Empathy is a strange ability to explain. Technically, all of us should possess the power to express it yet it seems like over the years, said skill have been slowly diminishing across the mankind. Myself? I seem to have been gifted (or cursed, depending on the point of view) with a surprisingly strong ability to gather energy from outside sources. Whether it’s other people or works of media, this is definitely the cause of yours truly being able to see otherwise unseen reasons and over analyze literally everything about a video game character…
We all have those fictional characters we feel we connect with in a strange, almost magical way. It might be because of our personal experiences or the similarities in their personality. For me, it’s because I can feel their point of view. I can put myself in their shoes and see the world with their eyes. After all, even though the character is fictional, their characteristics, both physical and mental, are very much real. Their struggles and adventures aren’t limited to their imaginary universes either. They are based on the “real world” equivalents even in the most extreme of cases. Yes, maybe Skyrim’s Dragonborn wouldn’t be able to really possess the power of Dragon Shouts as our “real world” lacks the magical creatures required to do so, but their story would certainly be a one of escaping a difficult situation and overcoming challenges in order to discover their true self.
I have been given a lot of flack for over analyzing video games in the past, especially when it comes to Hitman. I was also praised for being observant when it comes to 47’s character and presenting the community with details they might have missed during their playthroughs. I have been criticized for going to far with my viewpoint on Blood Money’s story or laughed at because of my theories on the ongoing storyline of HITMAN (H6). This is simply how I use my power of empathy to experience works of fiction and seeing how said power is slowly fading in others, I have decided to share bits and pieces of it with you, so you can see the true magic of fiction and, as it goes hand in hand, my love of Hitman.
With a bit of deduction and if you’ve been following me for a while, you might now answer the question I’ve been asked more times that I can count in the active Hitman community: “Why does White adore Contracts so much?!”. Think about it. A major portion of my love for Contracts came up within my analysis of Mr. 47 as it’s a story that literally takes place inside the mind of our main character. Not only that, that game oozes atmosphere. And it does that from the very start. It is enough for the player to simply launch the game to be immediately taken into its dark and foreboding world. Beginning with a harsh tone of the white noise coming from an unreliable television screen and then distorting our vision of reality as it switches rapidly through various channels. It stops to inform us how handguns operate, successfully setting us up for a story about not only a person that uses weaponry in their daily life but also a one that has just been a victim of said tool. That followed by a loud gunshot, the sounds of panicked screams and a white flash is enough for me to put Jesper Kyd’s “White Room and Main Theme” on loop as I continue writing this piece.
I always listen to music as I’m writing. It’s often either video game soundtracks or pieces of ambient work as, again, it allows me to travel to other worlds and become embraced by their atmosphere. Music is a pure expression of emotions. Sounds are daily occurrences in our lives. We trick ourselves to fall asleep by putting on relaxing noises created by rain or the waves of the sea so we can at least partially be in this world and forget about our “real” struggles. So what was the music I was listening to before I totally fangirled on Contracts once again and will now be looping its main theme at 6 AM in almost complete darkness and only a cup of warm tea, a bar of chocolate and the harsh white-blue light coming from my laptop screen as I’m writing this piece? The recently released official soundtrack to H6. As you can see, it did not hold my attention long enough to not become easily replaced by the wonderful works of Jesper Kyd.
I have been criticizing H6 for over a year now. In fact, I had an idea for an exact piece like this one back when we were given an access to the Prologue during its beta days. Back in February 2016, the community’s major issue with that portion of the game was that it lacked the “Hitman atmosphere” and instead, became more akin to the world of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. This can be called more than simply an inspiration as the Prologue literally takes scenes from the 2012 movie about this classic character – Skyfall – and uses them in the supposed Hitman universe. Even the premise of said scenes is the same: the main character of the story is being tested and observed by the higher ups as they don’t believe he can take on the task at hand. A man with a mysterious past which is being actively researched and profiled on his personality. The goal is to present the viewer with an easy to swallow version of the lore before diving deeper into the proper storyline but as it takes place literally at its beginning, it is a subject to first impressions. This is why having a setting clearly taken from a spy movie flick just isn’t the right choice in my honest opinion. Especially because, as I consider myself a pretty big fan of the franchise, and H6 is majorly targeted to an outside demographic who only begin their journey with Mr. 47, a scene from Skyfall sets up a misleading framework of the already established World of Assassination.
