When Square Enix and IO Interactive announced a new Hitman game at E3 2015, it promised something different, something new for the franchise, but ultimately it promised something confusing.
The messaging surrounding how the episodic game would be released was shambolic, but ultimately IO settled on the simplest and best release model. When the game finally launched in March, the focus was entirely on how it played.
As it turns out, the episodic structure suits this series perfectly. Seven months later and the refined gameplay of this freer version of Hitman was put to test in a host of locations, housing dozens of targets and secrets to discover.
Today (31 October) sees the release of the season finale: set in a state-of-the-art hospital in Hokkaido, Japan, for the exclusive use of the world's richest and most influential. Agent 47 is there to finish season one in style.
Ahead of the episode's release, IBTimes UK sat down with game director Christian Elverdam.
IBTimes UK: As the season comes to its conclusion, what would you consider its greatest success, and what would you have liked to improve?
Christian Elverdam: I think the greatest success is that we're here. When we talked about the season in the beginning, there was this promise that we would have constant beats and a good rhythm for the season. I'm very happy that we delivered that. I think it's part of why, in the last few months, we're getting a lot of praise and a lot of positive feedback on the episodic format.
A little bit in the same vein, if I was to improve anything it would be our communication at the start. I think it confused people a little bit more than it should have done. We were trying to figure out what would be the best way to put out the game, and I think we ended up making the right decision because – at least from my point of view – I always wanted the episodes to stand on their own and then be fully appreciated for all the hard work that goes into creating these subplots and all the different things you can do.
Do you think that confusion hurt the game, in its earliest stages?
I think any confusion, when you're doing something new, is not good for the game at all. I knew that it hurt it. I think people jumped in and enjoyed it, but there was, obviously, more scepticism than there maybe needed to be. As I said, I think we came through with flying colours, and we just kept at it and, said we're committed to doing this. I feel very happy where we are right now, but yeah, sure, a rough start is not a great thing for something completely new.
What can players expect from the season finale and Hokkaido in terms of challenge and how it offers something different from previous episodes?
I think they can expect us to continue with what we did with Colorado, that we continue to play a little bit with the formula they have grown accustomed to. We go full circle in so many ways. We go full circle on the story, we've closed the book on Soders. Also in how we started with Paris and this exclusive-feeling setting, with really high echelons of power, I think it's a little bit of the same feeling in Hokkaido. We were playing a lot with mechanics like, what is life and death, literally, and what does this disguise actually mean, what does trespassing mean, so we're taking some of the things that they know and we're just giving them a little bit of a twist.
Agent 47 starts out as a patient, which means that you don't have any gear, you start in your kimono. If you've grown accustomed to having this sort of all the tools of your arsenal available, Erich Soders poses the ultimate challenge for you in the end.
Sapienza is a mission that will be considered one of the greatest Hitman levels ever. Did you know it was going to be special when you were developing, or did the pieces sort of just fall into place?
I can faithfully tell you that the first time I set foot in it, with the team, I said that this was a spectacular level. You could feel it from the get-go that it was on to something special. You know, Paris, even though it's actually bigger, square metre wise, than Sapienza, mentally it feels smaller because you're infiltrating a Parisian palace and you're going okay, maybe there's a few floors and a basement, and you can mentally map it, and you can't map Sapienza the same way. It's a level that keeps unveiling itself.
What's your personal favourite kill of the season?
It's a little bit unfair, because I think there are many, many good ones. If I have to point out one kill, I'd still have to say... this one is just so ballsy, I mean all of it. TheKotti, he's one of our super-hardcore players. For the first elusive target, the very first one in Paris, he was trying to predict, if you blow up a fire extinguisher, where it lands. So what he does [embedded below], cheeky bastard... he puts it on the lawn, in Paris, then he fires it up so, this is just physics, it flies up and hits the elusive target on the balcony and kills them.
It's an elusive target so it's like, it's so ballsy, and it's the first one so it could screw up in so many ways. Obviously, he was training in the main mission trying to figuring out how to make it bounce. In the spirit of what the game we're building is, I think that's the stuff I hoped would happen, but you can't predict, so I really love that.
There are many others, I think all the levels have their marquee assassinations, so I don't know if I can point to a favourite. I always love the psychiatrist in Sapienza – there's something about how restrained it actually is as a moment, if you know what I mean. Normally it's about guns blazing and stuff crashing, and now the game is like, I have horned glasses and I'm like...
It's that dark humour that runs through Hitman.
Yeah, and also we have one piece of key art which we call the chess master where 47 is sitting in a chair with his pistol, and we call it the chess master because I always had this image of him being one step ahead. I mean, he can run, he can shoot, he can do a lot of things, but his actual weapon is that he's one step ahead. He figured out everything.
You had a much better answer than me. I was going to say when you dumped a toilet on the general's head in Marrakech... You've always talked about this as the first season, obviously you've got ambitions to make more. To what extent have you thought about, or planned a second season?
When we announced the game, at E3, I did a small presentation about this world of assassination and our idea was we will build a universe that can span seasons basically, without specifying how many seasons, but just saying it's going to be, basically hereby expanding, and I think that's as close as we are going to get right now. We're thinking about a lot of different things, but we are also still very much in the process of, we're literally just wrapping up Hokkaido, right, and we're still learning and trying to decipher all the stuff that's happened. It's literally tons of feedback and learning.
I think we've succeeded in building a story that kind of starts and concludes very nicely with the Soders story. He's at the peak of his power in the beginning, right? Deciding whether 47 should live or die, and then in the end it's literally inversed. At the same time we still managed to keep some doors open, like you would expect in a good TV series: close a few doors, open some other doors.