It would have been unheard of just a few years ago, but one of the biggest games of last year is finally about to see a retail disc release a massive 10 months after its first release.
The game in question is Hitman, the open-world assissinate-athon which was released as a series of episodes throughout 2016.
Rather than release the game as a single chunk of content, IO Interactive instead chose to break the game up into six individual portions. Each release contained just a single level, with one main, and several secondary, missions to complete within it.
The move was a first for the series, which has seen much more traditional releases in the past, and consequently was met by abject fury from fans.
Even , describing an episodic release schedule as an approach that “still doesn’t feel warranted or necessary.”
A difficult decision
Naturally the decision wasn’t one that was taken lightly by the team, “It was rocky in the beginning, there’s no doubt about that,” said Torben Ellert, Hitman’s Lead Online Designer, before explaining the opportunities afforded by the release schedule.
“Giving players these huge new sandboxes and then giving them the time to explore and master them was key. Then we add in “graduation tests” like the Elusive Targets to crown the experience,” he explains.
The episodic release schedule encouraged players to master each level as it was released rather than playing through all of them before returning to their favorites. The myriad escalation and elusive target missions (which offer up alternative targets in the same levels) for each level encouraged players to decipher each of them like a single interlocking puzzle.
But beyond this, these alternative missions reveal just how detailed Hitman’s maps were. When assassinating the map’s primary target you might see as little as 40% of the world’s total content, but when its alternative missions force you off the beaten track you discover just how detailed the rest of the environment is.
It certainly feels as though IO Interactive has delivered on its aim to deliver what Ellert called “a world of assassination that would be ‘ever expanding’”.
A landslide victory
The versatility of the game’s maps is shown off in a new bonus mission, which is being released to coincide with the game’s retail release, and which TechRadar had the chance to play through ahead of its January 31 release.
The new mission takes place in the game’s existing Sapienza map, and revolves around a populist right-wing politician (sound familiar?) who’s campaigning to be mayor of the sleepy Italian town.
Unsurprisingly your mission is to make sure the politician is forced to withdraw from the race due to a severe case of ‘being dead.’ So, classic Hitman essentially.
Like previous bonus missions, the level takes the existing map and redresses it. The action is focussed away from the mansion in the center of town (where the original mission was based), and is instead focussed around the waterfront area. The amount of NPCs in the town has also been bumped up significantly, along with some other aesthetic changes.
Although we played the original map extensively, the new mission succeeded in making it feel different enough to warrant another visit.
It’s difficult to talk too much about the specifics of a Hitman mission without giving away the surprising moments of black comedy that make the game such a joy to experience, but rest assured that the mission is classic Hitman, with a nice mix of emergent assassination potential, as well as ‘opportunities’ with more scripted outcomes.
But beyond the new content, you’ll also have a reason to return to the game’s existing missions thanks to an all new ‘professional’ difficulty mode.
The new mode will be unlocked when you achieve a mastery level of 20 for a given level, and are available for the game’s six main missions.
That might seem like a lot of effort to unlock a harder difficulty level but, trust us, you’re going to need to know these levels like the back of your hand to handle them in professional mode.
Professional difficulty mode removes all of the games hand-holding. Opportunity tracking is turned off (meaning that while you can still save bits of information you overhear, the game won’t tell you how to make use of them), you’ll only be given one manual save per mission, and auto-saves are completely disabled.
As if that wasn’t enough, the whole level redoubles its efforts to get you with guards that are more perceptive and cameras have increased in quantity.
Oh and you also won’t be able to use a disguise if you’ve killed its original owner in a ‘bloody’ way, so you’ll have to get out of some of your more violent habits.
We chose to return to the game’s first Paris mission to get a taste of the new difficulty mode. We thought we’d played the mission enough to remember most of its secrets, and hence not have to rely on the hand-holding that professional mode would turn off.
We were wrong.
It was a mess.
We’ll spare you the grisly details of how our intricately laid plan slowly fell apart, but suffice to say without opportunity tracking we couldn’t remember how to get our second target alone for a spot of the ol’ murderin’.
To make matters worse, we couldn’t even rely on our fallback tactic of ‘throw a pair of scissors from a distance and run’ tactic because of how perceptive the guards now are.
We are nowhere near being good enough at Hitman to have gotten the most out of the new difficulty mode, but if you’ve played the original missions enough to now find them easy then it might be just the thing to bring the game’s challenge back.
Going out with a bang
If you’ve yet to sample the delights of Hitman thus far, then the disc-based release could be the perfect way of jumping in with the game.
But if you’ve played every episode as they’ve been coming out, then Landslide is a mission that’s worth booting up the game again to play. It’s not the game’s best (we’d still have to give that accolade to the game’s Tokyo mission), but it feels like a satisfying send off for a game that’s given us so many hours of fun over the past year.
Although this is the last major content release for the game, IO still has a number of elusive targets still to come before Season 2 hits at an unannounced point in the future.
The world of assassination, it seems, is not one you can easily escape.