There are many ways of solving a Rubik’s cube. A shuffled puzzle consist of many colorful cubelets that fit together in a fixed fashion. Yes, you could try randomly playing with the puzzle, flipping the sides, create patterns and you’ll probably end up with at least one solved wall. Or you could look up a solution – memorize algorithms and trust your muscle memory to execute the moves. But there’s one aspect of solving a cube that never changes. You have to look at it first. Even blindfolded challengers have to inspect the puzzle before attempting to solve it.
Writing is sort of like that too. Especially writing a prequel to a storyline with clearly defined rules. Heavy research and knowledge of the world is a must and since we’re dealing with a story set in 1999, it has to connect to the already existing lore. Does it then? Let’s find out! You knew this was coming! From yours truly!
Don’t lie to yourself, I told you this was coming, Travis ; )
First of all, this will be more of an analysis post rather than a straight up retelling. To do that, I am going to wait until the Paris missions are released since things may change in that short period of time. I don’t expect them to and there are more pressing issues with the beta, but hey. One of the cinematics is called “No Second Chances”, I do give IO one more. I would like to say though that I’d prefer to have a better gameplay experience than a narrative experience, so please don’t call me on that one. Of course, both would be the best option, but I am a realist. I’m writing this mostly for fun, my personal enjoyment and the fact that the community was so great when I did this last time.
I am splitting this into 3 small sections, as I’ve done similarly with my Storyline write-up. First we’re going to talk about the character introduced in the Prologue, then we’ll be talking about some inconsistencies with how the story connects to the other installments and later, the issue that’s been clear to me since my first playthrough. Then we’ll close it off and have a nice, civil discussion… I hope. Let’s get this started proper now.
Part 1 – Erich Soders.
Ah, our first glance at the new cast. Or… just a guy we see in the Prologue? We have no idea! Erich Soders shows up as the ICA Training Director during 47’s evaluation. He’s said to be an ex-agent that was on active duty during the 1970s and he presents 47 with a simulation of one of his own missions – the assassination of Jasper Knight. Diana mentions to 47 that ICA tests aren’t usually supposed to be that hard (I disagree with the fact that The Final Test is hard, but let’s roll with it) and that Soders is playing dirty by placing additional guards on the scene. “He considers you a threat”, she says and the immediate question in my mind is – why?
Erich Soders is a character that has potential. But, similarly to the cast of Absolution, he lacks motives, details and development. Keep in mind, I’m not a professional writer, yet I have been writing shorter or longer stories pretty much since I’ve learned how to write, as well as I enjoy analyzing characters in fiction to the point where watching movies with me in the same room isn’t as fun to the people around me. Obviously, take everything with a grain of salt, I’m open for discussion and we’re doing this strictly for fun. Overall you might say being an over analyzer is my character trait.
Going back to Absolution for a little while – remember how stereotypical the characters were? How they lacked details and it left them as empty husks of a character that we were magically supposed to care about just because the story told us to? Yes, I’m looking at you, Victoria. There were always so many things that bothered me with the storyline presented in Absolution. So many questions. What really happened in the Agency’s lab in Chicago? Why does Benjamin Travis care so much? What’s his motivation? Why does he hate 47 so much? Why did ICA even hire him knowing about his temper? What’s the deal between him and Diana? What magical properties Victoria’s necklace has and how does it work? Every time Absolution introduced an intriguing concept – like dropping Ort-Meyer’s name – it was immediately discarded without giving you enough information to piece things together. I feel like the same thing is happening in the Prologue with Erich Soders. Even his dialogue is very similar to Ashford’s dialogue about Victoria in Absolution. Same “stats are off the charts, it must’ve been previous training”, etc. This is what was interesting in Victoria, but you’ve never expanded upon that! Why?
Before you say “But he might be important later!”, this “later” would be literally 20 years later. I’m honestly not sure if I want him to come back or not. As I’ve said, I see potential in this character, but if you throw him as a bad guy later, it’ll be both stupid, cause I don’t expect him to hold his petty grudge for 20 years, and really predictable as he’s already been presented to us as a bad guy. The only fix I see is to give him more depth in the Prologue, but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really see that happening.