But even though these are one of the first scenes the player experiences once they begin to play the game, it is not the first thing they see. Remember how I mentioned the very beginning of Contracts? How it grabs the player into its hands immediately once they boot up the application? There is a lot that goes into first impressions. A lot of factors people simply overlook. Have you ever wondered what is the point of pressing Start when the game prompts you too as your input? Obviously, one of the reasons is to recognize the controller used to properly operate the virtual environment but there are also others. If you’ve been following the gaming industry, you might have noticed that those “PRESS START” screens are often used whenever products are in their introductory, often incomplete stages. It’s all part of the marketing and an attempt to win over the potential consumer. This is the first image you see and it has to be a perfect representation of the entire product. (As well as a good way of showing off new technology, in case of Super Mario 64 for example.)
Take a look at this screenshot of the Super Metroid title scene. Are you not immediately brought to its world – dark and mysterious as only few of the elements on the screen move and those are the flickering of futuristic monitors and some unusual alien creature? The ambient tones in the background only enhance this feeling of being lost and, most importantly, alone in this foreign universe.
What about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? A new dawn rising as we see the fields of Hyrule and a figure riding on their horse to a great adventure? Mirror’s Edge with its minimalistic white and red aesthetic, presenting us with the harshly cold and sterile environment paired with soft ambient music – perfect representation of the freedom of movement Faith – the protagonist of the game – possesses with her skills at parkour. Psychonauts has a very cartoonish huge human brain suspended in vague imagery and its main character Raz as the player interacts with the main menu and accesses the proper game by walking through doors into the brain itself. Portal with its futuristic sounds and the very first room of the adventure – a locked chamber with transparent walls and a timer which counts down using its huge red glowing numbers. Similarly – Portal 2 – picking up where Portal 1 has left us with an image of the well-known antagonist lying on the floor of the destroyed and overgrown facility. Quick, simple and subtle – the original Mass Effect and its ambient alien sounds and a view looking out to space – a look at the Mass Effect franchise pretty much in a nutshell.
As you can see, the examples are many and you can analyze every title screen in this very way. One of my personal picks (and a childhood favorite) is Rayman 2: The Great Escape as it captures the fairytale atmosphere perfectly and gives us a glimpse at the strange creatures living in the Glade of Dreams. And even though I grew up with the PC version of this 3D platformer classic, I can definitely say I prefer the PS1 title screen featuring the game’s universe creator Polokus in his natural habitat.
And now let’s go back to Hitman, as it is the main victim of White’s over analyzing efforts this time around. Both Codename 47 and Silent Assassin’s menu screens are very similar yet subtlety different. Both use the whiteness and fog to create the sense of mystique as well as: present the beginnings of 47’s journey in, appropriately named, Codename 47, or the clean nature of our contract killer protagonist in, also appropriately named and centered around the theme of, “Silent Assassin”. The differences come from the music and 47’s appearance on the screen. In Codename 47, what we’re hearing is a lot more dynamic and electronic, more akin to a danger-filled adventure with a hint of mystery. Silent Assassin’s background music brings to mind a lot more mature and serious tone with religious undertones and the main character of the game is looking at the camera with his signature Silverballers in both hands – a setup for a story about revenge with a scent of religion.
My beloved Contracts has the already mentioned atmosphere-oozing “White Room and Main Title” and a very different menu screen to the previous installments. This time, we are not presented with the cleanliness of the very basis of colors. Instead, we are instantly thrown into the hotel room number 306, where the majority of the game takes place. Similarly to Portal – this is the place where the protagonist is trapped at the beginning of their adventure and the entire premise is to escape. And while Portal’s Chell only has the luxury of having to physically flee her starting room at the Aperture Science facility, 47 has to also overcome his mental struggles to be able to leave room 306. This is why we might assume he is shown to us pondering during a stormy night accompanied by his trusted sniper rifle and a very clever easter egg I already mentioned in my “Overthinking, overanalyzing – 47” piece.
