Silvio Caruso is a very sad man leading a miserable existence… and I love it.
As we’re delving deeper into HITMAN (or H6, because I refuse to shout the name of the game at you every single time), we also get to know each other, Mister, or Miss Only-Person-In-The-World-That-Cares-About-My-Opinion. This time, I have to inform you that one of the personal quirks of mine is that I enjoy a well-written character and will always take character development over pushing the story. In fact, when I’m writing any sort of fiction, I base it on constantly expanding the characters and their relationships. The story itself is secondary. If the scene involves both – Good! Great! Amazing! Outstanding! – but that doesn’t usually happen. Why am I telling you this? Because the writing team of Io-Interactive delivers on a very personal storyline as we’re leaving the Italian airport and heading into the sunny coastal town of Sapienza.
The International Contract Agency paints one of our main targets – and the main character of this story arc – in a very harsh light. Silvio Caruso is described as a “troubled genius, neurotic, angst-ridden and intensely socially awkward”. Setting him up as a straight-up bad person makes sense. We’re playing a video game about killing people and 47 is an antihero himself. His victims must have deserved the treatment of his shiny piano wire, right? We are so used to seeing mob bosses, terrorists and drug lords in this series that it’s almost a given Silvio Caruso must be a bad guy! This is expected at this point! Sapienza launch trailer almost confirms it by letting us hear the nervous voice of an angry Italian man.
This is the mindset IO wants you to be in when you first load World of Tomorrow. We are to kill an evil scientist on the verge of creating some weird, almost supernatural virus able to eliminate its prey once it’s given their DNA sample… what? Okay, before we get in-depth on the topic of Silvio Caruso himself, let me say a few things about this virus sub plot.
It was absolutely spoiled before the release of Sapienza. As early as the H6 release date when I received the shiny PS4 Collector’s Edition (because Square Enix refused to sell PC ones in Europe! I am still salty about that! I don’t even own a PS4!) and opened up the artbook. It’s right there, plain and simple. Caruso is working on a deadly virus.
“Great”, I thought gushing over the shininess of the insignia tie clip. “Now the actually interesting part of Sapienza is not going to be a surprise. Well, maybe they’ll keep it secret for the majority that didn’t bother to get the Collector’s Edition.”
Then promotional screenshots happened and guess what? One of them is the underground lab! The Steam description clearly says:
“Track down Silvio Caruso and destroy a deadly virus”
and even the briefing goes in detail about the work of the Ether Corporation. At this point in time I was still wondering – Why?! Wasn’t this supposed to be a surprise? Imagine how amazing it would be to come across this on your own! Without the immediate aid of Diana or the ICA. This beautiful charming city suddenly contrasted by a dark foreboding lab.
Now, after actually playing World of Tomorrow and experiencing the entirety of the story, I think I understand. The virus is a hook. It feels like it was pushed into the plot to be this grand mystery and because of that, it ends up being underwhelming. The lab itself is just a small cave with a room you have to get access to. There is no big twist, no “wow moment”. Especially because the overall backstory of Silvio Caruso’s character overshadows the entirety of the Ether Corporation and the Samael project. Also – the Samael project? Really? Just throwing a name grabbed from demonology isn’t going to make everything sound better.
I honestly think like the lab itself should be its own mission. Expand on it, build upon Silvio’s desires but tell it in a separate story instead of trying to force it. Not only that would allow you to say “hey guys, we have two missions situated in Sapienza!”, it would also place the Ether Corporation more into focus and make it stand on its own instead of mashing them into the WAY BETTER story of our Italian friend. And stop with the cliché action movie music cues. Sapienza needed a well-composed score inspired by actual Italian music. Instead, it has received mediocre generic Hollywood music that pulls me straight out of the mood and the coastal tourist location atmosphere. Do yourself a favor and play Jesper Kyd’s wonderful Assassin’s Creed 2 soundtrack in the background instead. Please, giving Sapienza generic music cues should be a crime.
Now onto Silvio Caruso.
What amazes me most about this character is that I can actually relate to him. This doesn’t often happen in the Hitman games as I’m pretty sure the only other character I feel drawn to is 47 himself. As I’ve mentioned before, Silvio is a sad person haunted by his past. He appears to be twitchy and angry at all times, but once other people are out of the picture, he is in fact, a troubled individual stuck in negativity and memories of abuse from his, now deceased, mother Isabella. Every step I took inside of the Caruso mansion, his presence was taking a toll on me. As a hyper-empathetic person myself, hearing the staff conversing about their boss and then finding the exact room Isabella was staying in felt heavy and overwhelming. Reading Silvio’s papers and the Beyond the Grave challenge (which I absolutely recommend not spoiling and figuring out by yourself) was more than uncomfortable as I fell more and more in love with how the target was presented to us.
