HITMAN – Fighting a Fair Fight

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Disclaimer: Since I have more respect for journalistic ethics than actual journalists, I thought I’d mention that I’ve been interacting with a few of the IO Interactive guys on Twitter. Whether or not you think this might create any sort of bias, I still think it’s something that should be noted. Even if I am generally an asshole regardless.

There are genres of stories I simply do not enjoy. Heavy political or military drama never meshes well with yours truly, which might be part of the reason as to why I wasn’t partial to Marrakesh’s “A Gilded Cage”. I do believe however that people often mix up phrases “bad plot” with “it’s just not my thing”. Art is meant to speak to its recipients on many levels and convince them to take part in something outside of their small circle of interests. This is what “Freedom Fighters” is to me. It’s taking me into another world, a world which I’m not as familiar with. A world which I’m not that accustomed to. That world is different. It’s rough. It’s filled with people emitting unhealthy emotions and playing on others’ fears. Not an environment I like to engage in. I do try not to take prejudice, though. I like casting my doubts aside but if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you might have noticed my reaction to H6’s Colorado reveal wasn’t very optimistic. “Don’t be surprised if I don’t like this one.”, I said after the announcements dropped. Two weeks later, here we are. Standing between boxes of apricots on a remote farm in Colorado. Did the fruit end up being tasty or was it mushy and bitter? Let’s find out!

Before we fully begin with the overview, I’d like to clear up some confusion. A few of you were asking why I don’t often go as in-depth with the in-mission story as I do with the cutscenes. My answer is quite simple – it’s all about the play style. I do some extensive research every time, making sure I get to hear as much of the dialogue as I possibly can and I am confident in understanding the story. This is obviously not an activity everybody is going to engage in but if I can convince even one person to give that play style a try, that’s a win for me. Stories are meant to be enjoyed and what’s a better way of doing it than to get them presented in their original fashion? This is exactly why I try to not spoil anything in those segments of my opinion pieces as I’d like you to maybe go back and retrieve bits of the plot you might not have even known existed! Maybe something I mention will intrigue you and you’ll go out and seek it out. Why should I ruin that experience for you? Video games are interactive, play them at your own pace. As for the cutscenes – those are not. In fact, if you’ve finished the mission, you’d likely watch the entirety of the cutscene at the end. We’re on the same page when it comes to that! So without further ado (or else I’m gonna go on a complete tangent), let’s go over the in-mission plot of “Freedom Fighters”.

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This story arc involves four individual targets yet they are not the only characters to get introduced. Another name appears in the cast. Quite an important name, I’d say. Olivia Hall is a twenty-four-year-old suspiciously Watch_Dogs inspired (and Clara was already suspiciously inspired by Millennium’s Lisbeth Salander… although both of those ladies are way better looking than our Olivia in my personal opinion… but I digress!) hacker who’s apparently been working for Our Main Bad Guy this whole time! She is the one erasing trails and making sure nobody gets found out. This time, she got outsmarted by the ICA analysts and the traces of her activity led the Agency to a remote farm in Colorado. You’d think a character like this should have been introduced much earlier in the story, especially since in the ending cutscene we can clearly see that her and Our Main Bad Guy have some history together which would help with him not feeling like a complete stereotype. But let’s keep that discussion for later on. The main guys who we’ll be targeting are Sean Rose, Penelope Graves, Ezra Berg and Maya Parvati. A group of fairly simple people without anything interesting going on with them individually as this time, the in-mission story is closely related to the main arc… and that somehow makes it a lot more intriguing.

I enjoy personal stories. I still think Silvio Caruso is one of the best characters in the Hitman universe and his storyline hasn’t been topped yet. I also really like characters developing right in front of my eyes. There’s not much of that going on in “Freedom Fighters” as all of the targets are quite basic and there really seems to be not much to them. Sean Rose has a reputation of being a “monster”. A person who will do anything, as for him, the end justifies the means. He was given an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a severe phobia of germs but those characteristics feel forced as it never specifically matters in the long run (unless you count a mention of a certain doctor a meaningful detail).

