HITMAN – Class of the Cross

Did you know that the distance between Marrakesh and Bangkok is 10,879 kilometers? That’s double the route from Paris to Italy and Italy to Marrakesh combined! Yet even then Thailand feels vaguely familiar if you’re a narrative enthusiast like me.

This time, we are checking in at the Himmapan Hotel in Bangkok to eliminate a lead singer and bass player of an indie rock group coming here all the way from New York. Even though they have crossed 13,923 kilometers, it’s not the end of their journey. A new album is coming along nicely, especially with a famous music producer now on board of the project. The exotic environment is also a great opportunity for a photoshoot as the World of Assassination’s Thailand seems to have a permanent yellow Instagram filter.

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“Are we stars?”, Jordan Cross asks looking down at the Chao Phraya River. A new drummer for The Class – Abel de Silva – stands right beside him after receiving, what may very well be, an opportunity of his lifetime. Everyone knows this guy yet not everyone can cross paths with him. Even if you think you have no idea who this Jordan fella is – you do! You’ve heard of him before, I can assure you. That is if you’ve been paying enough attention to the world building of HITMAN (again, I’m just going to shorten it to H6 as I don’t feel like yelling at you every time I spell out the title of the game).

Back in “A Cage Without A Key”, I complained about the vagueness of the timeline and the fact that the events of Paris or Sapienza were never mentioned after they occurred. Even though, they probably should be – an assassination of a major figure in the fashion industry seems like something I’d hear people rumoring about. This time, it’s the other way around. The Crosses and the Highmoores were both known to us well beforehand and it was only the matter of finally getting to meet them face to face. Using the tagline of another game with a lackluster storyline – everything is connected. Very loosely, but it’s better than randomly throwing a name and later revealing the man behind said name is dead. *cough* Cobb *cough*.

But let’s cross this bridge when we get to it. Although I am sure you are itching to read me rambling on about the “Shadow Client” cutscene. You’ve all very much enjoyed my analysis of “Providence is Under Attack” and the in-depth character study of Mr. 47 himself, so I’m happy to say we will be taking a deep look at the new cutscene as well. First, let’s focus on Jordan Cross though, I think he’ll be glad to have his last five minutes of fame.

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Frankly, I couldn’t think of many images I’d like to use and the music video just looks visually cool, so here you go!

Our main target is presented to us in the briefing as a victim of his father’s powerful and wealthy hand. He wishes to step out of the shadows and have the name Cross become famous without the connotation of Thomas’ monetary value… or the alleged murder case from a while back. Jordan’s childhood was tough. He was sheltered and is now seeking approval, not letting other people manipulate him as his father did. The Class sings about rebellion and even Jordan’s friends joke that “he’s like Bruce Wayne, only he wishes his dad had been shot”. All of that adds to a neat little package of a man having his own problems, being nervous and violent, finding himself in a powerful position and eventually committing a mistake that will cost him his life. The more I think about it, the more it feels as if I’ve heard this somewhere before…

Jordan Cross’ life still isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, though. He’s getting paranoid about other people finding out the truth. That infamous meeting between him and Hannah Highmoore hasn’t been forgotten, even after Thomas Cross ensured the public believes her death was an accident. Money can buy the best lawyers and the World of Assassination often needs the bests of the best. It needs Ken Morgan.

This is where some other name drops are starting to make sense and I’m crossing my fingers that this will continue in the next two episodes as well. The second target of this mission – Ken Morgan – was once working for corporate giants such as Hamsun Oil and Haven Corporate Services. But also Ether and Kronstandt Technologies – both of which we’ve heard of before. Interestingly enough, Jordan Cross doesn’t know Morgan is at the hotel. The lawyer is working closely with Jordan’s father – Thomas, as well as Jordan’s manager Dexy Barat although his presence at the Himmapan Hotel feels like an afterthought in both narrative and gameplay sense. There is a scene featuring both of the targets. It requires following a line of opportunities that is longer than usual and the event itself definitely stands out. Besides that however, I felt comfortable enough adding some of 47’s unique set of spices to one of the dishes at the bar at the beginning of the mission and exploring the quirks of Jordan’s personal story as the random number generator eventually had to be in my favor in regards of getting rid of the other target.