Would it be hard to give Soders more characterization and provide the players with his past? No. In fact, I came up with two possibilities that would automatically show him as more interesting and involved in the actual storyline of the Prologue. It would also give him enough reason to dislike Diana and 47. Again, this is just for fun, so don’t take this too seriously. To be honest, it is another one of my character traits to write my own headcanons and later be disappointed when the actual story doesn’t deliver.
Possibility no. 1 – Soders was previously working with Diana on some kind of operation. ICA honored her, but left Soders out.
Why that possibility makes sense – since Soders is likely to have a huge ego and is maybe a little bit scared of hiring someone with skills to overthrow him, it is possible that he’s trying to purposely make 47 and Diana fail to prove a point. Especially because he didn’t like how the Agency gave credit only to Diana even though they were both working on the same operation. It’d be a case of petty revenge, but it’s still a way of giving him actual characterization.
Possibility no. 2 – Soders was given a difficult mission that relied heavily on the coordination with his handler. His handler supplied him with incorrect intel (either because of incompetence or misinformation) which led to Soders being wounded and unable to come back to active duty as an ICA agent.
Why that possibility makes sense – again, pointing at Soders’ huge ego, it’s obvious that degrading him to merely a Training Director would hit him hard. He’d also be more likely to hold a grudge for far longer and since Diana seems to have just been assigned to the handler program, he’d see an enemy within her. The similarities are there. A newbie handler working with a skillful assassin. Brings back memories, doesn’t it, Soders?
See? It’s not that hard. In fact it is pretty easy. I personally prefer option number two, but to be honest, everything is better than just a straight up flat character. It bothers me even more because he’s an antagonist and the best thing you can do to an antagonist is to write him well, give him a story and make people sort of “get” him. Characters in Hitman are very gray. There isn’t a lot of clear black or white characters. Even Blake Dexter had some motivation. He was a greedy pig, but I guess that could get a pass? Benjamin Travis didn’t, because they forgot or something and I’m afraid that the main bad guy in HITMAN will get the same treatment.
Let’s not forget about this conversation:
Soders – “He could be dangerous.”
Diana – “I thought this was rather the point, sir.”
It’s like the script knows something’s off.
The thing about characterization is that they did it so well with Jasper Knight! I love that guy! He’s clearly a very intelligent individual, he knows what strings to pull and he’s strategic. His obsession with chess only solidifies his character. Why can’t the main cast be so well written?
Part 2 – Romania.
Oh, Romania. Where everything sort of began, but not really, because it actually began long before that. That’s not important though. What is important, however is that this is our main link to the events in Codename 47. I’m not going to provide you with details as to what happened before the Prologue, but I am going to spoil it as well as Codename 47, so if you don’t want that, go play that game. It’s fantastic.Or read parts 1 and 2 of my Storyline write-up. I’d prefer you to play the game though.
To be honest, all of the cutscenes in the beta tell us the same thing over and over again just worded differently. The main point however is that 47 came from Romania and the Agency knows that. For the longest time I thought they were just calling it “Romania” therefore they mean the entire country of Romania, which would be pretty silly, but no. Soders actually states “the hospital in Romania”, so we know that they know the exact location. Later we learn that it was a dead end, ICA didn’t manage to find anything, it’s like “someone erased his steps”. This is important, because it’s the biggest inconsistency of them all and it doesn’t make any sense when paired with Codename 47.
I am able to believe that when 47 escaped the asylum, even though that’s literally his only memory at this point, he’s realized that he is in Romania. He’s most likely been taught extensive geography and survival skills, therefore he would know how to learn his exact location. Would he share it with the Agency? Maybe. I’ll be talking about his most likely frame of mind in part 3.