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Yeah, that would indeed be nice, Diana…

Penelope Graves is your typical young woman with big ambitions. A one that you’d likely find as a nice looking supportive secondary character in your good old crime drama. I have a problem with her though as the interesting part of her is what we’ve already seen multiple times in the same game. There’s always someone plotting around the main target and Penelope is no exception. Granted, her dialogue is probably the most important one you’ll get to hear in this mission and following her is a lore goldmine, yet it boggles my mind that she’s straight up talking to herself and giving out “the boss’” plans with a bunch of people in the same room as her. You’d think she’d be a lot more careful, given how she reacts when shown an Interpol badge. Speaking of Interpol, she is given quite a nice backstory as well as a neat connection to Sean Rose. Shame though that those never really come into play as with all of the character’s impressively huge bios. As the roster of targets increases, the time to introduce them properly decreases, meaning there is a lot of reading to do if you want to know their full stories (Defining an info dump in one picture.).

The last two – Ezra Berg and Maya Parvati – both seem to have gotten neglected as they both have a small amount of dialogue which, in Maya’s case, isn’t that interesting or unique or, in Ezra’s case, is a pain to get to listen in full. Parvati ends up being your usual tough girl with an attitude who yells at everybody around her. Berg, on the other hand, is probably the most intriguing character we’ve seen in H6. He’s an expert in making people talk in ways quite different than physical torture. He mixes up chemical ingredients and a sprinkle of fear to interrogate his victims and from his backstory, it seems like he’s almost too good at what he does. So good that he’s been forced into retirement by the organization he used to be a part of. The fascination of hiding his face to bring out a sense of threat is never explored in “Freedom Fighters” (or in H6 in general as everybody’s faces are always shown clearly for some reason). We hear occasional chatter about Ezra really being a good, well-spoken guy but that’s a side of him we never see. A shame, truly, as he doesn’t feel like a full-on character and his role of an interrogator could have been easily given to Sean Rose. And Maya Parvati could have been mashed with Penelope Graves to have a sense of character’s maturity instead of a forgettable “that girl I still need to kill”.

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He’s just a… wait. That’s the wrong Freedom Fighters… it’s the wrong… ugh! How did this happen?!

In conclusion, none of the characters really stand out and they all appear basic. That is because “Freedom Fighters” takes on a very different approach in regards to connecting the in-mission stories to the main arc. All of our targets have their simple substories, of course, yet this time, everything is closely linked together. Something we have not seen much up to this point. Yes, there were mentions of the big plot hidden along the road but never to such extent, as the stories mostly revolved around our targets themselves. Here, we get a huge chunk of the overarching lore with the name Providence as a cherry on top of the cake. And you know what? I’ve been craving that cake for a long time now.

If you remember what I said in my “A Cage Without A Key” opinion piece, that means I should probably thank you for being a longtime reader of mine and tell you that I really appreciate you being here once again. But, another point is that back then, I complained about not having any idea what Providence is and how it doesn’t make any sense that we are to care for it. The world building presented to us in “Freedom Fighters” is exactly what we needed back then. It’s not in your face. In fact, you need to specifically care and spend a considerable amount of time to find it. But once you do, you suddenly realize that the threat is much bigger than we were led to believe. The “Providence is Under Attack” cutscene would have been so much more engaging and impactful if this information was available to us in Morocco! I loved finally getting to hear the story at large, I loved how the events of Paris, Sapienza, Marrakesh and Bangkok were actual meaningful incidents that were getting chatted about and mentioned as a part of the bigger plan. It’s like the floodgates have finally opened but it’s a bit too late to water the already dried up land.

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Low res textures. The pain of an outdated GPU is almost as big as the pain of getting to experience this weird pacing.

Eugene Cobb is one of them, as he finally gets retroactively introduced to us via a photograph and a faint mention by Diana Burnwood. In a very unusual for H6, scripted ending to “Freedom Fighters”, we get to listen to this conversation between 47 and his handler:

47: Some kind of network. Power players… from all sectors.

Diana: Familiar faces, too. Thomas Cross, Claus Strandberg, Ether. And that’s missing banker Eugene Cobb. Well, well.

47: There’s a name. Providence.

Diana (shocked): What? No. No, it can’t be.

47: “The hidden hand”. Thought they were a myth.

