise, switch up disguises to fool the HAL-like AI system, and rely on close combat. It makes a wierdly puzzle-y formula into even more of a puzzle game.
That’s all fine.
Then you start thinking about this curious design decision to not let you bring items in because the place is so secure. Were the other places we were breaking into previously not secure? If it’s so secure, why can someone from ICA still smuggle items in? I could go on.
Arguably, you could chalk it up to the needs of the story. But then the same restriction appears to exist in contracts mode, too – where its much harder to explain away.
Story was never going to be this season’s strong suit. But it winds up in such an unsatisfactory manner, you’re left wondering why the game wasn’t just released as an ultra-expanded set of Contracts mode tools and maps. After all, looking back across the whole season, it seems as though the story is just there to get you introduced to the maps before you go nuts with Contracts, Escalations and Elusive Targets.
Which is where the meat of the game is, let’s face it. So do we need the ‘story’ part of that, if we’re just flying off to kill someone for money? I mean, look at how successful the Summer Bonus episode was; the briefings and incidental dialogue was enough to give you your motivation, without the need for a muddied, underdeveloped broader story arc.
Ok, so season-long narrative gripes aside, Hokkaido a definite step up from Colorado. Parts of the map look stunning, and there’s enough distinctive elements at work here to remind you you’re not just ‘anywhere’.
That said, if you’ve not got on with Hitman’s odd use of English and American accents everywhere, this episode isn’t going to be the one to change your mind. Still, at least now I’ve heard a Japanese guard sound oddly like Idris Elba. That was interesting, even if some of the incidental dialogue clangs horribly – at least one ‘chat’ sounded so expositional (and, actually, important for the story) it sounded like it was shoe-horned in at the 11th hour when someone suddenly realised some crucial links could do with being explained.
As always, there’s a huge range of opportunities to check out and convoluted ways to off people. They are as fun, inventive and, occasionally, daft as ever. Doubly so when it all goes wrong, which is half the fun – my apologies to the handyman who walked in on me standing over two unconscious bodies.
So, as a destination and a map, it’s a success. There’s as much replayability and scope for mucking about as you’d like. Over the season the stability of the game has improved vastly too.
However, as a narrative finale for the first set of episodes, it’s something of an anti-climax.
Say what you like about Hitman Absolution, it did its best to put a coherent, engaging narrative over proceedings – but the breakout star was Contracts mode. Because that’s what Hitman players play Hitman for. The sandbox experimentation and invention; replaying maps to see what happens and coming up with their own stories themselves. This season of Hitman has finally given the developers and fans a robust way to invent and share these vignettes – and it’s great. That’s the real success of these episodes.
This season has bought Hitman’s gameplay to a series high-point. But the story ends on a blatant set up for season two’s arc, and doesn’t really resolve a hell of a lot. So we’re getting more story, like it or not. My question is; now we’ve got the Contracts formula (and the distribution framework) in sussed, do we really need it any more?