HITMAN – A Cage Without A Key

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“Something must have gone terribly wrong with the main story of HITMAN.”, she thought to herself leaving the sunny coastal city of Sapienza. Her opinion on “World of Tomorrow” was that it delivered on a very well-written character study but was heavily disappointing in regards to the main story.

Thirty-five days later, arriving at Marrakesh in Morocco, she sat down wondering if the espionage concept of the story will hold. Will the writing finally realize that it has characters it should be taking care of? Will she see them evolve instead of staring at the same husks filled with stereotypical personality traits? Which Bond movies will she watch this time to immerse herself in the experience? Or maybe the story will pull 47 and Diana back into the frame to make this a true Hitman game?

Diana handled the briefing, drawing the outline of the mission. It seemed like a straightforward operation. Simply eliminate two targets, as White’s done many times before putting herself in 47’s shoes. The mood was on the heavy side today, and the brown tint of the North African city only added to the atmosphere of the situation. It was dirty, grim. It felt wrong.

“Why is she speaking in this out of place narration?”, the reader asked aloud. The words simply came out of his mouth at random. It was obvious that the computer screen did not have any answers and the reader quickly realized how odd his reaction must have been.

If you have been paying attention, you might have noticed that at least part of this narration felt familiar. Almost as if I wrote it before. Last time in fact, when we’ve met during my “Tomorrow is Never Enough” opinion piece. Why am I repeating what I’ve expressed back then? Am I out of things to say and hope that maybe if I bring out the same points but in a slightly different wording, you won’t catch it? Am I writing myself into a corner?

No. This is me making a point. Mimicking the post-Marrakesh main story cutscene.

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And this is me watching as people are starting to get angry about the incoming heavy criticism.

I was never afraid to call out the story of Absolution. I’ve done it many times in my original Storyline write-up. Trying to link different scenes together was a frustrating experience as the story was full of holes. It started well with a promising opening. Then the concept was lost somewhere, the ideas were forgotten and it ended up being a mess. We’re now at the halfway point of HITMAN and the parallels are getting obvious. The intro was solid. Our Main Bad Guy (OMBG) was intriguing and fresh (keyword here is “was”). After watching the latest cutscene however, I fear that history is repeating itself. Which isn’t surprising as writers tend to have their particular style and it’s really hard to force them out of the comfort zone.

I usually go over the mission story first but for this piece, I’d like to change that for a bit. Maybe it is that the “Providence is Under Attack” cutscene is grinding my gears too much. Or maybe because I’m not afraid to try something new. Even though I used to write news and reviews for a website and my high school had classes heavily focused on journalism, this isn’t the writing style I feel natural with. I mainly write prose. I’ve been writing prose since I was a kid and because of my need for self-imposed challenges and self-improvement, I have gotten not that bad at it if I may say so myself. As a change of pace then, let’s look at “Providence is Under Attack” and try to figure out why exactly I find it so frustrating.

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This quote describes my exact feelings on the story of H6.

First, the title itself. We’ve heard of “Providence” before. That was in “The Key” cinematic, right after “World of Tomorrow”, so we’re pretty fresh on that. We didn’t hear much of them, mind you. In fact, it wasn’t properly presented to us and we had no idea if Providence is an organization or a concept. “Trust me, if there’s a weakness, Providence will find it.” is the exact line to which OMBG replies with a genuine smile: “I’ll take my chances.”

“Providence is Under Attack” would be a title that captivates the viewer if they knew what Providence is. If they were invested in the idea of Providence, this would be a perfect way to grab them. As it is now, it is simply a series of random squiggly lines which makes little to no sense even after watching the cutscene as we still don’t have any real information about what Providence is…

I know many writers fear the info dump as they feel it halts the story. It is usually used to quickly feed relevant information so the reader or viewer is up-to-date. At the same time, said reader or viewer will never be invested in the story he’s presented with if he won’t be aware of the context and won’t be given time to acclimate to the situations and the characters. An unfortunate decision we are seeing here is to focus on pushing the events forward. What we’re missing though is backstory which could be hidden away and gradually exposed but is instead completely out of the picture. There are a few sentences in “A Gilded Cage” which mention figures called “Heralds” yet even those aren’t descriptive enough to learn anything new. Again, just a name drop for the sake of a name drop. As I’ve said many times before – you can hardly tell a full-fledged story in mere two-minute cutscenes.

“New York, two days later.”, says a white text on a black background setting up the time frame for this scene. I never mentioned this before cause I haven’t had that much of a problem with these. Both “The Secrets of the Global Elite” and “The Key” were easy to place. “The Secrets of the Global Elite” also had mentions of Kamerov and obvious ties to the actual story of “Showstopper”. “The Key” was one week after “World of Tomorrow” but the events were isolated from the rest of what was happening. Here, we have a case of the story moving forward and referencing the previous episode which now makes me question the timeline.