The bottom line is that the ICA knows this location. They sent their people there and found nothing. I do find this possible, but not likely, unless Ort-Meyer is a genius magician in addition to him being a brilliant scientist. Why is this possible? The Romanian facility was apparently deserted and there was no-one there (I wish I could source you this info, but the beta does not provide subtitles for the conversations and I don’t want to add them in) but Ort-Meyer’s research took place in a basement with a hidden entrance. Yet in Codename 47, the hospital was fully operational, agent Smith knew where the entrance is and what exactly Ort-Meyer’s plans are. Hell, he even knew that 47 himself is a clone. So how did he know that but the Agency didn’t and they were the ones rummaging through the facility? You can say that a year is enough to find more information and that’s why all of this is possible, but it would also strengthen a plot hole that already exists. Which is…
Why the hell would you then send 47 back to the same facility and not realize it? There are at least three of you that have the required knowledge! Even if we take Soders and 47 out of the equation – Soders, because he probably wasn’t working on that case anymore and 47 because his mind is iffy to say the least – we still have multiple people being involved in the research and Diana herself. If there’s one person I trust with that information is Diana Burnwood! She’s smart, she’s ambitious, she knows what 2+2 is! Why would she send 47 back to the same place if she knew? Why wouldn’t she say “hey guys, maybe that’s not that great of an idea.” Obviously not like that, cause that’s way out of character for her, but you get the point. Sending 47 to the Romanian mental hospital would be endangering him and the Agency knows that. Diana knows that. They all know their client is powerful and they all know “the earth just spat 47 out”. Doesn’t this sort of add up to “let’s not send him there, let’s deal with this another way”? I know Diana says “Stay cool no matter what happens” in Codename 47, but you’d think she’d inform 47 that it’s the same place. I think she’d figure he would want to know. Diana shares the information about ICA’s operations in Romania at the end of the Prologue, so she obviously knows this is important to him.
It makes no sense.
Part 3 – The relationship of 47 and Diana.
This is something I’ve noticed on my first playthrough and it has become more apparent during those 10 or so hours I’ve spent on the beta. I also asked multiple people the same question about this topic and they all answered that they felt the same thing. Said question was: “Doesn’t this feel a bit too quick for you?” And the answer was always “Yes.”
Proper pacing is hard to do. It’s a struggle to figure out the right balance of points of interest, action and downtime in your story. But when it comes to establishing your characters and introducing their relationship, I think the missteps in balance are the most obvious. Let’s analyze how the Prologue presents it.
The first thing that happens when 47 enters the ICA facility is that he sees Diana’s face. Strike no. 1! Even if we disregard that it demystifies the Agency, there are still lore reasons. I thought it was pretty clear that 47 has never seen Diana’s face. It is stated in the Hitman Enemy Within novel – “The assassin had never seen the woman whose voice he heard”. That’s page 33 for you. If you don’t consider Enemy Within canon though, let’s look at Blood Money.
See, both of the games written by Greg Nagan were relying heavily on showing rather than telling. Contracts is a game that shows you 47’s pain, brings you closer to his character by literally presenting you with an inside to his mind as well as beautifully adds the environment to the storyline by making it kickstart 47’s flashbacks. Uhh, I really need to one day write a piece on how much I love Contracts, do I? Blood Money went a step further. A lot of it was said in the body language. Look how Alexander Cayne behaves when the topic of cloning is mentioned. Look how Rick Henderson wants to guide the conversation, but isn’t able to. And, most importantly, look at the cutscene right before Requiem. Other than showing how cunning Diana is by making it a conscious effort to push 47’s guns away from his hands, look at 47’s behavior when she gives him the files. He takes them, but before sitting down and taking a peek at them, his head moves towards Diana and swiftly returns to its original position. As if he’s thinking “Huh, so that’s how she looks like.” A counter argument is of course that it’s been 15 years between the Prologue and Blood Money, but I still think “So this is Diana” fits better than “Oh, she looks different now.” If he indeed saw her face in the Prologue, that straight up undermines his reaction from Blood Money. But it’s been done now, so whatever. I’d still prefer if Soders was the one escorting 47 and Diana was only shown from behind. That would keep the mystique and give Soders more meaningful screentime. I’m writing headcanon again, someone stop me!
Moving on though.
47 and Diana have a little chat. David Bateson’s performance is amazing here and it immediately sold me on 47’s character during this period. That man gets it! He gets it! What am I talking about? Let me explain.