Not only that, he was brilliantly unveiled, at least in my playthroughs. From the condescending tone of people talking about his anger problems to Silvio himself speaking his mind. His backstory is rich, he is given motivations and reasons for his actions. He might be shown as an evil individual but once you get to know him – can you really blame him? His obsession is unhealthy, yet I can sympathize with him. His troubles are long gone, but he still thinks about them every day and I can relate to that! Writing his memoirs, to be published posthumously. He’s ready to die. And I, in 47’s shoes, as I am following this man around, can only scream at the screen “I know, Silvio!” and a single tear drips accompanied by sad sounds of a violin… I might be exaggerating…
It’s truly a hard task for me to not spoil the biggest plot twist this mission has in store when it comes to Silvio’s character. Please, take your time to dig up the lore of Mr. Caruso as he is one of the best-written characters the Hitman series has ever had. There is only one problem I have with his execution. It would pain me to see somebody get to that interesting part of his backstory before learning about his struggles. Both of the opportunities presenting the player with [THIS ONE DETAIL] are extremely easy to complete and I feel like the story delivery will not receive enough justice once the player knows [THIS ONE DETAIL]. The solution is very simple as well – put more interesting plot points behind harder to complete actions. You are welcome!
As for Francesca De Santis – again, her character is overshadowed by our sad Italian fella. She does get a handful of sub plots revolving around her role in the Ether Corporation as well as her affair with Roberto Vargas. These are never as exciting or major as Silvio’s though and she ended up being quite a forgettable character. Shame, as Dalia Margolis showed us that women also can be influential and desirable in the H6 universe. Even Francesca’s meeting with a private investigator which was shaping up to be right up my alley ended up being only slightly interesting and mostly because of a quote… Silvio’s, nonetheless.
I do however enjoy how easy to pick up the storyline was this time around. It didn’t require writing pages of notes and remembering dozens of names as it was the case with Showstopper. It also felt a lot more organic and believable. I was simply listening to the casual conversations of Caruso’s staff. These were not top secret assassination plans a powerful woman was discussing with her bodyguard with a random bald fella in the room. World of Tomorrow focused on a truly personal story and you know what? I honestly feel like throwing in the lab has done a disservice to the wonderfully written character of Silvio Caruso. Maybe, just maybe telling a small intimate story is enough. Not everything needs a grand mystery or a world changing scenario. Sometimes people have more interesting tales on their own.
We aren’t done here yet, however, as there is something else I have to state. And trust me, it really grinds my gears.
Last time I wrote about many, many Skyfall references the first episode was filled with. Since then, I actually did my homework and watched a few other James Bond movies. Granted, I am not a fan of the Bond franchise, nor do I find watching movies enjoyable, so there’s probably a lot more I could have done, but hey. It’s something! I researched something somewhat extensively! Do I get a pat on the back!?
Furthermore, I posted a theory on Janus and the inclusion of the character almost forced me to rewatch GoldenEye which I did. Unfortunately, this completely ruined the only interesting plot point of H6 as I have learned that the entire concept of the Janus character, as well as some of the lines used to describe him, are lifted straight from GoldenEye. That and the fact that people have also mentioned “feeling like Bourne” whilst playing Sapienza made me realize how little H6 really has in common with the rest of the franchise it’s apparently a game in.
Since the E3 trailer, I feel a weird dissonance when it comes to HITMAN. Back in pre-Absolution days, I was heavily invested in the series, analyzing every single detail, carefully listening to every conversation in the level. I’ve lost a lot of my time in the World of Assassination not only being there in 47’s shoes but also outside of the medium itself. Hitman was always thought-provoking for me. From the uncomfortable corridors of the Romanian facility to the bright sunny church of Blood Money’s Requiem. Absolution was shaping to be like this as well. Exploring the mindset of 47 right after having to kill his longtime handler. Showing him struggling to act on his own after many years of constant guidance from Diana which she exploited in the ending of Blood Money. Discussing the morality of Victoria’s existence. Giving Victoria her own opinion on the matter.
I always repeat that Absolution had so much potential that got wasted on stereotypical characters, crude humor and a storyline that didn’t know what it wanted to be. You could have done so much with the character of Victoria. Introduce conflict between her and 47 as she tries to defend her living with genetic modifications – something he never truly accepted in himself. You even partially set this up with Victoria’s monologue in the main menu! But that is really a topic for another time, as I am here to discuss HITMAN.
I’m going to say this outright cause there is simply no other way – I don’t feel attached to H6 as for me, it isn’t Hitman. I know, I know, this might be controversial, especially because many people have claimed that gameplay-wise H6 is one of the best Hitman experiences they ever had. I could disagree on that basis, too, but I have stated time and time again, that I am only discussing story-specific factors in these opinion pieces.
Why is it not a Hitman game for me, then? Simply – because the story doesn’t need it to be Hitman. The story setup for H6 is as follows – there is a man without any past just waltzing into the top secret organization’s training facility. This man ends up becoming one of the best people the organization has ever had. There is a man somewhat obsessing over him. That’s it. You could fill this with any other name and still receive the same storyline. Let’s try it!
Frank has no past. He has just walked into the FBI training facility and became one of the best people FBI has ever had. Kevin is kind of obsessing over him.
Let’s now analyze why the other games in the series have reasons to be called Hitman now, shall we?
