E3 2018: Hitman 2 Is More Hitman Episodes, Even If It's Not Episodic
Warner Bros. has a new killer app.
For such a radical change in the formula, 2016's Hitman burrowed itself into the fan consciousness as the new paradigm for the series going forward. The episodic format turned many skeptical diehards turned into true-believers, which must have made the announcement of a traditional release model for Hitman 2 jarring. Still, creative director Christian Elverdam told GameSpot at E3 2018 that the experience taught them some valuable lessons that will impact the sequel, with or without episodes.
"I think we convinced a lot of people that episodic really worked," he said. "The feedback we got was that episodic forced you to go into each level and really go into all the details, which I thought personally was a big victory. We were going with a sandbox formula, so it was pretty important for us that people really understand. If you just go in, maybe shoot the guy, and say 'okay I finished Miami,' you wouldn't really get it, because you need to take in all the details."
The rebooted Hitman that debuted in 2016 was instead a clockwork machine of moving parts. Non-player characters were props in the ultimate kill, moving about the map with their own motivations and stories that could be exploited for your own gains. Drip-feeding these missions forced otherwise casual Hitman fans to act like more ravenous ones, consuming it all, learning each of the pieces of the machine until they developed a super-power. It was successful because it focused players' attention in a way that the game hadn't before.
"At the same time, we followed some comments who also said they weren't satisfied that they couldn't experience the full story, and that it took a long time before it was done," Elverdam continued. "What we're talking about now is the best of both worlds. Now most people know what an elusive target is and they know we have a very strong live season. So we're doing more of that than we did before, but the story itself--the main arc of what happens in Hitman 2--is available day and date."
In other words, the episodic Hitman may have trained players how to engage with the game they way they'd hoped, but IO now feels confident enough to take off the training wheels and remove the frustration of a slowly meted out story in the process. Elverdam also added that it has more live content like elusive targets planned, but having the full suite of maps gives the studio more flexibility. While the episodic season limited it to only produce targets in maps that were already released, now it can choose from any map at any time.
The result is a mission structure that feels incredibly reminiscent of Hitman 2016. In a mission at a race track, I had to cautiously and slowly peel back layers of the puzzle, acquiring different costumes to get new tools to acquire new costumes, until I was finally perfectly positioned to take out my target. The demo was only one stage, but it felt perfectly familiar. For fans of Hitman's episodic structure, then, this is a less jarring change than they might expect. It's a continuation of what came before, so it should feel like a new batch of stages.
With a more defined campaign that will release all at once, the difficulty ramp may feel more welcoming too. Designing a challenging Hitman map requires subtleties that players could lose when they take months-long breaks. Everdam shared some thoughts on striking the right difficulty balance in one of Hitman's murder puzzles.
"So one of the first things we do is say: what kind of problem do we want the player to solve? If you had a target that stood still with ten guards that never moved, that would be a very hard problem to solve. So we look at how mobile are the patrol routes. Number of guards is a factor, it's not the only factor, but it's a factor. And then finally, it's sort of like peeling an onion in terms of how you progress. Physical traversal--a path like a drainpipe or something like that, how hard is that to get to, that would be your physical difficulty. And the second is disguises, and typically we don't give you the most powerful disguises up-front. So let's say you have a waiter who's very easy to isolate and take out. He's going to give you one layer of the onion but then you probably need to show more skill for better costumes."
With the potential for a smoother difficulty ramp, and the promise of much more live content than the last game, IO hopes to continue using the strengths of the episodic model without some of its drawbacks. Time will tell if the live content keeps players engaged as long as the episodic model kept them coming back, but the studio has taken the lessons of its experiment to heart. They may just turn skeptics to believers all over again.
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