Blood Money takes its menu screen a bit further when it comes to setting up the framework of the upcoming adventure. The title screen changes based on the players progress in the game itself. It starts out in an empty church which fills up with familiar faces depending on the completed missions of 47’s adventure. Eliminated targets then show up in the glass building as guests of this unusual funeral which is at the end revealed to be our protagonist’s. It is all a part of the big ploy played by Blood Money’s narrative. We are to believe 47 is dead and this is, in fact, the end of the great Silent Assassin (which, honestly, looking at the following titles might as well be the case for a certain portion of the fanbase). This is a similar case to, released two years later, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ title screen which was from the very beginning designed to be the last of the series and the one ending Solid Snake’s story – therefore the player is shown said character substantially older than in previous installments of the series and at the graveyard with his mind clearly wandering.
As you can see, all of these, although very different, have something in common. They all place 47 in focus even if they don’t explicitly say so at first (Blood Money’s final title screen is a straight up shot of our protagonist lying in the coffin). Absolution’s changed that format by instead going in a very action-oriented direction with its menu screen. It is obvious that the side mode of the game – Contracts Mode – is just as important as the main story as it is given to the players as a choice immediately after they launch the game and the storyline’s menu plays dynamic scenes from the E3 2011 Debut Trailer. A stark contrast from the usually static screens of the previous installments. One thing I have to admit though is that, even though Absolution’s menu isn’t as memorable as Contracts’ or Blood Money’s, I approve of the main original music theme as it captures the darkness and the feeling of threat. That is, of course if the game decides to not play the abysmal “Black Bandanna” song or the other ambient soundtrack featuring cartoony Texas-inspired samples.
And yes, I did not mention Blood Money’s “Ave Maria” because it was honestly ruined to me by the fanbase and the already played to death (ironic?) references to it in literally every other Hitman media that came out after 2006. But if you want to read my thoughts on that, I redirect you to my “Class of the Cross” H6 Bangkok opinion piece. Now that I mentioned HITMAN, I guess it’s a perfect time to look at it in the microscope.
Launching H6, one of the first things we see is a notification that the online connection is almost mandatory to play the game… which sets up a clear expectation in our minds, doesn’t it? The “PRESS START” screen is minimalistic – the redesigned logo sits boldly in the center of the screen, pressed against a blood-red background which appears to be a map. Again, the game isn’t based around the character of 47, so we don’t see him at the title screen. Instead, attention is given to the nicely sounding PR term of “A World of Assassination”, therefore said World is the focus of the main menu.
Again, I actually quite enjoy the music theme as I feel it brings out some form of a mysterious tone even though it is basic and maybe a bit uninspired (like the rest of the soundtrack). It does start out slow and quiet and builds up overtime giving the feeling of power and rising danger. We will come back to the music aspect of Hitman in the later portion of this write-up however.
Once we press Start, we are then brought to the main menu which gives out a clear impression once again. This is a product designed to be a platform for adding content. There are tiles advertising new added missions everywhere and I imagine, this can be almost overwhelming to a player just arriving at the World of Assassination. Especially one that has no idea what an “Elusive Target” is or why it has a big timer underneath his image. With all this criticism though, I do approve of the visual design of the menu. It is one of the only things I’m seriously impressed with when it comes to H6. It is pleasant to look at and quite atmospheric for what it is. But when we press it against the previous installments, we can clearly see the differences in the core ideas. Just as the main menu, the storyline of H6 takes its credit in an attempt to fit new ideas in the already established universe rather than stay closely to the character of 47 as he almost seems like simply a point dotted on the huge map of the World of Assassination.
Of course, the main menu screen isn’t the only one we can look at and analyze. We can do the same with briefing screens, “Load Game” menus and literally everything else we can think of. I’d argue that briefing screens are the most interesting out of those in the Hitman franchise and we could have a bunch of fun with them – for example: notice how in Codename 47, much focus is put into keeping every screen in-universe. The equipment menu, maps and virtually every other in-game menu except for the options screen is placed against an ICA-branded background of Mr. 47’s laptop seen during one of the first cutscenes of the game. Right before “Kowloon Triads in Gang War”, we can observe our protagonist getting up, looking through a window and then sitting in front of the screen of his computer. We are then brought to the same image he is seeing. Brilliant!
