The release of Hitman 3 has been met with high praise from critics, but not all as gone entirely smoothly with friction around integrating with the previous titles in the trilogy causing concern, especially for the PC community. It leads me to wonder whether IO Interactive missed a trick by moving away from Hitman 2016’s episodic release structure?
The history of episodic game releases isn’t one necessarily filled with success. SiN only saw the one episode released, and the cliff-hanger we’ve been left on since Half-Life: Episode 2 still hurts. The release of Hitman in 2016 was proof that with the right game, going episodic could work. I remember reading the excitement doing the rounds over the course of 2016 as new levels were released on a monthly schedule and appreciating (from afar) the work that IO Interactive had done.
The release schedule gave players time to fully explore and understand each location. The secrets of the Paris level unfurled as the first month went by, soon followed by speed runners competing for a spot at the top of the leaderboards. With so much on offer in each location with the main targets, story missions and numerous challenges available, the pacing of the releases “really allowed a lot of people to dig very deep into the levels because we obviously had them at a month at a time until a new level came out…we got a lot of feedback from both players and some journalists saying it sort of forced your hand to really dig in there, and we believe that was a big strength.”
That was creative director Christian Elverdam talking to Screen Rant in 2018 about the decision to release Hitman 2 as a complete package. Christian went on to say “we had players say it was a shame not to be able to play the story from start to finish…then, the story itself is only a portion of the game – the story that will actually be available on Day 1. And it also allows us some freedom that I also like, which is it’s anyone’s guess where the next [elusive] target is going to be, what’s going to happen.”
I can appreciate the arguments from IO Interactive for moving away from the episodic release schedule as the live content around elusive targets, escalation contracts and more are key parts of the appeal of the World of Assassination trilogy. In hindsight I wonder in IO would have preferred to have kept with the episodic approach.
Imagine a world where Hitman 2 was released as Hitman: Season 2. Through the wizardry of patches they could have brought the technological improvements seen in the sequel into the core game and allowing for a smoother user experience around retaining game progression and still being able to play all of the locations in one package.
While you can import Hitman 2016’s levels into the sequel and onwards into Hitman 3, the process isn’t straightforward. Take a read of the official guide to the process to importing progression and levels and see if you can make head or tail of it on first sight. Let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a mess in the best world for those who own the games on consoles (albeit in the right format), but on the PC things are even worse.
For those who bought the first two games on Steam, the only way (at the time of writing) to get the Hitman and Hitman 2 levels playable in the latest game is to buy an access pack on the Epic store where the new game is a PC exclusive. Where PC gamers historically used to have advantages in these situations over console players, with Hitman 3 the tables have been turned.
It doesn’t help that there are multiple ‘access packs’ available on the Epic store with the differences (apart from price) buried in the descriptor text. Even then they amount to saying, “Purchasing or redeeming this Access Pass will grant access to the locations from [Hitman 1 or 2 version]”. The blame here doesn’t fall squarely on IO’s shoulders, and some consideration needs to be given to this being their first self-published title, but perhaps Epic listing the locations and contracts available in each access pack would offer some clarity to the matter. It doesn’t make up for the fact that back in August 2020 the studio said “We want to make it a seamless process for our PC players to enjoy Hitman 3 on a different PC platform and continue to enjoy the benefits of our World of Assassination.”
While I can understand that going from Square-Enix publishing the 2016 Hitman, to Warner Bros. handling the release of Hitman 2 to self-publishing can’t have been an easy process, I do wonder whether continuing with the episodic approach would have paid off better, perhaps by using the season pass moniker that is au fait with multiplayer live service games.
Having just completed the first game in the World of Assassination trilogy, I can appreciate how good the games are. I just wish the release process had continued in the same vein as the first game. Or that at the very least, Steam players aren’t being disenfranchised as they are.