Most would agree that 2016 was a great year for gaming.
Overwatch, DOOM, and Dark Souls 3 are just a few of the notable games released last year that garnered a slew of praise and awards. While the aforementioned games were, and still are, worthy of your time, I feel 2016’s “best game” distinction was most earned by IO’s Hitman. I say this despite initially passing on the game. Its episodic nature and perceived lack of content raised some red flags for me. So what makes Hitman a game that compels me to write about its virtues despite having no IO Interactive stock? Well, let’s take a look.
Hitman 2016’s lack of a subtitle hints that the series’ newest entry is a reboot of sorts; something the back-to-basics gameplay and design philosophy all but confirm. Gone are the comparatively linear levels of Absolution in favor of open-ended and expansive areas that, at least in pure scale, put prior Hitman levels to shame. Large levels will only take you so far, though, and it’s to IO’s credit that these environments are like puzzles that need to be solved, while still feeling like real world settings bursting with detail. There are numerous paths, shortcuts, entrances and exits, meaning if it seems like there’s no way to get to your target stealthily, you just haven’t explored your options enough. Not all levels share the same quality, though; the one set in Colorado, for instance, is frustration in digital form, but it’s the exception and not the rule.
The level design is not the only area where IO’s focus on player choice is felt; in fact, nearly every aspect of gameplay shows a consideration to what fans love about the Hitman franchise. Case in point; the ability to choose a loadout before missions have been reintroduced after Absolution bafflingly axed the feature. Small touches like the settings menu allowing beginners and purists alike to customize the amount of on-screen information to their liking, helps to drive home the fact IO considered the fans and not just mainstream marketability. All that considered, the most important thing that the Hitman developers nailed was stealth. It should be obvious that stealth should be good in a Hitman game, but the kind of stealth is equally important. Hitman is a "hiding in plain sight" experience, which means mastering levels is as much about thinking of how suspicious your disguise or behavior is, as it is about observing AI routines. The fundamental flaw of Absolution was that it played more like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid than it did a Hitman game. Agent 47 spent the majority of Absolution’s duration on the run and hunted by hostiles; something that, when combined with the linear levels, made for a tedious style of play where crouching and waiting were the name of the game. That’s not even mentioning the arbitrary and near useless disguise system.
Hitman 2016’s complete overhaul of stealth is key to it being “GOTY” material.
Run and gun gameplay is no longer as viable, but in its place is a disguise system that seems logical, a larger amount of assassination options, and an overall sense of freedom to your approach. Lastly, I can’t argue for Hitman 2016’s brilliance without mentioning the elusive targets. These are missions that give you only one chance to succeed and appear about twice a month. Like a real Hitman who doesn’t get second tries, if you kill the target and get spotted or die, you permanently accept an average score or fail the mission outright. These game changers create tension even in seasoned players who are now forced to weigh the risk to reward ration in every encounter. Even though elusive targets are essentially just a nice bonus for players, their inclusion helps further the case that Hitman is 2016’s best game.
Saying that, what game is “the best,” like all opinions, is subjective and doesn’t matter, but I still am baffled by many publications ranking Hitman lower than DOOM, for instance.
It baffles me because, between the two reboots, Hitman deserves more credit.
Both franchises opted for a back to basics approach after their previous iteration strayed from the formula, but the difference is that DOOM’s approach of running and gunning is a comparatively easy one to replicate. Hitman’s mechanics, on the other hand, are specific and complex. That IO-Interactive nearly perfected the gameplay while delivering it with the amount of detail and polish that’s on display is an achievement. I think those choosing the “Game of the Year” should also consider the lasting power of the nominees. While I can only speak from my experience, its replay value is second to none as it remains my go-to game today. My initial fears regarding lack of content were put to rest when I saw the weekly updates that bring new missions to existing levels. All of this is to say that if you’re like me and were put off by the release plan or were burned by Hitman Absolution, then you will be pleasantly surprised if you do pick it up… It is the game of the year after all.