This is what I love about analyzing media. Those little details you can notice and appreciate the work of art even more than you were already. Going out of the bounds of the Hitman series, I would like to present you with some of my favorite screens in video games. Maybe to sparkle your interest or simply to share my love for other virtual universes.
The Binding of Isaac’s main menu is completely devised out of pieces of paper and child’s artwork. In fact, all of the tabs take the player into simply the next screen on the same huge map of drawings. Even the death screen is Isaac’s last will, scribbled on a poster and signed with a sad “I leave all that I own to my cat Guppy” before listing off all of the items the player has picked up during their run.
Silent Hill 2 has a peculiar save screen which basic idea was then reused in Silent Hill 3. 2 brings us the image of the main character – James Sunderland – bathed in red. Red is also the color used to signify save points in the game universe itself and is theorized to be connected with a central item – a letter seemingly written by James’ dead wife which brings him to the town of Silent Hill. In 3, the screen also shows the protagonist – this time a teenage girl going by the name Heather – and a foreboding symbol. During the course of the adventure, the player learns the meaning of said symbol and is able to make a connection of why it appears on Heather’s face. An interesting detail is that both of the characters express feeling especially lightheaded as they come around their respective save stations.
Metroid Prime is a great example of a game going full force in keeping the player in its universe. The world itself is hugely atmospheric and the title seems designed to be best enjoyed as an immersive experience. So immersive in fact that all of the in-game menus are shown as parts of Samus’ visor software but my absolutely favorite little detail is her own face appearing briefly as a reflection if she gets knocked by an enemy in certain situations. In-universe menus aren’t anything new though. Multiple games have used this immersion trick, most notables being Doom 3 and the Dead Space franchise. The latter going as far as placing the health bar on the player character model itself.
HITMAN does not go out of its way to involve the player in its infamous “World of Assassination” other than by what the environments have in store. The menus, although beautiful and simple, lack that special “something” that would make them memorable. That’s not to say the previous titles were better at it. Besides Codename 47 and Blood Money, none of the installments had anything interesting going on with their menus and Absolution had decency to put huge Heads-On Display over the impressive graphical fidelity of the, then fresh out of the press, Glacier 2 engine and the marvelous art direction in the Chicago portion of the game.
H6 gives out a different vibe. It definitely does its job at presenting itself as an episodic experience. In addition to the already mentioned main menu screen, the story tab shows us missions and cutscenes laid out in a way that brings to mind a season of a TV show and Escalations and Contracts Mode tabs also show that off perfectly – although we might argue it becomes a showcase of inconsistencies in quality once enough of the content has hit its imaginary shelf. That is probably one of the biggest issues I have with the game. The hit and miss quality is so obvious when playing the game, it is hard to get immersed in the experience and therefore, in “A World of Assassination”. Even the most interesting of TV shows have to be consistent as once that falls apart, the player’s projection of the universe crumbles with it. None of the other Hitman games had this problem as none had to face it – they were all released as standalone titles and in their fullest. They were all complete experiences in their own rights. H6 does something different and bless it for trying but I am personally of mind that it didn’t accomplish its task in a way that would satisfy me as a consumer and a fan of the franchise. But there is a lot more to this argument as we go further.
You already know my opinion on the H6 story and how it doesn’t feel like a Hitman story at all. We’ve touched on that on multiple occasions and in many of my previous write-ups going as far as distinguishing the previous Hitman titles as psychological thrillers and the new game as a spy flick. The picture H6 is painting is getting clearer now as we’re literally pulling all of the pieces apart, doesn’t it? Not only it doesn’t focus its story on the psychological aspect of our protagonist – so it also does not have to include him on the title screen – it effectively hides him behind a plot of espionage and mysterious intelligence agencies.
If you are about to make the “But White, Blood Money–!” argument, stop now, as I already answered this in my “Tomorrow is Never Enough” opinion piece. You are on the right track though, as we may as well look back at Blood Money. It also lacked a distinctive atmosphere and was pretty close to going full Bond with its plot about the ICA and The Franchise rivalry. The hook with Blood Money’s story wasn’t the interactions between the organizations however. It was between the characters. I showed you multiple times how many little details are hiding beneath the seemingly obvious factors of Blood Money. Whether it’s how the characters react to certain topics or how their body language speaks louder than their words. Even though a person who we’d technically call the game’s antagonist – Alexander Cayne – is clearly visible from the very beginning of the game (in fact, he appears as the first person in the church featured on the original main menu), there is a person hidden in the shadows. A person I always called the true protagonist of this story but at the same time is both a major threat and a major help to our beloved Silent Assassin.
