For various reasons ranging from a lack of interest to just not having any money, I’ve kinda sat out new game releases in 2016, instead spending most of my time playing some retro gems that I never got around to, or just seeing how many times I could find an excuse to get Waluigi on the SD card of my newly hacked GameCube.
The big exception to that this year is the monthly(ish) episodic Hitman releases at have kinda been a blessing to someone who’s had no spare cash for new games for most of the year.
I remember not really being that interested in the game pre-release, weird stuff was floating around about what the game actually was, and then the revelation that it would be episodic started making it seem like the game was a disaster waiting to happen.
So I let it pass me by until one day I saw a video pop up in my YouTube feed from Hitman superfan ManyATrueNerd showing off the opening tutorial levels and my first look at the stunning Paris fashion show level. I could tell straight away that it had the potential to be something special, and even if I dropped off it like I have so many other episodic games before this, at least I’d have a few hours of in depth fucking around in a weird plywood yacht.
It’s precisely that ability to fuck around making weird things happen that has always made the Hitman series a good time, and by god they knew that was the case going into this game.
Every level is a masterclass in sandbox level design, some like the truly wonderful Sapienza more perfect than others, and whether you want to play it in a serious “Leon The Professional” roleplaying mindset or just dive in head first with exploding golf balls, drum kits, and catwalk shows, the game is more open to that than the lukewarmly received Hitman Absolution was at any point.
This is enabled even further by the Opportunities system, which I mean could have been a total mess which made the game too linear, the paint by numbers Hitman that I saw more than a few people describing it as at first, but instead it ends up being a great way to introduce you to the map and some of the possibilities in it, usually with a hilarious payoff at the end.
The success of the Opportunities system is absolutely tied to them choosing to put the game out episodically, as if all the maps had of been available right away I can see myself just rushing through each one, treating it as a linear interactive story rather than exploring the sandbox.
The promise of episodic games has been floating around for years now, and outside of the Telltale storytelling way of doing it I don’t feel like anyone has ever managed to make it work in a meaningful way. Hitman it turns out is such a good fit for that style of release, a “hey here’s this cool place for you to mess around with and break in a thousand different ways for a month”, that I really felt like getting that season pass at the start of the year was like buying a ticket for this wild ride that followed for the remainder of this year.
Honestly if I was just picking up the complete season now I would feel like I had missed out on a vital part of the Hitman experience, and that’s without me even mentioning the “elusive targets” that have popped up every once in the while, which have made the game feel so much more like this living breathing thing, this wild ride I talked about where getting a notification from the app (yes I’m lame and got the app, and you should too) telling you that there’s a something new and exciting going on that makes you rethink these maps you already know so well, it’s rewarding, even now at the end of the year.
I’m not usually much of a “game of the year” kinda person, but what I will say is that for me at least Hitman has been the game that has defined 2016, more than any single game has for any year I can remember. I can’t goddamn wait for season 2.