As I’ve mentioned before, 47 has just escaped the facility and was somehow led to the Agency. It was always hinted that our beloved magician Ort-Meyer had something to do with this and honestly, I think this is a cool plot point to be left vague. Let’s not forget though that 47 is a person and not just a mindless killing machine. In fact, the entire series revolves around that fact. I will hammer this quote every time – “his skills seem perfect, but his mind has it’s own ways”. To fully understand the situation we’re presented with here, we need to realize what 47 is feeling. And yes, he’s not immune to feeling. The entirety of Silent Assassin is a story about how he isn’t. Oh boy.
47 is alone. There is nobody in this world for him. He doesn’t know anybody, he lost his memory and the only information he’s been given is the location of the Romanian facility and that he’s killed before. He’s good at it. He is faced with a challenge – he’s never had to trust people before, the only voice that he’s heard was of a mysterious man that wanted 47 to obey him. Imagine yourself being absolutely alone. Without your family, without your friends. With the entire world against you. Nobody to turn to. Nobody to talk to. Only yourself. Imagine having to make a major decision in your life. Something that will completely change it and you can’t go back to what was before. Imagine if you’re not sure of that decision, but there’s nobody you can ask for their opinion on that matter. Because nobody cares about you and your life. It’s just you and your mind brainstorming all of the possible scenarios and you still aren’t sure if what you’re doing is correct. Imagine if that decision revolves around blindly trusting people you’ve never met before and don’t know if they’ll help or hurt you. And you still have nowhere to go, nobody to come for you. It’s just you. And you’re in the middle of this. How does it feel? Does it feel scary? Are you afraid? Panicking? Lonely? Helpless? Unsure? That’s the frame of mind 47 is in. Listen to David Bateson’s performance now. It’s spot on.
Now that we know that, let’s look at Diana. What do we know about her? She’s been enrolled with the ICA since 1990, meaning that she’s been working there for almost ten years. In October 1999, she’s received a promotion to rank BETA which leads me to believe that this is what made her illegible for the handler program. If it isn’t, well, then someone’s not following their own rules, cause that’s been literally established in pre-Absolution footage.
Diana’s ambitious, she’s skilled and her mind is her greatest weapon. I think it’s fair to assume she would be rather excited about her first agent and she’d like them to have a good start to their relationship. Unfortunately, 47 isn’t in the best mood for that, so she tries to be a little bit forward. Maybe a bit too forward and that makes 47 cautious. She says “I’m not like you.”, which is a line I actually really enjoy. She doesn’t know how exactly to phrase her thoughts. The universe has to balance itself somehow though, cause 47 later states “Maybe I’m not the only one being tested”. I have a slight idea what that means, but that’s not how people talk. Is Diana also getting tested by Soders? The camera sort of looks up and we see Soders, so maybe? Or maybe it is 47 testing the Agency? That line feels like it doesn’t belong into this conversation, probably because it was meant to sound “cool” and “cliché action movie-like”. If I was to say “Maybe I’m not the only one being tested” in a casual conversation, I’d either be making a joke or a reference. I feel a weird dissonance there. Like it doesn’t sound quite right… But it might just be me. Oh, and the cliché action movie-like lines topic… We’ll come back to that at the end.
From that point on, 47 doesn’t speak until the very end. But the plot kind of moves forward at a snail’s pace hammering the same points in different fashions. Since the director really enjoyed the Skyfall room, the conversations we hear are between Diana and Soders. Not Diana and 47. So their relationship stays in the same place. We do get to know what Diana thinks of him though and how she reacts when she learns that Soders doesn’t want 47 to succeed. She’s somehow drawn to 47 and wants to help him. We know that, but remember – 47 doesn’t.
After three cutscenes worth of nothing when it comes to the relationship of our main duo, they are suddenly buddy-buddy with each other. 47’s tone is different, he seems to trust Diana now? He asks about what is expected from him, about Soders. Diana chuckles as she recalls that they, as a team, “beat him at his own game” and 47 reminds her about the importance of knowing your enemy – exactly what she said to him before. Diana also gives him inside about the status of following the trail of Romania, which we can assume means 47 fully trusts her now with that information. Especially because his next line is “I think they called me 47”. “That’s… not a name.”, Diana replies. Cue the cliché action movie line, because!… “So make it one.” “Alright. Agent 47.”