What’s important and beautiful in Blood Money’s story telling isn’t the main plot. It’s everything that’s in the background, hidden from view. I was often criticizing H6 for showing off faces of its characters when it really doesn’t need to. Giving Diana Burnwood a proper face was controversial from the very first time it happened – in the Hitman Absolution E3 2011 Debut Trailer – and even though it is almost six years from that day as of when I’m writing this piece, I still believe such a reveal to be a bad decision. Same goes for continuously featuring more and more of the ICA facilities and the inside factors of the organization. Especially if those factors aren’t even well thought-out or understood by the writers themselves. Take the series of Absolution ICA Files Trailers for example. Have you noticed how the ranks of specific individuals make no real sense? I researched this extensively trying to find anything that might have served as an inspiration and even asked the developers if they have any clue of how the ranks work inside the International Contract Agency. The only real explanation I can think of as to why The Saints have a completely different set of ranks assigned to them is that Benjamin Travis simply decided that is going to be the case. …And knowing the writing of said character and Absolution’s as a whole, I would not be surprised if that was indeed what happened.
Everyone in the World of Assassination has a face assigned to him. And, if they don’t, they are only briefly mentioned before getting killed off-screen in a truly suspicious airplane crash. There is no mystery and no room to let your mind ponder about the possible resolutions for the plot. The best stories – not only in video games – are created by leaving some windows open. Once a tale is done, it thrives on its recipients. The Harry Potter franchise left its mark on the world by creating a new one and painted Hogwarts as a place every kid wanted to go to.
Silent Hill approaches storytelling in a clever way of specifically hiding major elements of its story behind themes and leaves breadcrumbs in forms of enemy and room design. This has led to oh so many fan theories and picking the game apart in order to know the true meaning of every single little design detail. As I mentioned in my “Overthinking, overanalyzing – 47” write-up, this is something Contracts does surprisingly well, too. Playing around with themes and motives is what visual media does best. Movies are often criticized for taking away from the experience by eliminating the need for imagination but is this actually the case? In fact, what is most interesting is what is not clearly seen. Mentioning Silent Hill wasn’t just a one-off thing. Horror and horror-inspired titles offer so much when it comes to battling with player’s imagination. They use the darkness and the unseen to turn cogs in our minds. The most memorable example of this in recent video gaming history would probably be Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s water monster but it is also the entire basis upon which a tiny indie game Slender managed to build up its success.
Hitman games also heavily used the concept of the unseen to create mysteries and subsequently – its atmosphere. In Codename 47, we barely got to see Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer before Meet Your Brother. Always in the shadows like the cartoony evil scientist he was. We see him clearly only at the very end of the game, in the last room, as he hides behind his army of 48 series clones. But let’s over analyze this just for the pure fun of it – look how much this silly video game concept of giving the player a wave of enemies before the final boss can serve as a storytelling mechanic. Ort-Meyer was never specifically shown to us, he was always around other people more powerful than him. His friends were drug lords and famous terrorists. And The Professor himself? He always stood in the shadows, deep inside his secret facility, hiding from the outside world, using a contract agency to do his dirty work so he can stay in his lab guarded by his ongoing creations. This is how much you can get out of a minor detail if you think of it in uncounted quantities.
Silent Assassin introduced us to our unseen in the very first scene of the game. Even right before the main menu screen, the player is shown a cutscene featuring the antagonist of the story as well as a person without a face nor name, dubbed “Mystery Man” or “Mr. X” by the fanbase. This character has become infamous in the community as questions about him pop out every now and again even though it’s been years since the original release. How is it that this character is still remembered by the fans and someone like Lei Ling is barely getting mentioned? She was featured in way more Hitman titles than Mystery Man ever was. She is also not a very interesting character, only thriving on one concept instead of having something to offer to players’ imagination.