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Morgan doesn’t even get nicely drawn pictures like the Hannah Highmoore case. He just gets boring screengrabs of his in-game model. I guess he’s not even worthy of anything special…

And trust me, this time there is quite a bit of exploring to do. Not as much as in Sapienza and not as exciting as in Sapienza but the step up from Marrakesh to Bangkok is huge. Even though Jordan Cross was previously just a name drop, it is obvious that his plot point is fully realized, albeit quite basic in the end. For the first time, I felt like the world is truly alive as different characters were chatting about various aspects of young Cross’ life in the way that would make sense. The hotel staff whispers rumors about him being a spoiled brat. The waiters can be heard mentioning his father and how much of a recluse he is. Ken Morgan is having a conversation about the man with his bodyguard Otis. The recording crew all have their own relevant topics – Quentin, the previous drummer quit the band yesterday, Dexy is wanting to meet up with the lawyer and is crossing up a bunch of people, today is Jordan’s birthday and his father sent him a vegan cake! Just the way he likes it! There are also mentions of the already established theme of airplanes and people crossing others’ palms with silver. I can tell that this character is truly alive instead of being stuck as a list of bullet points. Those examples don’t even scratch the surface and I was genuinely interested in listening to all of the rumors. Pat on the back for creating a believable experience this time!

There was something not sitting right though and for a while, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Following specific characters wasn’t rewarding and some opportunities felt like a chore. A set of fetch quests, nothing unique like setting up a domino effect in that one memorable section of World of Tomorrow. Almost as if the developers were crossing the stream where it is shallowest in that regard. Even though the conversations between the NPCs are neatly placed in the world, that feeling doesn’t extend to the unique ones such as Dexy or Wes. The relationships between them seem lackluster as all of them prefer to work on their own and therefore, there is nobody prominent enough for me to be truly invested in. And if we switch off the vacuum for a second, we will very quickly realize that Jordan Cross himself is, in concept, dangerously close to our Italian friend – Silvio Caruso. Both coming from powerful families, sheltered and oppressed by a parent, eventually coming to the life of their own, wanting to stand out, seeking prestige and having another person always looking at their hands. And even a connection with Oscar Lafayette as it was him who helped our main target of this mission stop being cross-eyed drunk.

I do like Jordan. Or I want to like him. I really do. The indie rock band theme tickles my fancy and it’s impressively fresh in the Hitman universe. The personal story with bigger underlines is there, tying nicely into the overall storyline of H6. The world seems alive with every aspect of the main target realized and used to its potential. Yet it irks me that it doesn’t have the expected impact as I’ve heard it before in the same game. Our young Cross might as well be Silvio v.2. A Silvio without the emotional signification. In fact, the entirety of Bangkok feels like a discounted Sapienza. A shame really, as I really enjoy the concept of a troubled rockstar and his tragic passing at the age of 27.

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Skulls, eh? Very… classy.

Speaking of… the title of the mission in Thailand cleverly refers to the “27 Club” – a term used for a pattern of popular music figures dying at said age. At first, I didn’t even make a connection. Once I did, I was impressed at how brainy the reference is. It wasn’t obvious, simply a small easter egg that was to be found by those who seek them. That is unless you actually load up the mission and hear everyone and their mother point it out! Even Diana herself comments on it in her opening words of the mission! And if you listen to the conversations around the hotel, there are even more people stating how it’s Jordan’s 27th birthday, he better watches out, it’s a dangerous year for him! The reference stops being clever once you have to explain it. And if you have to force it upon me, that’s a big no-no. Some things are better left unsaid, but subtlety was never H6’s forte.