Diana: A hypothesis, nothing more. The idea that a small cabal of kingmakers, controlling enough corporate and political leaders, could effectively run the world in secret.

47: Maybe not so hypothetical.

This relatively short scene tells us a lot already and sets up the cast in a much better way than the dull post-mission cutscenes we’ve had to sit through. For starters, we know the risks we’re facing and how powerful the organization truly is. The death of Cobb was meaningless to us beforehand as we knew nothing about who he was. If we’re to hear about it for the first time after this short conversation, the story would feel a lot more urgent as well as create tension and peril – something that is ironically lacking in the World of Assassination.

Wandering around the makeshift militia camp, we also get to hear other people talking about “the boss” and his connection to every other named character. We get a few words on Olivia Hall but even after that, I feel like, just as Cobb, she should have been introduced way earlier in the story. Maybe even as a short, ambiguous and ominous scene of her typing away in a darkened room. Literally anything so she doesn’t feel like she’s suddenly thrown into the mix without any proper mention. Other unusual bits revolve around “the boss” himself. We now learn how he’s working with other people. Large groups of them in fact, which is something we never got to see beforehand. Our Main Bad Guy’s central characteristic was that he stalks his victims and strikes quietly from the shadows. Now we are slowly unveiling that he’s been commanding this whole huge operation consisting of multiple missions all around the World of Assassination. Quite a turnaround, especially as Providence clearly refers to his people as a group. Albeit we can see Our Main Bad Guy sending a text message in “The Secrets of the Global Elite” cutscene, it is not something that ever comes up again until “Freedom Fighters”.

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…just as this plot sometimes…

Looking back at the game overall now exposes a major flaw. The pacing is completely off. We started off twenty years earlier with a very quick introduction to the basic idea of our main characters. Then, we’ve established Our actual Main Bad Guy who’s seemingly been watching 47 for years. This time, the big story revelation is that this time frame is even bigger than we originally thought but for some reason, after following 47’s trail for literal years, he decides to strike only exactly now. In the same comfortable moment as Erich Soders thought it’d be nice to get help from another huge worldwide organization. Is the Agency not enough for you, lad?

I always knew Mister Soders will be back. Call it a hunch, intuition or even instinct, but as soon as in my “Assembling the puzzle” opinion piece, I mentioned he will probably come back at some point in the storyline. Keep in mind, that was back when the game was still in beta and we only got to experience the Prologue. Leaving his story arc vague and without a proper conclusion meant it would be a waste of a character if he wasn’t brought back at some point, so this “story revelation” was quite a predictable for yours truly. Didn’t help that twenty years later 47 somehow remembers who Erich Soders is. Apparently, he has perfect memory in addition to his perfect genes, as he can easily recognize Soders on a photograph after not seeing him for such a long amount of time. I’d argue that his mental state in the remote ICA facility would make that pretty difficult but that’d be petty criticism at this point.

The first glimpse, or rather, a note of Soders’ voice happened in the Colorado trailer. His conversation with Diana Burnwood was full of stereotypical lines akin to “Is he up to the task?!”, “He’s our best man!” which made me wonder if the dialogue was written (and I use that word very loosely) by a script gathering random pages out of TVTropes. The tone felt exactly the same as the scenes we’ve seen back in the Prologue meaning there seems to be no development of the relationship between Diana and Mister Soders in the time frame of twenty years. Not only that, Erich Soders is now somehow a part of the ICA’s Board of Directors which I am not against, as the man is obviously fitted to be a suit-wearing passive-aggressive higher-up. The part we did not get to hear is what happened to him in between the Prologue and now, yet I am sure that will be filled in as the next episode arrives. The problem with adding more characters to the already established lore is that if you think about it (and I know that H6 really doesn’t want you to), it creates some uncomfortable situations.

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The game says it for me, really.

