Hitman forgoes traditional one-and-done release

Following some divisive releases (Hitman Absolution) and beloved ones (Hitman Blood Money), IO Interactive has brought Agent 47 back by way of episodic release.

Hitman, also referred to as Hitman 2016, is a stealth action game released by IO Interactive earlier this year. It’s the sixth entry in the series, following the divisive Hitman Absolution (2012) and the much-beloved Hitman Blood Money (2006).

The initial release back in March was tainted by negative fan response over the game switching to an episodic release model. Rather than releasing the game with a set of game maps and have more released later on, the game would instead be released at a lower price and with just a single proper map at a Paris fashion show, with an additional map available for purchase each month. There was also a reduced rate for subscribers.

Some fans feared that this was primarily a cash grab by the developers, who would drip-feed their player base with low-quality maps at obscenely high prices. This anxiety was potentially due in part to lingering disappointment over Absolution, whose missions were more narratively linear and restrictive, and was an unwanted departure from the free-form and largely unconnected missions of Blood Money.

The benefits of the episodic model did not become widely clear until the first additional map had been released. This map took players to the fictional village of Sapienza, off the Italian coast. As in Paris, players could explore every room of a palatial mansion, but Sapienza also included a secret underground science lab, and a large part of the nearby coastal town, all in a single map. Sapienza showed players the scale of the content they would be receiving each month.

It was followed a month later with an equally large level set in Marrakesh with a crowded marketplace and high-security consulate building, and a detailed Bangkok hotel the month after that. This was all in addition to further small-yet-complex Escalation Contract and Elusive Target challenge modes for each map.

If the developers had released all the maps at once, not only would the maps be far less detailed, but the player would also likely play each map just once or twice and assume they had played the whole game. Instead, having the maps slowly rationed out, players were forced to explore the hidden attics, alcoves, sewers, and tunnels to better understand the range of possibilities in each episode.

While the first batch of maps have all been released, and new players could theoretically play through them all consecutively and without delay, there is now an abundance of missions and challenges available for each map, and the detail and scale in each is already apparent.

The final episode, of what IO Interactive calls their “first season,” was released on October 31 and sees Agent 47 track his latest targets to a private and extremely high-end resort hospital located in the snowy mountains of Hokkaido, Japan.

There, Agent 47 works to minimize the damage caused by a mysterious Shadow Client who has secretly manipulated 47 and the International Contract Agency (ICA) into helping him wage a war against the equally mysterious organization known as Providence.

This episode is unique from previous instalments in that 47 is initially unable to bring his usual toolset with him due to the heavy security. The need to find tools and weapons to perform the assassinations forces players to be more creative in their attempts, rather than to simply rely on the same strategies they may have developed over the previous five episodes, and is a fitting challenge to close out the first season.

The episodic release model has been a success for IO Interactive, winning the trust of all but the most unbending fans, and a second season has already been confirmed.

While the game is not perfect — the accents, or lack thereof, of incidental civilians stood out for some fans — the game prospers in all the ways a game about a stoic bald assassin with a barcode tattoo on his neck needs to, and is a fantastic return to form for video gaming’s best-dressed assassin.