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I wish I had some of that tasty information…

How far apart exactly are these missions? I don’t find it believable that 47 is eliminating people day by day constantly traveling across the world. His art not only takes skill but also careful planning and cannot be rushed. How much time has passed since “World of Tomorrow”? “The Key” was taking place a week after the death of Silvio Caruso and “Providence is Under Attack” two days after “A Gilded Cage”. The two characters we see and hear in the new cutscene are having a heated conversation about the events that happened in Sapienza and Johannesburg so this has to be a hot-button issue. Both Sanguine and Ether are also mentioned in the GNN news feed. At the same time, if the riots in Marrakesh and the Claus Strandberg case are so big, why haven’t we heard of them before in France or Italy? Pacing is an important thing to do right. You can’t just throw random dates into the mix because it feels like you need a time frame for these events. If you do, it creates holes in the narrative. This is the same problem the Prologue had. You never gave us any hints as to how much time has passed and yet 47 and Diana were suddenly buddy-buddy with each other. We still don’t have any explanation for the date on 47’s ticket in the beginning of the game. And Absolution never had proper dates. Remember what I said about feeling comfortable in a particular writing style?

After that, we are shown two new characters that we have never seen before, therefore we have no idea who they are, what their deal is and how they are involved in what is happening. At halfway point in the story, throwing new characters into the mix seems like a dangerous idea but let’s roll with it. We have Mr. Fanin (later called per “Director” to confuse us even more. We’re seeing these people for the first time, why would you use two different names for them? And these might be the “Heralds”, too?) and a guy who clearly suffers from a “stereotypical wannabe mysterious” syndrome. They are walking down a clear bright hallway without anything in the background that would indicate where we are (it’s also quite boring to look at since there’s nothing there and the only thing the camera is doing is shot reverse shot for 95% of this scene) and this is the conversation they’re having:

FANIN:

Compromised? But… I don’t understand. There is no sign of forced entry. No alarms. Nothing.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

One of my people has gone missing in Johannesburg. A key-bearer.

FANIN:

I wish I had been informed. Still, the system demands two keys. And the rest are all accounted for.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

Except for your late predecessor’s.

FANIN:

Cobb? But… his plane went down over the Pacific. It was an accident.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

Such was the conclusion at the time, yes.

This touches on a few issues. First of all, you really don’t have to spend the time to retell the events of the previous cutscene. I’ve seen them before. You’ve shown them to me. I was able to successfully extract important information from the last two-minute cutscene. Show, rather then tell. I’ve grown to appreciate this technique even more after I replayed Silent Hill 2 a few weeks back and wrote a piece on it. It’s a perfect balance of writers restraining themselves to create proper pacing and the art team using locations to improve the storytelling and world building. “Providence is Under Attack” empathizes what has already happened in “The Key” but does it in a very “on the nose” way by showing characters having a conversation about it. A flaw many Hollywood movies have been reinforcing over the years. Trust me – if you’ve shown something, I’m pretty sure I’m going to remember it. There’s not much it can be missed in a two-minute cutscene. I really don’t need this whole “Hey, this is important!” scene right after I saw the scene in which this exact thing was happening.

hm631
Can’t really think of a better comment.

Another thing is the mention of Cobb. Again, we have heard this name before in “The Key” cinematic. There, it was only a name drop, so we have zero information about the man himself. As Mr. Fanin states here – apparently Cobb is dead. We could have speculated that this was the case but we now know for sure. Killing characters in the background is bad enough – it never gives any closure and feels like the author had no idea what to do with them or only used them as fodder to further up the story. Killing characters which never got properly introduced and doing that in the background AND revealing their first name for a couple of seconds in scrolling text, however… I don’t even know what to say about that.

Two men slide their keys into the keyholes and the door slowly opens camera facing away from it.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

People die, Mr. Fanin. It happens all the time, even to us. If it seems like a conspiracy, it probably isn’t.

Slight pause as the man faces downwards.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

And yet… The failed coup in Morocco. The Ether virus. Someone knows about us. There was a pattern, and I failed to see it.

Camera switches to show the man clearly as he looks at Fanin.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

Providence is under attack.

The camera is now behind the man and we’re looking at Fanin’s face.

FANIN:

How much was there?

Another camera switch.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY:

Money?

(a short scuffing laughter)

Not money, Mr. Fanin. Information. On all of our assets and operatives. Like you.

Camera once again points at Fanin to show us his reaction to the news and then we’re back to the other character.

WANNABE MYSTERIOUS GUY

(starting to turn around, camera following him):

Dig a trench, Director. And make it a deep one. Because none of you are safe anymore.

The camera slowly exposes an open door and the mess inside.

END SCENE

Here, we can see more examples of wasted time by solidifying the previous events. Literally calling “The failed coup in Morocco” and “The Ether virus” (Ether is the company, virus is called Samael but whatever), both which we were already a part of in a more impactful gameplay sense, the IAGO leaks which were, again, a pretty big deal, “someone” knowing about “them”. Why is this time not used for giving us relevant new information instead? I don’t care what’s going to happen with Fanin as I’m not attached to a character that’s only been given two minutes of screentime, no background and three lines of dialogue. Granted, he seems worried and scared but we have never seen him in a different state of mind, and the contrast he’s given in this scene is a fella with a “stereotypical wannabe mysterious” syndrome.

