Let’s sneak down memory lane with a look at the Hitman series.
I’m a big fan of stealth games. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than sneaking around under the collective noses of an enemy, and then strutting out the front door with them none the wiser. There have been a lot of great titles and series’ over the years, and one of my absolute favorites is Hitman; a truly unique type of game which has a brand new installment coming out today.
In celebration of its release, here’s a look back at how the core games in this series have evolved over the years.
Hitman: Codename 47 (2000)
Well, if concept were everything, this game would be considered an all-timer. I distinctly remember the first time I saw Hitman in a store and being blown away by the idea of using disguises, quiet kills, and body disposal to carry out assassinations. The mere idea at the time felt impossibly open-ended and delightfully transgressive. I had to play it!
Ironically, it is in the area of execution where this game ultimately fails. Like many PC games from the late 90s and early 2000s, it just hasn’t held up. There’s no ability to save mid-mission, which coupled with wildly inconsistent enemy behavior makes for a very frustrating experience. In spite of its weaknesses, I give Hitman: Codename 47 props for its sheer ambition and for bringing something entirely new to the table.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002)
In many ways, Hitman 2 was a giant leap forward for this series. It was the first title to make it to consoles, which likely made it the first one most people played. This is a game that is all about high highs and low lows. One big improvement with Silent Assassin is that not only were stealthy options expanded, but going in guns blazing was no longer a suicidal endeavor thanks for being able to switch between third and first-person views.
Enemy AI was still, however, very much a work in progress with this game if your plan was to be sneaky. At certain points, guards would immediately open fire on you even though you were disguised, while others would practically trip over you. It was an unfortunately pervasive issue that marred an otherwise excellent game.
Hitman: Contracts (2004)
This entry into the Hitman series doesn’t get a whole lot of love, but I’d argue it has real value. Indeed, Hitman: Contracts is more of a step sideways than a step forward in the series. The story picks up with 47 arriving at his Paris hotel sporting a fresh gunshot wound. While recovering, he reminisces about previous missions, most of which consist of environments from the original game.
It was a clever move in terms of story, as it gets players (many of whom likely never played the first game) up to speed on 47’s background. Additionally, it gives the developers a chance to have a bit of a d0-over with some of those original environments. For the first time, a Hitman game consistently delivered on allowing you to put on a disguise and be reasonably certain of getting around without too much trouble. Movement and stealth kills also became far more fluid in Contracts.
Hitman: Blood Money (2006)
After coming close on a number of occasions, it is with Hitman: Blood Money where Eidos put it all together and created a masterpiece. What sets this one apart? Not only does it (finally) execute on its core mechanics near flawlessly, but it contains extremely open-ended environments that provide a vast range of viable options for all types of players. Do you want to play as a ghost, slipping through unnoticed while your target suffers from a mysterious barbecue accident? No problem! Alternatively, how do you feel about dual wielding your pistols and just wiping out everyone in your path? Alrighty, then! Go for it!
Aside from the freedom it gives you, Hitman: Blood Money contains some truly fantastic levels ranging from a generic suburban neighborhood, to the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, to a lively Las Vegas casino and beyond. Each is impeccably designed, and is well worth replaying just to find new ways of carrying out a contract.
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
I don’t want to be that person who dumps all over something for trying to be different, but I have some pretty big issues with Hitman: Absolution. It’s not that Absolution is necessarily a bad game. In fact, it’s a pretty solid action/stealth title. The problem however is that it’s often at odds with the core aspects of what makes Hitman unique and special.
As an example, let’s look at how this game handles disguises. The rule in Absolution is that if 47 wears, say, a police uniform then he is incognito UNLESS he is around other police officers who will see that he’s a fake. It’s not a bad idea, but the game is designed in such a way that you are almost always around similarly-dressed characters, rendering disguises useless. So your primary strategy then is to hide behind cover and essentially play the game as if it’s Splinter Cell. Another departure that fell flat was the mid-mission checkpoint system, which disrupted the persistence of the game world by respawning enemies and essentially undoing your hard work.
Then again, if you do manage to swallow your pride and just play it the way it wants you to, it’s far from the worst experience you can have. Being a parent, I’m inclined to say to Hitman: Absolution, “I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.”
And so, the big question remains as to how the new Hitman will turn out in full (hey, the Intro Pack is out now!). Based on what I’ve seen and heard so far, I am hopeful that it will recapture the magic of the series and deliver on what its longtime fans have always wanted.