Io-interactive’s latest Hitman title, released episodically over this year for reasons, is expertly designed to revolve around repetition. Through playing its massive, open levels over and over again, you’ll not just have got your money’s worth, but be so good at murder you’ll be able to do it in all sorts of wacky, zany ways. Isn’t that fun?
Through its challenges, scoring system and escalation mission side-quests, Io makes playing the same level repeatedly feel engaging for hours of playtime. You’ll come to know the intricate geography as if it were your own home, and its denizens as if they were your (really awful) family. But the game also ties its narrative elements into the idea of repetition.
Here’s the lowdown: every mission in Hitman tasks you with killing some folk. The folk in question, and the folk that surround them, aren’t just faceless antagonists that exist for you to dispatch them, but people with issues, interests and quirks, and they actually do things prior to you assassinating them, creating a story about their lives that exists in the background as you search for ways to kill them.
Here’s an example: one of the targets in the Paris level is Victor Novikov, a fashion mogul who runs an espionage organisation with his wife that just happens to be having a secret auction above his fashion show. You’re not likely to miss him on your first run, as he makes a grandiose entrance just as you walk in. This is when the game first teases you with the promise of being a fly on the wall in the personal drama of a man’s life; Novikov’s bodyguard whispers something in his ear, and Novikov excuses himself from the crowd, exasperated. Should you choose to follow him, you’ll hear him argue with his lead designer, threatening to ruin his career with one phone call. Follow him some more and he’ll be confronted by a fashion journalist, Valeria, who threatens to expose him as the ringleader of his spy agency, informing him of a mole in the agency’s ranks. Novikov will play dumb, but after he takes his leave of Valerie he’ll head outside and call his wife, telling her that they’ve been compromised.
There’s nothing here that you couldn’t find in your average Assassin’s Creed tailing mission, but watching these events unfold felt special to me. That’s because Io lets you roam around a massive level of which Novikov is only a tiny part, and leaves it up to you to uncover his story. Rather than using objective markers and hints, Io assumes you aren’t an actual baby and just lets you know that there are things unfolding here, and you can look into it more if you want to. Then, when you decide to do so, you feel like you’ve made an impactful decision, to commit to a single possibility in a sea of them, and have been rewarded for taking such initiative.
There’s more, though. The game teases you with the promise of a bigger story, one that’s going to be very difficult to uncover in just one run. The encounter that Novikov has with that journalist, for example, probably makes you interested in finding out whether there actually is a mole in Novikov’s ranks, and if so, who it may be. Io knows that your curiosity is there and takes advantage of it every time two characters part. Novikov and Valerie walking in opposite directions after they speak presents an understated choice that nevertheless packs as much punch as ones you might find in Telltale games. Do I want to know more about Novikov or the journalist? Both are tantalising options but, of course, the player can only follow one, and as certain events will unfold regardless of the player’s presence, they can’t go back and get the full picture of the other person without starting a new run.
Every divergence turns into a mental bookmark, a path to be taken next time, locking in the player for countless more playthroughs, but what’s more is that every lost opportunity helps to establish Hitman’s levels as places you exist in, and not places that exist for you. The fact that things will happen even if you’re not there, and it’s up to you not to miss your chance, makes the Parisian mansion you’re confined to in that first level feel bigger and rife with opportunity than the biggest open world maps. There aren’t 18 quintillion planets in Hitman, though, so what do I know?
Written By Joe Wills