The first question that comes to mind is why has Diana never mentioned Soders in the twenty years we’ve seen her work with 47 so far? What happened to Soders after the events of Blood Money, since the Agency was seemingly wiped at this point in the timeline (although I still think Diana was lying to 47 the whole time)? Connecting more pieces of the puzzles, as we got a few, were the Delgados part of “the boss’” crew back in Blood Money or is this something that happened afterward? Were all of the people we see on shadow client’s wall part of Providence? Why didn’t we know about that in previous games? A lot of those people were already involved in other organizations, even a one called Alpha Zerox which still exists in the Hitman universe. Yes, a division of Alpha Zerox – The Franchise – was in fact destroyed and by Diana Burnwood herself, but we never got closure as to the main organization itself. Meaning that either Providence is Alpha Zerox or Alpha Zerox got completely overlooked.

You are messing with the lore. And you are creating plot holes and bending the rules, especially if what we hear in the “Old Friends” cutscene is what the community thinks it really is. So let’s go through it together and see what we can find.

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And then others clearly haven’t.

Our Main Bad Guy is seen once again, this time chatting with his seemingly good old friend Olivia Hall. He congratulates her on a job well done, yet also says “The ICA knows about you. They kept you alive because they needed you and now they don’t.” This is a line I don’t really understand as the premise behind eliminating Sean Rose and his crew was that Hall’s traces led the ICA to Colorado, yet the hacktivist wasn’t stationed there. Instead, it was revealed that the farm’s being used as training grounds for a private militia managed by someone who was believed to be the shadow client himself. So technically, yes, the ICA knows about Olivia Hall but it’s not like they kept her alive intentionally. They just had other matters at hands. Unless Our Main Bad Guy is specifically talking about Erich Soders possibly forcing the hits on Sean Rose & Co. to buy Clara– I mean Olivia, some time.

Next comes a small monologue by who I guess we should presume is “the boss”, as he is feeling like sharing his life story:

“I ran away as a boy. My friend and I. Away from that– place. We came upon a small farming community. The people were dirtpoor but this woman, she took us in. We were awakened the next morning by the shots. A dozen people lay face down in the snow. Our warden– didn’t like to leave witnesses. They shot the woman and her family last and made sure that we watched the whole thing. “This is your gift”, the warden told us. “Your gift and your curse. Touching lives only by ending them.””

Olivia cuts in. “You know him.”

“Better than anyone.”

See, there are a few problems with trying to add into the existing lore if you only know the basis of it. I touched on it before in the “Assembling the puzzle” opinion piece. Hitman lore is kind of my shtick around here, if you haven’t noticed yet, my faithful reader, and I never truly know how to feel when said lore is getting messed with. It’s a conflicting thought. From one point of view, it is nice that the backstory hasn’t been forgotten. From another – trying to fit something in without a clear understanding of it feels a tiny bit disrespectful. Especially because this monologue sounds like something I’d credit Damnation with. You know, that horrible “novel” that I can barely even qualify as a “bad fanfiction that somehow got published” because the author seemed to only have the most basic idea of who 47 and Diana are, a list of new characters to “introduce” and probably heard that Schubert’s Ave Maria is in some way involved in this whole ordeal so he had to reference it somewhere in his “book”. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, trust me – it’s probably better that way but if you are still curious as to the “plot” of Damnation, I’ll direct you to Part 6 of the original Storyline write-up, so we can be on the same page. Although I wouldn’t blame you for skipping that offer…

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My reaction every time someone mentions Damnation.

My very drawn out point here is – if we start breaking down Our Main Bad Guy’s sob story, we can find TRULY OBSCURE hints to “the place” which is suspiciously like vaguely calling it “Romania” again especially if we add “the warden” to the mix. The poetic line of having a gift to kill, Our Main Bad Guy knowing 47 “better than anyone” (although I’d disagree) and the camera clearly showing us his blue eyes and prominent facial features all direct us a one certain thought. But if the conclusion we are coming to is correct then we are faced with other problems. Lore-related problems.

There were only two pieces of Hitman media that showed us what was happening in Romania prior to 47’s escape. Only the two novels in fact, one of which we’ve already regarded as being less than terrific. Obviously, none of those are specifically canon, but I think they serve as a nice contrast between a well-researched and a… less well-researched piece, as the author of Enemy Within had a pretty good grasp on 47’s personality and a fair idea of how his childhood life might’ve looked like. Damnation faced an issue of not having enough of that knowledge, yet still trying to force chapters written from 47’s perspective, his internal monologues, attempts at symbolism and flashbacks to good old times at Ort-Meyer’s facility which completely opposed what has already been settled. And now, H6 does the same thing.

