Why I’ve Come to Bury “Hitman” and Not the Dead

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author)

I truly, truly hope that the above quote is correct because this week in video games we saw a case of a dangerous old way of thinking and a potentially new idea of thinking that if carried over to other projects, and taken in as a new idea, will stretch the limits of what we once believed to be standard, or even possible.

What I mean is in reference to two recent games. One being “Hitman: Absolution” and the other being “The Walking Dead: Episode 5”. Specifically I’m talking about the plots of those games.

Ironically whereas “Hitman” is a game ideally about subtlety, and the art of skill, it’s story has all of the approach and delivery of a blunt hammer to the face delivered by a laughing lunatic. On the other hand, a game like “The Walking Dead” (which often asks the player to smash something in the head with a blunt object) delivers a tale so refined that we must now be careful how we speak of other game’s stories while praising them so we don’t accidentally lump them in the same league with “The Walking Dead” and therefore lose perspective.

“Hitman” is a dangerous game, and I’m not talking about the controversy surrounding the sexy nun enemies, or the general violence of the title. Instead it’s a dangerous game because of its disgusting and obvious story and stroytelling that,despite a couple of here and there moments of quality dialogue, fails to inspire a moment of emotional reaction, whatever that emotion may be . Whereas previous games in series wisely shunned a grand plot in favor of environment and mood as the larger themes, “Absolution” tries to go another route by making its presentation more of a high production, low grade movie. It’s every effort in that respect is so insultingly awful, it is the first game that should have not received the traditional M rating, but rather IM for “immature”.

Didn’t think that was funny? Well now you know how I feel as I tried to suffer through some of the most horrid attempts at sexual references, characters, plot, and of course comedy that have ever graced video games. It’s not even the content I’m against, but instead the delivery. It aims for Guy Ritchie, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, and instead ends up with an effort more in line with the works of Roger Corman. The only difference was Corman’s schlock knew it was bad and had a sense of style about it, whereas “Hitman: Absolution” seems either unaware of how bad its bad really is, or otherwise doesn’t give a damn and couldn’t be bothered to make what’s there work.

“The Walking Dead” on the other hand? Don’t be surprised if the fifth and final episode in the game’s first season just won the series overall game of the year honors, as its use of characters and plot, and more importantly the player’s involvement in those aspects, is nothing short of revolutionary. The game works off of the same promise of “Mass Effect” or a TV show like “The Wire” where all the pieces supposedly matter, and what you do in the end will be just a reflection of the steps you took to get there.

Unlike “Mass Effect” though, but much like “The Wire”, “The Walking Dead” achieves this as suddenly your choices do come to bear upon you as you now are faced with the prospect of facing the tough moments that defined your journey in a fresh light, and only in the end when you see the ramifications of them are you given the gift of hindsight that allows you to regret, smile upon, and always question your choices, as the end results, and your reactions to them, give you something that few games ever have, and that is a better sense of who you are, and the person you’d maybe rather try to be.

Does a game like “Hitman” have to do the same? Well it would be nice, but that’s not the point. The point is that a title like that handles its story with a dangerous indifference can no longer be accepted. This is not the NES where a brief kidnapping of your girlfriend by some thugs leads to all the motivation you need to reach a single frame resolution and expect satisfaction. You don’t have to have a masterpiece story, but don’t try to pass an entire adventure that is framed by the mentality of the average thirteen year old boy, and done with all of the effort exhibited by the average two year old boy, and honestly tell yourself it is the best you can do without expecting to receive both the mixed reviews and mainstream public backlash you are getting now.

And if you do decide to be dumb and lazy in the same week, whatever you do don’t release that high profile game at the same time as a title that provides a blueprint for the future of the medium and expect to save face in the minds of either your peers, your critics, or your fans

That, and I’m sure the creators of “Hitman: Absolution” can understand this, would just be silly.