Codename 47 was an origin story. It introduced the characters as well as the plot point that made the story unique. Otto Ort-Meyer playing God, wanting to fix the flaws of humanity by digging through the genetic material.
47’s struggles presented in Silent Assassin are a direct aftermath of Codename 47’s ending. The Sergei subplot isn’t the main focus of that game. It’s about 47’s moral journey.
My beloved Contracts showed us 47’s thought process by letting us go inside of his mind in the fever induced flashbacks and nightmares. Again, this borrows heavily from what we already know about him as a character from Silent Assassin’s presentation as well as from Codename’s Romania scenes.
Blood Money went in a different direction. Not focusing on 47 this time around, but instead discussing the morality of cloning and genetic modifications. Not something that would necessarily work if one of the main characters wasn’t a clone himself.
Even Absolution could have been great as a Hitman game. Pulling that wagon further into 47’s personal journey to decide who he really is by forcing him to interact with Victoria.
That link isn’t anywhere in H6. The Romania plot point mentioned in the Prologue is quickly resolved by “we have nothing” as the story switches to being a spy thriller. The thing is, Hitman as a franchise, was never a spy thriller. It was never about two organizations battling each other for power. The closest it got to that was in the Enemy Within novel and even that had enough decency to have many other accompanying plot points and creative kills that it felt it had its own identity.
“But White, Blood Money was about the Franchise versus the Agency! You are clearly wrong!”, you are screaming at me once you’ve realized that there exists an actual Blood Money/Contracts arc in the Hitman storyline. I swear, the amount of people that tells me that Blood Money doesn’t have a story is unreal…
As far as I remember, Blood Money’s main focus was the interview of Alexander Cayne on the topic of recent assassinations. The rivalry between the ICA and Alpha Zerox was only apparent in the last act of the game. If we were meant to label the series, it would most likely be a psychological thriller. Emphasizing on the perception of reality, characters battling their own morality, death being somewhere on the horizon at all times, the theme of identity and serving a purpose. Doesn’t all of this ring a bell?
The bottom line is – putting the espionage aspect in the spotlight leaves the characters somewhere in the background which after a while makes them feel like simply a bothersome addition to the storyline instead of the main driving point of it. It doesn’t help that those characters never evolve and stay in the same spot for the entirety of their screentime (Soders, the relationship between 47 and Diana in the Prologue) or that the player character doesn’t feel like he’s actually there. 47 isn’t simply a vessel for the player. He has so much rich background and personality that it almost feels wrong stripping him from that. He also isn’t Bond and honestly, every time the Hitman series was trying to be Bond, it failed miserably. I feel like the devs missed a huge opportunity by not adding some character to the ICA hideout 47’s residing in. Even giving him some mild quirks in the animations or slight facial expressions would be enough. Go back to Contracts and see how emotions are conveyed through 47’s body language in that game. Please. I’ll wait. I swear, I’m not going anywhere. JUST PLAY CONTRACTS!
Nah, really, go. You… you’re not going to, are you? You want to read my thoughts on “The Key” cinematic, right?
…FINE! I don’t like it. Can I go home now?
You want me to actually go into detail about why I don’t like it, don’t ya? Why should I? The main story never goes into detail about anything! Why should I do it?
Truly, something must have gone wrong with the main storyline of H6. Either that or it’s been written by a completely different person because with every cutscene I find myself caring less and less about Our Main Bad Guy (OMBG) and his shenanigans. “The Key” cinematic introduced a concept of… well… a key and something called “Providence” but it is so bland and boring that I’d really prefer to forget it and focus this piece more on our wonderful Italian man – Silvio Ca-!
Okay, you can put down the gun, I get the point.
I’ve said before that I will always take a good character over a good story. Maybe the main H6 story is shaping up to be amazing. I wouldn’t know that because all I am seeing now is a set of random scenes without any context or background. OMBG started out as an intriguing fresh character but he has now stagnated as a generic antagonist #3668. It doesn’t help that this random chunk of the story we are presented with makes no sense and it is linked to the rest of it only by a mention of IAGO and the ICA. Maybe the concept is to put OMBG in the spotlight but I don’t see that working out either as he never develops. I don’t care about him. I don’t hate him. I can’t see his reasoning because he doesn’t have any. Saying a pretentious line isn’t enough, especially not if that line happened not only before Sapienza but also before Paris. I fear the info dump as much as any actual writer but an underdeveloped character pains me a lot more. Even if there is a huge plot twist planned somewhere along the road, I feel I might simply brush it off as the main storyline is already boring and I don’t feel any connection with the characters. It doesn’t need to be a good connection either. If I am to hate this OMBG guy, make me hate him! His reveal was so great, he has genuine potential! Why does everything with potential have to end up in a “UNDERDEVELOPED” basket?… Don’t give me that “multiple seasons” excuse. I won’t be reading past the first book of a trilogy if the first book’s story is bad. I won’t be watching the second season of a TV show if I’m not devoted to the characters. If this truly is the first season of HITMAN– it’s either now or never for both – the story and the characters.
Our Main Bad Guy is just some ordinary scruffy fella leading a series of boring actions… and I hate it.