I just pre-ordered IO Interactive’s next instalment of their Hitman series for the PS4, and I’m not sure how I feel about myself. Of course I have pre-ordered games before, but as I get older and as I see the alarming regularity at which triple-A titles that could be politely described as ‘less than ready’ see releases, I become increasingly reluctant. Why should I lock myself in to a £45/$60 purchase before I even know if the game is going to be any good?
Well, in this case, it’s because it’s a new Hitman game from IO Interactive. I’m a fan of the series and have been since Silent Assassin – the developer’s second game – arrived on the PS2 in 2002. I know the game, I know the premise, and I know the developer can deliver an amazing experience. Another factor is that although the game is due to launch on March 11th, there will be a beta test held on the Playstation 4 and it begins on Friday. All being well, I’ll be enjoying a chunk of the newest Hitman game at the end of this week. Whoop!
So what am I so bent out of shape about? My main concerns stem from the new format the Danish developers are trying out, as well as the abrupt changes they appear to have made to that format as their title’s release date approaches.
When it was initially announced during last years E3 in June, IO Interactive were pretty upfront about the new direction they intended to take. They were calling it a ‘live experience‘ – releasing Hitman digitally, as a service, over a period of time, instead of a finished product all in one go. Starting out with three large locations in which you would stalk your targets, additional locations and contracts would be added in the subsequent months. They talked about adding new features, tweaking gameplay elements based on community feedback, and timed challenges and contracts. It sounded different. I was admittedly sceptical to begin with, but over time I began to feel differently. I saw more of the first area set amidst a Paris fashion show. They released a new trailer introducing Sapienza, the second location on the Italian coast. It was all coming together to look like the classic Hitman I knew and loved.
So what if I got it a few pieces, spread out over half a year. I’ve enjoyed episodic games before. Why shouldn’t I enjoy a franchise that I’m already a fan of in bitesize chunks? Down to my magpie-like tendencies, that’s pretty much how I’ve been playing games these last few years. A shiny new game comes along and I’ll play a chunk of it. Then something newer and shinier appears. I’ll grab that and give it a whirl. It’s the cycle I go through. The problem being that I rarely finish my games any more. Sometimes I’m sufficiently captivated that I’ll play it through to completion. Other times I dip in and out over a period of years. It’s sad to admit that the vast majority of the time, many of the games I dip into are dropped in favour of that new game smell. But that’s a deep-seated issue for another time. I was talking about the new Hitman…
Less than a month ago, in their New Year update, IO Interactive made the choice to release Hitman episodically and my heart sank. It’s not the episodes that bother me, you understand. I’ve just told you – that’s not a problem. It’s the developer’s apparent lack of conviction. It makes me wonder what was wrong with their earlier plan. Is it just a case that the later levels haven’t reached a satisfactory level of polish? Does that indicate that we’ll see delays to content down the line? Nobody can really say with any certainty, not even the devs. So why should we pre-order the Full Experience when our idea of what we’re getting is cloudy and when we get it could well be a date in the wind.
But pre-order it I did. I’m in. Square Enix and IO Interactive have done an alarmingly good job of getting me hyped for it, in spite of my worries. The beta trailer shows off the prologue mission that will be playable, come Friday, and it looks like I’ll have a blast with it. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Here’s hoping I’ve made a wise investment. If not, it could well be the first of my Hitman games to land on the unfinished pile.