When IO Interactive announced the episodic nature of Hitman’s release it was a divisive topic and it still is, even after the release of episode two.
Drip feeding content works with games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead because players are invested in the story and the gaps in release hold back the narrative, building tension between episodes and leaving you wanting the next chapter in your story. As the narrative is very much a background aspect in the Hitman series – in Hitman: Contracts missions are just flashbacks and in Hitman: Blood Money missions are flashbacks slotted into the story of a journalist interviewing a former Director of the FBI – there were worries that all the episodic structure would achieve would be holding back content from players. As it turns out it’s worked for exactly that reason.
By holding each location back IO Interactive have stopped players blitzing through all seven maps in a day. Like a kid with a bag of sweets the temptation is to chomp through the game without savouring each location and if everything had been released at once a lot of players would play through the game then revisit a handful of their favourite maps. By holding back Sapienza, and the future locations, IOI have pushed players to replay Paris, either through the main story mission, escalation or player made contracts.
Now, players who would have played through Paris once and moved on – possibly to only come back to it once or twice after completing the game – have been gently forced to play within the map again and again and in different ways, too. Escalation contracts are different contracts to the main story mission that have players complete a contract that gets more and more difficult and the main mission, as in typical Hitman fashion, can be completed in several different ways. The map specific challenges helped with this as players that on their own might have only found two or three different ways to kill their targets have different ways to experience Paris pointed out them.
IOI took a gamble with this release method, but as a Hitman fan I really think it’s paid off. When it was first announced I wasn’t too sure it was a good idea. I expected I’d get bored with the first episode and as episode two’s release date grew closer I was starting to tire of Paris and started to have doubts, but the first time I played Sapienza they were all blown away as I went from knowing the map inside out to having a blank canvas put in front of me.
That feeling of going from an expert, knowing where everything is and how to manipulate the targets to being completely clueless was incredible. Usually a new Hitman mission is just the same as any other new level in a game, a change of scenery and a new objective, but going from knowing where to get every disguise and every accident kill in Paris to not even knowing which direction the targets are in was something special. It really makes you feel like IOI are trying to apologise for Absolution by making the best Hitman game fans could want and knowing I have a whole month to learn everything Sapienza has to offer is exciting, knowing I’ll get this experience five more times is something special.
For once I’m left actually hoping a game will have DLC. This modular structure is crying out for it, someone at IOI has to be looking into it. Another seven locations released as Season 2 would be fantastic – I just hope they’re all as good as what we’ve seen so far.
Sadly though, as good as the episodic release style is, IOI does need to sort out Elusive Contracts. One off contracts that you can only try once would be yet another way to squeeze more life out of each map and we’ve been waiting almost two months now. It’s starting to take the piss.