H6 likes to hammer its elements to the point of them being tiresome. The biggest offense in that category is, obviously, the main story, but it’s not the only part of the game that does it. The repeated fan service has already become stale, at least for me, and there is quite a bit of it in Thailand (although it’s not as rampant as in Sapienza). Hotels are a staple of the Hitman franchise but to be frank, Himmapan is nothing more than just another hotel. I dare to even say it’s not as interesting as some of the other examples in the series. It definitely doesn’t top the environmental storytelling of Contracts’ version of Traditions of the Trade.

I never truly understood the fanbase’s obsession with these kinds of locations as I felt they were never used to their full potential. Buildings like these are where the cultures clash, yet the variety of people of different nationalities was never shown in any of the Hitman games. In fact, the Himmapan Hotel doesn’t even seem to have any stories told via room furnishing or composition. The game makes a big deal out of “Mr. Rieper’s room!” (again, using the same reference over and over again sort of ruins it – albeit it was a nice surprise to hear it for the first time in Showstopper) and after the disappointment I felt with Sapienza’s ICA hideout, I had hopes that maybe this time, 47’s room will have some elements of his personality within it. Wrong. It’s exactly the same as all of the other empty rooms you can visit.

To be fair, there exists an in-universe excuse – part of the hotel was closed off to guests, so not counting famous celebrities such as Jackie Carrington and the recording sessions of The Class’, there is not much going on. Still, one of my favorite things to do in every hotel level in a video game is getting a master keycard and exploring all of the rooms to find hidden storytelling. Hell, one of my favorite franchises of all time is Silent Hill and that is all you do in that game! And who can forget Fallout New Vegas and its brilliant approach to environmental storytelling? I understand that it requires effort from more than one group of the development team but the level felt almost unfinished to me because of this.

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My thoughts exactly, Jordan.

Going back to Tobias Rieper, there is another reference thrown in at the Himmapan. Schubert’s Ave Maria makes its appearance, because of course, it has to be somewhere. Granted, it’s not forced this time and honestly, I wouldn’t even know it exists if I didn’t read about it online. Referencing the song is a personal pet peeve of mine as I feel like it completely misses the point. For some reason, it has become “the theme” of the series (even though that’s completely untrue as its first appearance was in the fourth game), yet nobody seems to know why its inclusion in Blood Money was so memorable so they just use it whenever with complete disregard to its meaning and symbolism.

Originally, Ave Maria was a piece composed for The Lady of the Lake – a poem by Sir Walter Scott. In said poem, the song is a prayer to Virgin Mary sung by an exiled woman – and the main character – before going into a battle. It’s a powerful piece intended to give hope and strength to the warriors and this was why it was fitting so well during the funeral scene of Blood Money right after 47 and Diana were left with nothing and during the great shootout at the church. From this point onwards, the song was featured in almost every single piece of Hitman-related media and it was never used right, usually thrown in as a mindless reference. Even that alone qualifies it for being completely disrespectful to the source material. If the original scene was noteworthy already, there is a big chance I remember it and you do not have to remind me of it in every subsequent installment. Running it into the ground won’t help it. In fact, it will undermine the original scene and it honestly feels like you’re dancing around me like a child screaming “remember that one time?!”. It’s the same problem I have with Metal Gear Solid’s salute scene. Even though Snake Eater is one of my favorite games of all time and I shed my set of tears during its ending, I cannot stand repeating the same moment in every single game in the series.

You are probably tired of me rambling at this point, but don’t worry – there’s more! – as we’re heading into the dangerous land of “One week later”, this time with no description as to where we are and little to no explanation as to why we’re there.

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Hey, it’s those two people the franchise is centered around!

