If you’ve been following news about the upcoming Hitman game, there’s a good chance you’re worried about it being a complete mess. For one thing, it was supposed to come out last year. For another, developer Square Enix has waffled in public about how the game would be released. After two major overhauls of the price and release plan, the publisher has declared Hitman will launch on March 11 as an episodic game.
That means on March 11 you’ll be able to buy the first episode, which includes a prologue and a Paris location, for $15. Each month after that, you’ll be able to purchase an additional location, including Italy, Morocco, Thailand, the U.S., and Japan, for $10 apiece. Alternatively, you can pay $60 up front for a season pass, or wait until later this year, when the whole thing will be released on a disc.
While episodic releases are nothing new for smaller niche titles like adventure games, this is the first time a major AAA game will be chopped up and released in pieces over a series of months. Many fans have complained about this unusual release schedule, and thanks to the developer’s flip-flopping about how it will release, you’d be forgiven for thinking Square Enix needs to get its act together.
But after playing through the game’s prologue as part of the Hitman beta on PlayStation 4, I have to say I’m coming around the idea of it being an episodic game.
Most single-player games rely on a carefully-paced narrative experience to propel players from start to finish. Hitman isn’t like that. Each level presents you with the same set of goals: sneak in without being detected, kill your target, and escape. The thing is you can do each step any way you want, and the levels are designed with many ways to accomplish your task.
For instance, the first training mission in the prologue has you sneak onto a rich art thief’s yacht to kill him. Problems pop up early, as bouncers prevent you from boarding the vessel because you’re not dressed in the proper attire.
You have a couple of options here. You can knock out a guest and change into their clothes to get into the party. You can lure the bouncers away from the entrance and sneak on board. Or, if you go to the aft of the ship, you’ll discover a group of workers loading supplies into an alternate entrance.
Once you make your way onto the boat, a whole new set of obstacles appears as your target weaves his way through the party to a more tightly secured upper deck. Should you shoot him in front of his guests, where you’ll be seen by security guards? Did you pick up the rat poison on the lower deck? If so, can you slip it into his drink without him noticing? Or should you wait until he’s on the less populated upper deck? If so, how will you get past the security guards to get up there?
You have loads of options, many of which you won’t notice on a single play-through. If you pause the game, you’ll find a list of challenges that suggest alternate ways to deal with the obstacles, each one offering new and exciting possibilities.
What does all of this have to do with the game’s episodic release schedule? It’s that metering out the levels encourages gamers to replay them in different ways. When you complete a mission the first time, you can’t immediately move onto the next as you would in most games. The next level won’t be available for a month. Instead, you’re nudged to start the level over and try it again a new way.
That’s a good thing, because that’s how the levels were designed. Whether you want to complete all of the challenges, or you bungled your carefully-laid assassination plan and ended up shooting your way out, this game is best experienced by playing through the levels multiple times.
This is a great example of a game’s form and function working together to encourage players to play the game how it was designed to be played. Now that I’ve played through the prologue a few times, buying Hitman all at once doesn’t seem like the best way to do it. Maybe Square Enix knows what it’s doing with Hitman after all.