…Where do I even begin?
First of all, there’s a scene missing in all of that. Maybe some, you know, development between those two characters? A scene in which they talk, exchange their views on each other. Or even Diana winning over 47’s trust by making him realize that she cares about him as a person. It can’t be that hard, can it? It doesn’t even have to be long. Should I try it? Cause I really think I can write something like this. It obviously won’t be perfect, beautiful or anything really, because I have no experience in writing scenes like that, but just for fun, let’s try it!
Camera shows 47 in the Skyfall room, tinkering with the gun. He carefully watches how every piece works together, shows disappointment when it doesn’t „click” the way he wants it to. Somewhere in the distance, a door opens. 47 keeps his eyes on the gun, but instinctively brings it closer to his chest.
Footsteps echo as Diana walks in. The camera shows her only up to her chest until she sits on the chair in front of 47 and we see her face. She smiles slightly and places her hands on the desk. She leans forward.
Diana (encouragingly): Can we talk?
47 gives her a quick stare somewhat concerned about the situation. She hums as if to force him to answer.
47 (reluctantly): I’m not interested in talking.
Diana (still smiling in a taunting manner): I just wanted to ask if you really don’t remember anything or simply didn’t want to share it when Soders was around-
She stops suddenly realizing what she’s said might offend him. He doesn’t answer, doesn’t look at her and keeps tinkering with the gun. Diana stops smiling.
Diana: …That wasn’t a tasteful joke, was it?
She breathes in and out, takes her hand off the desk and leans back on the chair giving 47 back his personal space. She stares at 47’s hands and is impressed by his precision.
Diana: Look, Soders thinks something’s up. He might have doubts, but I… – she pauses and brings herself closer to 47 once again – I can see something in you. I want you to succeed.
After again not receiving a reaction, her eyes point at the desk for a while before she stands up.
Diana (changing the tone to a more professional one): I guess I should let you prepare for the test. I won’t take any more of your time. Good luck, initiate.
She leaves the scene, 47 lifts his head slightly and looks at the door as it closes.
So now that we have my horrible fanfiction out of the way… that wasn’t really that difficult and it took 5 minutes at 1 AM. Kickstart their relationship, make him know that she cares, make him think about that and come to his realizations that will later follow up with the ending scene. In two words – develop them. Don’t just leave them in the same spot for the entirety of the story just to change their attitude right at the end. This all sounds as if I’m scolding somebody. That is not my intent, just so you know.
And can we talk about the cliché action movie line now? Cause I really don’t think you should disregard character’s personality to make him say a “cool”-sounding line. 47 isn’t dumb. His first memory is listening to a mad man talking to him through speakers and wanting him to follow his orders. Would you like to be bound by the name that originates from that place for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t you prefer to start anew? I know he has to be called 47, they won’t just change his name. Jeez, I’m not that dumb. So what about something like this:
47: “I think they called me 47…”
Diana: “That’s… not a name.”
47 (with a slight tone of melancholy): “It’s the only name I know.”
Diana: “Alright. I think we can make it work, agent 47.”
More in-character, still has your dumb action movie moment where you can pull up the logo. Done!
Overall, I would say the story wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It’s still filled with lack of characterization and development and interesting things are left never to be spoken of again, but it’s passable, if I can say so myself as a person that has spent way too much time on researching the lore of the Hitman series.
The bottom line is though that when you’re solving a Rubik’s cube, you could pull out one piece and put it somewhere else, but it’s never going to work. If you change just one cubelet, the puzzle is unsolvable. You’d have to reassemble it from the ground up and it’s obvious you don’t want to do that. So don’t mess with the puzzle. Play around it. With it. The solution is there if you look hard enough. And when you finally solve it and you see the colored sides, that feeling of satisfaction makes hard work completely worth it.
Oh, and no, I don’t have any problems with the simulations, in fact, it touches on that kitschy feel Codename 47 had. I don’t exactly see how hundreds of ICA employees are involved in those tests on daily bases, how big enough the facility has to be for that to happen or how exactly drowning those people in a toilet or throwing a pool ball in their face is okay, but I’ll leave that to their labor union.