H6 suddenly gets reminded of the fact that it has main characters of the franchise to take care of and it is doing it almost at the end of the season. In a two and a half (!) minute cutscene, we get more obvious things pointed out to us as if we haven’t been paying attention the last four times. After the cliché of “important plot point news report”, we are presented with both Diana and later 47 entering the scene and sitting down to converse in the most awkward and definitely not suspicious way what-so-ever. The handler is shown to us clearly, with no shadows or even a face partially covered with her long red hair. 47’s new appearance in H6 never sat right with me and it is even more apparent in this cutscene. Admittedly, he is visibly taller than Diana, but his changed body type and mannerism almost feel like he’s just a regular goon instead of an elegant, 55-year old man. The camera slowly zooms in and we’re approximately thirty seconds into the cutscene already. Yes, a huge part of this scene is just this establishing shot.

It appears that the Agency has finally figured out that they are being double-crossed. Thomas Cross died offscreen and that’s enough reason for someone to have connected the dots and flipped the table (they had way more patience than I do, it seems like). Diana goes on about this particular “someone”; “smart enough to stay in the shadows”. “A shadow client.”, 47 states. I would have never guessed, story, thank you for spelling it all out for me. I would never assume the guy who said he’s lurking in the shadows and will be striking in secret would actually stay in the shadows and strike in secret! What a great plot twist!

“How is this our problem?”, 47 asks and Diana replies “I know you don’t care about politics, 47.” (which I’m glad she mentioned, otherwise we’d be having the same problem as last time) “But ICA is neutral, always has been. We can’t allow ourselves to be manipulated. Besides…”

“It’s happened before.”, 47 finishes. At first, I thought it was a great way to recognize the storylines of Codename 47 and Silent Assassin, as a small nod to the fans of these games. My enthusiasm was quickly shattered by the handler herself:

“Italy. Morocco. Paris.”

‘Cause again, I would never figure this out if not for this completely inconspicuous main story!

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According to H6, it has an overarching storyline but I remain unconvinced.

Apparently, the board has decided to chase this mysterious shadow client and the ICA analysts are closing in as we speak. This one line raises more questions than it answers and the sudden “oh, we already know who this guy is” completely ruins the pacing. Not only we haven’t had the shadow client (RIP my unofficial name of OMBG, you will be missed) properly introduced to us yet, we are already in pursuit of him. We don’t know how the ICA instantly knows who he is and how they managed to find him so quickly. He is, as we’ve heard, cleverly staying in the shadows, so it’s not like he’s leaving his trails everywhere he goes. Unless he specifically drops breadcrumbs for the Agency to follow. But at this point, I think my speculations will only lead to yours truly being more and more disappointed.

“Someone’s playing a game, 47.” A game on my feelings as I really cannot take any more of this. To be fair, I am stressing out this particular case the same way you are forcing in the same plot points on me, so I guess it’s somewhat ironic. The cutscene ends with Diana wondering who is the target of said “game”, getting up and leaving. But not before throwing her last stare at 47 and him looking around a bit.

Now that we’re on the same page, notice (or don’t, ‘cause H6 obviously doesn’t want you to be observant) how I haven’t even once mentioned anything about the setting of this scene or what it shows us visually. That’s because there’s nothing of substance in the background. We’re looking at those two characters meeting at some generic airport (clearly reused from the Legacy cinematic) which is surprisingly empty, therefore having a conversation in such a weird manner would logically bring even more attention to 47 and Diana. Why are they even seeing each other face to face? Wouldn’t this be quite dangerous?

I also feel like the perspective is all wrong. We, as the viewer, spend these two and a half minutes staring straight at Diana as if we’re being presented all of this from her point of view. The problem is, that’s not the case. We don’t possess the same knowledge as she does. In fact, we know exactly nothing. That’s the position 47’s in. We should be examining this scene from his viewpoint. Just like in a very similar cutscene in Blood Money – from which H6 praises itself upon taking huge inspiration.

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This also gives me a reason to reuse these awesome ICA Files Trailers artworks.