The lore has already established that Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer was a man with a huge ego. He was full of himself, wanting the world to believe he is God. He improved on the model of a human being, redistributing chromosomes and recombining DNA. One of the side effects of which was the lack of ability to grow hair as The Professor was of mind that it’s just a waste of chromosomes. So no, 47 does not spend an hour every morning to carefully remove each and every hair strand to keep his head bald. He is literally unable to grow any hair. Not only that, 47 was special to Ort-Meyer, as he was his pet project. He was the ultimate experiment, a clone built out of 47 chromosomes instead of 46. A clone who was given free will and was unknowingly trained to become a killer. He was also observed to see how he reacts, as he managed to demonstrate emotions where the other “sons” were lacking them. 47 was the only clone able to do such a thing and this is why Ort-Meyer was so enthralled with his creation.

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Can we be as far away from “that place”? Can we?…

He didn’t sit back and relax though, oh no, that’s not something Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer would do. After setting up 47 with the Agency and hunting his once fellow Legionnaire friends, he continued “improving” on his experiment, leaving out better intelligence and strength, yet eliminating free will. The ultimate goal of The Professor was to have an army of clones that will do his bidding and he never wanted to share it with anyone else. Can you see where I am going with this? If 47 is the only person that Ort-Meyer has ever created with an ability of thinking for their own, there is no option for Our Main Bad Guy to exist if what the community thinks the “Old Friends” cutscene is trying to tell us. The other point being that he would have to be just as bald as our main character… But that’s not all as you’d also have to explain how he managed to get away from the facility if we already know that every other clone is dead. This was shown to us in the intro cutscene to Silent Assassin and Contracts’ “Asylum Aftermath” (although here you could argue that it’s all in 47’s mind and I will not be opposed) and even somewhat mentioned in Blood Money.

You can’t undermine Silent Assassin however, as Mystery Man got himself a clone right out of Ort-Meyer’s old playground. He was originally interested in Mr. 47 but ended up pleased with the next best thing – Mr. 17. A clone without free will, only able to do the bidding of his master. Because of that, he eventually got outsmarted by our main character who eliminated him and even let us know what he thinks about this entire ordeal. Instead of paraphrasing it, I’ll simply link you to the cutscene itself as the performance is simply terrific. This monologue is important as it shows us the conclusion of 47’s personal journey happening over the course of Silent Assassin. This, in addition to the ending speech is how 47 sees himself and his past from this point on and trying to force an emotional impact by having an “old friend” whom he used to spend time with will simply not work. 47 might be empathetic but he deeply hates everything related to Romania. Having another person “just like him” also takes away from 47 feeling “special” and hugely undercuts his character. If there’s another guy like him, why make a big deal out of the best of the bests? And finally, writing into the already established backstory ruins a level of mystique the Romanian facility had in store, therefore retroactively crippling Silent Assassin and Contracts.

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Not enough, apparently.

I am really interested in seeing if the end of this season will deliver as a self-contained story. It certainly does not feel like an end. A very solid middle point, I’d say. This is definitely due to some odd pacing choices and a story being a slow burner for the first few episodes. Of course, I cannot say I am surprised. You might remember me rambling about this exact thing a lot in my previous opinion pieces, so you should already know how disappointed I am in this happening. Especially because with the lore added in “Freedom Fighters”, I can see a faint light at the end of the dark narrow hallway we’ve been heading. The ideas are there but the execution isn’t, almost as if two minutes each time wasn’t enough to tell a proper story. In addition, if the “story revelation” is what the community thinks it is, we are facing much bigger problems than simply boring pacing. But that is to be seen. For now, I will say that even though political and military stories aren’t my cup of tea, I truly enjoyed “Freedom Fighters”. It conquered my inner prejudice and proved that “it’s not for me” doesn’t equal “it’s a bad story”. A good story will always defend itself but will the main arc of HITMAN do the same? Pack our bags, ladies, gentlemen and everyone else on this wacky ride. We are heading to Japan!

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