This is also what Blood Money has over H6. It is full of the unseen. The biggest plot point of the series bases itself on this concept. H6 has nothing to hide, maybe besides the Providence vault which, to be frank, isn’t that intriguing with limited information on what Providence is or does. The most memorable storyline moments of H6 involved me scouring the game world to find information about the targets themselves as they were the focus point of the missions. At the end, they were nothing more than names on a cork board and the knowledge I gained by playing detective did not feel rewarding in terms of the overarching story. That, honestly, is a big shame. Do not get me wrong – I was never against target characterization. In fact, I was and still am largely in favor of it as it gives much needed context to the arcade feeling of the new, more sandbox approach to level design of Hitman. The issue I’m having is that I do not feel rewarded by picking up the clues and spending my time on uncovering those stories. You could argue that having this information is a reward in it of itself but since it ends up being meaningless put against a greater picture – what is even the point in putting it in the game in the first place?
This next argument I am going to bring up might seem tiring to a lot of you as it’s been debated countless times on various message boards during the pre-release stages of H6. I wonder if based on that one sentence you already managed to guess it’s about 47’s character model and, specifically, his face. H6 presents us with a much younger-looking perception of the protagonist even though it takes place at the end of the timeline. It was said to be because he’s at his prime and that he has changed multiple times across all of the iterations of his player model throughout the series. That is correct but never so drastically. I can definitely understand the need to show off 47 as a powerful character. He is the Silent Assassin after all. Yet I think there are simply better ways of doing it than pressing his face against the front cover and having him walk towards the screen in the same way all of the other video game protagonists are doing lately. I talked about colors and shadows back in my “Let the show stop and the sky fall” opinion piece and I still hold what I said back then. Having an older-looking main character isn’t specifically bad. It also means more experienced and in the oh so dangerous World of Assassination, looking like a rookie seems like a bad idea overall.
There are many details like these that have come up over the course of the first season. There were countless times when people criticized the developers for overusing certain, notable voice actors and the lack of foreign culture in places where said culture should shine. Hearing a different language in the sea of words you can easily understand is a wonderful feeling. As we’re dealing with a product heavily focused on the idea of travel, I cannot see a reason as to why the presentation of folklore was mostly limited to visual aspects. Older titles had a brilliant idea of NPCs conversing in their native language and at the end, H6 started doing a similar thing. It also ended up featuring some appropriate background music, especially as the player walks through cramped streets of the Marrakesh marketplace. Still, a lot of work can be done to make those locations feel more like the places they are based off of. I already mentioned how I feel the apparently iconic Hitman setting – the hotel – never felt fully utilized in my opinion but I honestly feel the same way about every location in H6. This is, again, why I’m in favor of smaller, more focused levels. The Final Test or Situs Invertus look so much more complete to me than a bigger scale location like, for example, Sapienza.
I did briefly mention music multiple times in this piece already and I guess this is when I should finally address that topic as well. Music is not something one can be truly objective about however so bear with me. I personally think that H6 is bland and uninspired, based mostly on generic action movie cues which are way too loud for a title about a Silent Assassin. Adaptive soundtrack is a wonderful tool which video games can use but it can go wrong pretty fast. Another side of this deadly coin is that the player may also never hear the music offered by the composer because of his preferred playstyle. This is the reason as to why I never even knew Absolution had any music in it, except for the godawful “Black Bandanna” song. I just never heard any.
Previous titles had the pleasure of being a home to folklore-inspired background themes composed by Jesper Kyd. I’ve done an experiment once and let a completely non-Hitman person listen to the music outside of the game. Then, I’ve asked them if they can pinpoint an area which was the inspiration for the piece. They managed to accomplish this task in most of the cases. This cannot be said for any of the tracks on the H6 OST though as the closest thing it can be associated with is a typical Hollywood flick. Sound design is as important as visual design when it comes to creating atmosphere and I think it would be of much benefit if we were truly given the experience of a foreign culture as we roam around the virtual World of Assassination.