Let us go back ten years to reminisce the meeting of 47 and Diana preceding a hit in Northern California. Right before Flatline, we get a short scene which starts by 47 arriving at the destination. The camera shows us him in full and from the background and the echoing footsteps we can already tell we’re at a church. The next shot confirms this suspicion. There are a statue and a confessional booth, which our main character enters. Ten seconds in, the meeting itself begins. 47 mumbles a codename and Diana immediately states “I’m sorry we have to meet like this.”

“It’s dangerous to meet in person. You’re usually more prudent. What’s going on?”

47 realizes the threat of this scenario. As the camera is focused on him in this cutscene, it is obvious we are watching it from his perspective. The scene takes advantage of this. 47’s asking the same questions the viewer would. What is so important that he and Diana cannot talk this over like they usually do? The explanation of this unusual circumstance is given early on. The handler explains that there is a possibility of a mole in the ICA, so she opted to physically deliver the briefing to her agent. The camera then shows a folder being slid to 47’s side of the booth so the viewer has something to focus his eyes on. Again, if you’ve been paying attention to the “Shadow Client” cutscene, you know that all that slides there is the camera itself as it wanders around the characters themselves creating quite a boring experience to watch.

Diana asks 47 about his healing wound and he reacts quite rudely to said comment. He wants to leave, just like the viewer. We received the briefing! We want to read it! We want to know what the next hit is! That’s exciting! But the handler needs to specify a few more things, so she stalls our main character with this line: “We haven’t been able to get a positive ID on the target.” She then goes on about the explicit terms of the mission as they are fairly different from the previous ones. 47 requires this intel, as he’s obviously her agent and we, as the players, need it portrayed in a way we’ll remember it. Especially because some of the details will be important at the end of the game. The storytelling trusts players to be able to remember it and use it when the time arrives. Again, focusing the scene on 47 is putting us in his shoes and it pays off.

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A cutscene in which I can watch other things than just people talking?!

The camera then shows us the folder once again. Since we’re already staring at it, Diana slides in one more item. 47 answers the exact question appearing in the viewer’s mind with a curious line of “Designer poisons?”. The handler explains this as well. The shot changes to present us with what we’ll be dealing with in both Flatline and later Requiem.

There isn’t even one second in which Diana visually appears in this cutscene. This is what her character represents – the unknown. She is a voice in 47’s head, as I like to call it. She guides him. By extent, she also guides the player. Putting her in focus with her being this huge source of knowledge about the universe feels not only awkward but also wrong. As a viewer coming into this world from the outside, I’m the one in a position to ask questions. To speculate, to cast doubt, to be at cross-purposes.

From the very start of H6, I felt as if the game doesn’t truly want players to get involved. Everything feels as fake as the ICA training exercises. The levels are huge set pieces, the stories of the missions don’t really tie into the main one. The main story itself presents us with a completely different, very spy movie mood that crosses off the theme of Hitman. As a huge fan of the franchise, I should be indulged with the game. Instead, I almost feel unwelcome. Thailand is where a few of the open paths from previous episodes cross with each other. Not all but enough to keep me satiated for now. Especially since what felt to be meaningless name drops finally has come to a conclusion as a fully realized plot point. Who knows, though how the rest of the season will play out? All I can say is that I hope all of this doesn’t lead to a rushed ending and an easy cliffhanger. That for me would definitely be crossing a line when it comes to an episodic, seasons-based release. Do not dissociate me even more from the World of Assassination. Ease me into it. ‘Cause if you do, I’m sure the distance between said world and our own will be much smaller than from Marrakesh to Bangkok.

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This needs to be said before we finish this piece, and yet I didn’t manage to find a good place to put it – promoting The Class with a short EP was absolutely ingenious. I personally truly love everything in-universe, as it allows me to escape into the world in more ways than just playing the game. But for the love of the Rubber Ducky Deity – the abridged version of “Are We Stars” which served as a trailer for Thailand is missing all the best parts of the song! There are some truly great vocals in the full version! Give it a listen on The Class’ Bandcamp. Give Jordan Cross his last few minutes of being a star.

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