Hitman Absolution’s New Multiplayer Mode Encourages Death by Design

I always love it when a franchise that you wouldn’t think is equipped for multiplayer introduces it in a surprising and innovative way that maintains the ideas and style of the single player experience. Examples would be the always brilliant, always fun Merc vs Spy gameplay from “Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory,” or the brilliant Assassins vs Assassins mode in “Assassins Creed: Brotherhood.” It’s a tough road to go down though, as it requires some real thought and commitment to making the mode work. The other option is to just go the candy bar route of games like “Max Payne 3,” “Uncharted,” or “Bioshock 2″ and just tack on a shanty deathmatch mode.

I say candy bar because it’s a route that’s often satisfying, but rarely filling (Snickers non-included).

As a fan of the “Hitman” series, I was thrilled then to read about the new multiplayer mode in “Hitman Absolution,” which puts players in a dungeon master type role by allowing them to design a contract assassination challenge for other players. The creator can take one of the game’s single player levels, and modify it to include the targets (of which they can set the number) and other parameters that may include things like no disguises, or a limited number of kills, or even a rough guideline of certain NPC actions.

Touting their own cleverness, though, the developers have assured everyone that even the most seemingly complex and limiting contracts will have several ways to be completed, even if some are better than others, just as in the main game. Even better is the expansive leaderboard system which keeps track of three different rankings (richest assassin, most skillful assassin, and a running ranking of the most popular contracts).

“Assassin’s Creed” may be the darling silent killer franchise at the moment (and “Assassin’s Creed 3″ is looking to do nothing to tarnish that reputation) but the de facto assassin series will always be “Hitman.” It’s encouraging then to see that the flag bearer of the genre is working on creating the definitive multiplayer mode as well (even if it isn’t PvP style).

Between that and the previously announced “Crysis 3″ multiplayer mode, it’s also promising that the new trend in even the most established of franchises seems to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to multiplayer expansion, instead of slapping a deathmatch option on said box, and calling it a sequel.

I guess that’s my awkward way of saying, hint, hint Rockstar and “GTA: V.” Hint, hint.

Hitman’s Greatest Hits

While most of the industry is withholding news until E3, an exciting new bit of game release info has managed to break through. Eurogamer.net stumbled upon an Italian retail site, 16games, that may have accidentally broke the news that Eidos’s “Hitman HD Collection” (containing “Hitman 2: Silent Assassin”, “Hitman: Contracts”, and “Hitman: Blood Money”) is coming out October 15th. The release date makes sense considering that the fifth game in the series, “Hitman: Absolution” is set for a November 20th release.

Much like other trilogy collections for “Splinter Cell“, “Metal Gear Solid“, and “Prince of Persia” this is a hell of a deal that anyone unfamiliar with the series, or looking to relieve it, should jump on. In fact, top to bottom quality wise this may be the best of the trilogy collections so far as the Hitman series got its successful formula down pat with “Hitman 2: Silent Assassin”, and has only been improving since.

Just like how the news of Max Payne 3 got me reminiscing, so does this. Here then are some of the best missions available from the installments featured on the upcoming greatest hits collection.

St. Petersburg Stakeout

“Hitman 2″ may have the best overall missions in all of the series. Many of them though are like this one and are actually half brilliant, half frustrating. For most of this mission you are sneaking through the sewers and avoiding sentries behind cars. It’s not a mission that really gives you the “kill em’ all” option if you desire. It’s the actual hit that makes it memorable though, as you have to kill a very specific target at a meeting…but you don’t know what he looks like. As your contact feeds you bits of information they have on the man, you must decide who at the meeting the real target is before it ends. The situation really puts you into the moments and leaves you walking away from the level feeling that it was a job truly well done.

Jacuzzi Job

Home invasion missions are “Hitman’s” bread and butter assignments, and this is one of the best. It’s one of the few missions without a briefing preceding it, and instead just tosses you into the fray. Scale wise the level is very small, but it offers quite a few ways to go about your business. Though it’s not the preferred method, there are few options more rewarding than simply busting through the door to the targets room and putting one in his head as he sits in his jacuzzi making you feel like a true hitter. It becomes one of the games most replayable assignments as it has no slow portions, and doesn’t punish you in any real way for however you choose to play it. Just as all the missions should be.

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