It almost feels like it’s all about the details. After all, details are what people latch onto. It’s understandable that not every studio has the same budget and therefore 47 eating an apple in Absolution wasn’t as impressive as Nathan Drake doing the same thing in Uncharted 4 but you don’t really need expensive technology to make the world feel more immersive. A lot of people mention Metal Gear Solid 2’s Tanker chapter as one of the most memorable moments in video games. They remember being in awe of the atmosphere as Solid Snake jumps down the George Washington Bridge and onto the ship itself. The rainy night probably wouldn’t be as profound if not for the attention to detail. Raindrops falling on top of the camera in first person view has already become a staple but what about wet footprints left by Snake once he enters the inside portions of the ship directly from the outside? What about the rain bouncing off of solid surfaces? And the player character making obvious ripples as he runs? And the cardboard box getting wet if you sit in it in the rain? All of these add so much to this very simple concept and made it look unique against all of the other rainy nights in fiction.
And have you ever thought about all of the little details going into designing combat in video games? The visuals and the auditory feedback needs to be just right so the system feels satisfying to the player. I am particularly fond of the notes sound effects introduced in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker but the most famous trick would probably be a tiny slowdown before connecting hits in God of War. There are reasons as to why we usually use big badass swords in video games and the fact that weaponry in H6 looks like toy guns definitely doesn’t help, especially if you take into consideration my next point…
There is another big factor I feel is missing from H6. In fact, it was already missing in Blood Money – a game that was a huge inspiration for the direction H6 headed into. The level of threat is nowhere near as intense as in the previous installments. A lot of that comes from the switch to more sandbox level design as the player no longer has to traverse linear corridors that lead to the main objective. A good example of that would be Silent Assassin’s Tubeway Torpedo which has 47 literally hugging walls in order to sneak past the Russian soldiers. I am obviously not advocating linearity in Hitman. I dislike Absolution for the same reasons you all do. It’s not about the level design however. It’s about the stakes. And the small design details like the freedom to run anywhere you want without the suspicion meter going out of control in the corner of the screen. That concept was introduced in Blood Money and was carried over to H6 (although footstep noise detection was later added back in the Professional mode difficulty). Granted, with H6’s huge maps, having to walk everywhere would be a nightmare.
Thematically however, the Hitman series always carried a level of high stakes when it came to 47’s targets. The man is one of the bests of his job – he is the Silent Assassin after all so him receiving important and hard contracts is a given. Codename 47 had us killing well-known terrorists and triad bosses. Silent Assassin made us travel all over the world in order to eliminate established military leaders, yakuza and cult leaders. In Contracts, the heavy atmosphere was enough to enact a level of threat but we cannot forget missions such as Rendezvous in Rotterdam where most of the other character models seem twice as large as 47 himself. Dangerous-looking enemies were also the reason as to why I still whimper thinking about sneaking around the Absolution’s ICA army even though lore-wise their existence makes zero sense.
Blood Money was the first to drop this level of high stakes, as the first mission we get to experience is a hit on a troubled man and all of the other NPCs around the tutorial are simple goons. A high-class opera house, a well-protected target arriving at the casino and the White House itself are pretty much the only instances where I felt danger in any way and yet that was quickly negated by the fact I could just hold the sprint button one hundred percent of my playtime. H6 also has its moments. The Final Test, Freedom Fighters and Situs Invertus all carried a level of pressure. A lot of that comes from the storytelling point of view. As the stakes were getting higher on the protagonist’s front, the game also got tenser. Previous missions also carried a hint of danger, whether it was about the Ether virus or the riots in Marrakesh but I never felt like I care enough about the matters of the World of Assassination as a whole.
Maybe this is why I never felt like H6 is a Hitman game. It completely dropped the concept of telling a story centered around the Agency and 47 instead focusing on the idea of “A World of Assassination”. The plot itself seems to want to reestablish the entire universe all at once, too and maybe that is a bit too much for my tastes. We naturally root for the main characters in the story which is why centering it around 47 himself was such a good idea in the past with bits and pieces of other world building sticking through his personal struggles. Even though the protagonist is an antihero, you can still build interesting stories without making him a cliché good guy. This is what is wonderful about 47 and why I’m so intrigued by his character. He carries a level of class that is severely missing from the newer installments of the series. It seems it’s not about respecting and differentiating life from death like in Codename 47, Silent Assassin and Contracts. It is instead about going about shooting at random gang members to get to some slightly more powerful guy of the bunch in the very flat and fairly boring “World of Assassination”.
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