Why am I calling him that, you ask? Because he’s clearly underdeveloped. This shows in his flat dialogue, sounding completely out of place as if he was reading lines from a script instead of having a meaningful conversation. Long monologues without any real sign of emotion, forcing a sense of melodrama, which ends up looking bland, especially because most of the information presented in this cutscene is filler. To add to that, our wannabe mysterious guy suddenly says a few words and leaves, as if the author had no idea how to end this scene properly but still wanted to shove this next hook – the inside of… the vault? The storage? Something. We’re not exactly sure. Besides, we already knew intel is what OMBG is all about, so it’s not like this scene is shocking.

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I know, we’re all stuck in this mess now!

Adding all of that together, we can come to the conclusion that nothing has actually happened in “Providence is Under Attack”. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say it’s pointless, even though my inner writing sense tells me that if the scene doesn’t present any useful information – it’s worthless and feels like padding; therefore it has no place in the story… you get the gist. Especially in an episodic format, when the cutscene ends up being a reward for players finishing the campaign mission, it is even more apparent the story never goes anywhere. And let me remind you – we’re at halfway point now.

“But the Marrakesh story is probably good, right? Remember how you praised Paris and Sapienza? There must be something cool in Marrakesh!”, she heard through her computer screen somehow after the reader shouted these words into his own.

The story of “A Gilded Cage” is very minimal and pretty uninteresting. It touches on the overarching story by name dropping the previously mentioned “Heralds” as well as sabotaging the governments. Political subplots are not really my forte, but I give credit where credit is due – Strandberg’s plan is actually quite nicely thought-out albeit a bit unrealistic. The storytelling itself is nowhere near as good as in Sapienza, however. Most of the dialogue simply reinforces what we already know from the briefing and the only new information seem to be hidden away in Reza Zaydan’s dialogue. The prisoner substory presents itself as full of potential once the player comes across it but it ends up being disappointing and quite shallow. Granted, Sayid is the only character who pronounces Reza’s name correctly. You’d think more care would be put towards it. Most of the voice actors pronounce it as “Re-i-za” when a quick Google search could be enough. This was also the case with Sebastian Sato in “Showstopper”. As someone who took Japanese for two years, hearing “Saito” was infuriating and since we’ll be heading to Japan in a few episodes, I thought this would be appropriate to bring up again.

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Yeah, you stand there all smug and almost interesting!

As I’ve said – political matters are simply not my thing and I much more preferred the intimate story of Sapienza’s Silvio Caruso. Not everything has to be grand to be interesting, especially since both Reza Zaydan and Claus Strandberg end up being very similar characters and pairing them together in the same mission made me go back to the briefing screen multiple times to make sure which one is which. Both are bad guys who manipulate the public and use their charm to get what they want. The only difference is that Strandberg does it for money, whist Zaydan for power. After the brilliant contrast of “Showstopper” with a mastermind – Dalia – and a guy trying to hide his pants being full at all times – Novikov – I was expecting a bit more distinct characterization. The biggest issue I have however started out with the briefing itself.

This might be a nitpick but I thought it was important. I might just be a freak that knows 47’s lines by heart at this point but the team has a story consultant. Going back ten years and into Blood Money, which also had a pretty apparent politics substory, we can hear a line coming from 47’s mouth. “I don’t play politics”, he says almost angrily as he pushes Smith’s head into the ground with his Silverballer. There is also another line he says to him when Smith gives him the briefing for “Amendment XXV”: “Skip the patriotism, Smith.” Having those two it mind, I found it odd that the writers opted for Diana motivating 47 by continuously pointing out how much this mission matters on the bigger scale. He obviously doesn’t care about the state of the world. A job is a job. There’s not much more than that. Similarly, why does Diana care? And going even further – why does the ICA? In fact, wouldn’t it be better for them if the world was in pieces? Since they are above government, wouldn’t that mean more business opportunities and solidifying their position in the World of Assassination?

Not only that but looking back at all of this, it seems like both Diana and 47 have been completely stripped out of their personalities. Diana is no longer giving out witty comments about what is going on and 47 has little to no lines. The main duo of the series is pushed back into only being pawns on the chessboard because someone has to perform the hit. Which echoes my point from the last opinion piece I did – why is this a Hitman game? Those characters are there but nothing’s happening with them. At least in “The Key” cinematic, OMBG mentioned the Agency once. Here it’s nowhere to be seen. It’s not a bad thing to try and focus on the new characters and ideas but when they never truly develop and nothing’s actually happening – why not support them with concepts already having an existing backstory whilst building new ones? Maybe this wasn’t meant to give out this feeling but I sense a slight lack of appreciation towards the source material. Almost as if no-one knew what to do with the characters of Diana and 47 or felt uncomfortable writing them due to not having enough knowledge of their personalities. Obviously less than ideal situation and being an enthusiast of the original lore – this is hardly something I agree with.

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“I have a bad feeling about this.”, she thought to herself staring at the main menu screen. She let out a slight sigh remembering what she said before about the similarities to the James Bond franchise and SPECTRE. Is Providence SPECTRE in this story? Is the dove its symbol, as SPECTRE’s the octopus? If so – this dove seems to be dancing in quite a hurricane.

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