Agent 47 has taken some risks in his time, but in doing so has made the Hitman franchise one of the most consistent in gaming. Here’s why Hitman 3 is the perfect encapsulation of a live-service title.
Can you believe it’s been twenty-one years since we first met Agent 47? The first game in the franchise, Hitman: Codename 47, offered something pretty new to gamers; inventive murder puzzle boxes with multiple solutions, a deep disguise-based system, and the concept of leaving a level without anyone knowing you were there at all.
After Hitman 2, Contracts and Blood Money continued to hone the formula, the series took a more action-based turn with Hitman: Absolution, and lost a little piece of itself. Infamously rebooting the franchise in Hitman 2016 with an episodic structure before dropping it again, Hitman’s now-complete “World of Assassination” trilogy stands as the purest distillation of a “live-service game” as of Hitman 3.
A true globe-trotting adventure
When I think of a live-service game, I immediately think of Destiny. Bungie’s sci-fi shooter has had me hooked since the beta, but it’s no poster child for game preservation. The game spawned a sequel, which didn’t carry any progress over, and is now stuck in a loop of adding and “vaulting” paid and free content every few months.
Take Fortnite, though, one of the world’s most popular games. It’s constantly reinventing itself, sure, but can you go back and play on the original battle royale map, with the original weapons?
Hitman, however, is a different breed. Because of its single-player focus, it can essentially work in a more modular structure. Players can jump into Hitman 3, for example, and enjoy the included locations. If they already own Hitman 2016 or Hitman 2, though, those levels can be imported in as well.
That’s exciting because each comes with minor additions like reflections that enemies can use to spot 47, or the return of the split-screen view that shows your target’s demise even if you’re nowhere near.
As a result, Hitman 3 serves up a huge amount of content if players want it. It’s an exciting prospect, not just for Hitman fans, but for new players as well, because a Hitman 3 Starter pack is entirely free. This free-to-play option wisely cycles through the game’s locations, so you can try multiple missions if you’re willing to wait.
With Hitman 2016 and Hitman 2 regularly on sale, too, it’s easier than ever to get caught up.
Live events done right
Levels are one thing, but since Hitman 2016 the franchise has been experimenting with live events called Elusive Targets. These targets are dropped into one of the game’s existing locations, and it’s your job to locate them and eliminate them. The catch is that you only ever get one chance, and you aren’t able to save midway through.
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This means the mode rewards tactical flexibility while making players plan for multiple eventualities. You might have every intention of poisoning your target’s cup of coffee, but it’s worth having a powerful sniper rifle tucked away somewhere in case you need it.
These Elusive Targets cycle back around if you do mess things up, and many are themed. At Christmas, players have been tasked with eliminating Santa, as well as Harry and Marv from the Home Alone movies. Another has you working to kill one of a pair of identical twins, where the other one is your client.
We’ve even had missions to kill Sean Bean, infamous in movies for his characters snuffing it, but who seems to be a nightmare to take out in Hitman’s universe.
That’s not to say there haven’t been missteps. The Seven Deadly Sins DLC is essentially a set of new cosmetics tied to existing locations, while the fun Ghost Mode that saw players compete to kill the target with the best rating was swiftly garrotted after Hitman 2.
Still, asymmetric multiplayer remains through the Contracts mode, allowing players to create their own targets and set certain objectives as they compete to be the best assassin.
The good news is that despite launching in January of 2021, Hitman 3 isn’t done yet. The game will add new modes, new maps, and more in 2022, despite developer IO Interactive working on a James Bond game.
While a new entry in the franchise seems unlikely for some time, and the World of Assassination trilogy is now finished, we’re hopeful that IO keeps the same structure in whichever Hitman title comes next.