As Hitman veterans know, it's all about creative approaches, and this year IO Interactive is embracing an innovative concept for the latest upcoming installment in its triple-A series: episodic content. It's certainly a risky approach—the safer option for triple-A games, at least when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship with its audience, is to release a game and then sell expansions, DLC, or what have you after the fact. Perhaps even throw in some free content for some brownie points.
This time around, Hitman will be selling on March 11, 2016 an Intro Pack for $15 that will include two tutorial missions and one mission in Paris. Every month following that until the end of the year, IO Interactive will release new content at $9.99, with Sapienza in April, Marrakesh in May, and then Thailand, U.S., and Japan (and likely more) sometime along the way to the holiday season. Now, you can forego this $9.99/episode plan altogether by paying full price at launch; this means that you would be effectively paying $59.99 for the Intro Pack and a “season pass” (even if it isn't called that) which is effectively worth $90 if IO Interactive sticks to the plan of releasing a new episode every month after March.
Given the heated controversy over season passes and episodic content in general, I don't have to tell anyone that this shift in pricing model has split Hitman fans. Some have already speculated that IO Interactive is shuffling around its release strategy for monetary reasons. While that may be correct, some players will decide not to pay for the game until it's “complete” while others see the Intro Pack as a paid demo in a similar way to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Sven Liebold, the brand PR for IO Interactive who fielded some of the questions I had at a private Square Enix event, believes that this episodic structure will allow IO Interactive to incorporate more community feedback as the game marches along its lifespan, almost as if it were a game for Steam Early Access with frequent updates.
At the same time, Hitman will be difficult to review properly at the outset as the game will be packed with content by the end of the year, about three times as much by comparison. Updating a review every time more content is introduced would be time-consuming too as that would mean 10 separate reviews. We'll see how each website will deal with Hitman's release plan; perhaps we'll see more rolling reviews as a practice.
Regardless, the Intro Pack's missions still live up to the Hitman name... even if it's just three. The story follows Agent 47 being dropped off at a facility high in the mountains by helicopter to being tested for entry into the hitman program. His handler, a mysterious woman named Diana, convinces her boss to let him follow through with the field tests, despite her boss doubting his backstory.
The two field tests begin with a tutorial mission during a yacht party where you must kill an art dealer named Kalvin, before moving forward to another tutorial mission where you must navigate a well-guarded airbase holding chessmater and Soviet spy Jasper Knight. From there, you'll fly to Paris for a fashion show to take out Viktor Novikov and Dalia Margolis how may seem to be high-fashion designers but are actually the leaders of the Iago spy ring that has obtained a list of MI6's spies.
Now, I don't want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say, you'll need to improvise on the fly and explore each area for security weakpoints, while avoiding people who are suspicious of Agent 47, even if he is disguised as a mechanic, waiter, bartender, or supermodel. To challenge you and to guide you, each mission has a list of feats that reveal how to dispatch the targets in different ways, like using rat poison, drowning a target in a toilet bowl, sniping the targets out of sight, releasing a chandelier on top of the target, or causing a life raft accident. During the mission itself, some “opportunities” will pop up if you are attentive enough and will alert you to possible weakness you can exploit, like learning that a jet needs to go through a safety inspection.
Another point of difference for the new Hitman is the inclusion of elusive targets, which is essentially hardcore mode that will be offered for a limited time. For only 48 hours, players will be given a photo of a target and will only have one shot. Miss the target and, sorry, you can't replay it at all.
Hitman will release on March 8, 2016 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC with the PS4 version coming with six exclusive missions called The Sarajevo Six. The PS4 will also host the beta on February 19 for those who pre-ordered the game.