Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you should know well enough about IO Interactive’s latest project: the upcoming reboot of the Hitman franchise. The latest installment – aptly titled ‘Hitman’ – is not so much a sequel to Absolution, but a reimagining of the franchise, while allegedly sticking close to what made the Hitman games so terrific…well, before Hitman: Absolution, anyway. With that being said, provided you haven’t had your head buried in the sand like a common ostrich or politician, you should also know about the tongue-in-cheek approach that IO Interactive and Square Enix are taking with 47’s latest globetrotting adventure. Hitman will be an episodic release, but not in comparison to Life is Strange – Square Enix’s most recent episodic experience – or even Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us or Minecraft: Story Mode. It’s a little more troubling.
Hitman is, for all intents and purposes, an incomplete experience that will see continuous updates and monthly expansions for three months or so, followed by a complete physical release that should hit shelves at some point toward the end of 2016. IO Interactive have made several attempts to clarify that Hitman is not an ‘Early Access’ or ‘Game Preview’ title like what Steam and Xbox offer, respectively, despite the fact that that is exactly what Hitman looks and sounds like based on the information they’ve provided regarding the game’s release this coming March, having been delayed from this past December. It’s rather contradictory and, as a matter of fact, the quality and quantity of information that the developer has provided regarding the overall concept of Hitman has been on-the-whole underwhelming. It’s basically a reboot, even though they say it isn’t. It’s basically an Early Access title, even though they say it isn’t. It’s basically an incomplete experience, even though they say it isn’t.
Now, I’m sure there are some of you who are scratching your heads wondering, “‘Incomplete experience?’ What are you on about, mate?’” Let me explain: IO Interactive have stated that upon release in March, Hitman will launch exclusively as a digital release, containing three ‘sandbox’ locations of France, Italy and Morocco, featuring six missions altogether. Now, that’s rather underwhelming already, especially given the fact that there has really been no gauging of the depth of these missions. Yes, we have seen unofficial and official gameplay footage of the fashion show in Paris with Viktor Novikov as our target. Yes, the Paris sandbox is nicely sized and certainly bigger than the largest map in Absolution, but in my opinion (unless I need my eyes checked) it doesn’t seem like that much of a difference in size and scope. ( http://tinyurl.com/za8yyrk) Going by the size comparison that IO Interactive have provided, it does seem like a massive jump in size, but the gameplay videos (both official and unofficial) do not reflect that at all, to me anyway. With that being said, it doesn’t matter how grand your set pieces are when you have the same NPCs populating the game world. During the mission in Paris, you can easily spot ten or twenty of the same NPCs in a single room, just with outfit or hair recolors. Honestly, what is the point of having hundreds of NPCs to create a “living, breathing world” when the same NPCs are recycled every eight meters? I know I’m getting off track here, but it’s all too easy to strike up several points against the development already without even getting down to the insulting release.
Getting back on topic, IO Interactive would expect us to invest our money in an incomplete experience that has the nerve to be ticketed as full price. It’s the primary issue I take with this whole situation. It doesn’t matter which way you spin it or look at it. It doesn’t matter what excuses you make and it certainly doesn’t matter how you avoid using terminology like ‘early access,’ ‘game preview,’ etc. Hitman is an incomplete game and therefore, should not be priced as a complete one. Now, points to IO Interactive for confirming that Hitman will never offer any microtransactions or paid, post-launch downloadable content; that would truly only be further insult to injury. The true and unfortunate issue with this is that not only is Hitman an incomplete experience, but as it will be digital-only at launch, whomever is stupid enough to—I mean, whomever decides to purchase the game at launch is stuck with it. You know what that means? IO Interactive will have already received your money and could just as easily decide to not produce quality content post-launch. Hitman launches in March with three locations and six missions; throughout April, May and June, IO Interactive have promised three additional locations (Thailand, United States and Japan) with X amount of additional missions to coincide with the expansion updates. Now, what if they decide, “Eh, we’re not feeling this project anymore. Let’s just throw together something…I don’t care what it is, just to wrap this all up and move onto something else,” and the three post-launch updates are of ridiculously poor quality? You’re stuck with it and you’ve wasted the money on the game or collector’s edition or whatever version you went with. Now, sure, there will undoubtedly be a few people who have the, “Oh well,” mentality, and yes, I know that we all know that that is a risk you take with digital titles, but why does that make it okay? How exactly is the way IO Interactive going about Hitman acceptable? I’m not the kind of person to tell others how to spend their money or live their lives, but by purchasing Hitman at launch, you are actively demonstrating to IO Interactive and any other developer company in the world that this kind of practice is acceptable and that you’re willing to support it.
We’ve literally zero information regarding the overall quality of this upcoming installment to a beloved franchise, and to be quite honest, the amount of gameplay we’ve seen is hardly enough to justify a blind investment on my part. I have been a loyal Hitman fan for many years and that has come to an end in 2016. Please, don’t confuse that statement as a boycott of the game or anything of that nature. I want Hitman to launch and I want it to be worth it and do well in sales, because this is a franchise well appreciated that should continue to strive. However, I am not about to make a blind investment in this incomplete, early access title, especially at full price, in digital format that I can never rid myself of should I find myself loathing it. I’m not a fan of GameStop’s trade values whatsoever, but I would much rather get something back for a game I can’t stand than be stuck with it for all eternity, knowing that I will never get so much as a fraction of what I paid refunded.
With that being said, a friend of mine did ask a rather good question last night. “Why don’t you just preorder Hitman on PS4 and get yourself access to the beta? Doing that will at least give you a hands-on insight into what you could…somewhat expect from the overall game, even if it is just a prequel training scenario.” I did think about it quite a lot when the beta was originally announced, but I continuously asked myself why the beta was exclusive to PlayStation 4 and PC. It wasn’t until I did some reflecting and came to the disturbing conclusion: preorders on PlayStation 4 are virtually non-refundable. With purchases on the PlayStation Store, regardless of your payment method, funds are subtracted from your bank account, credit card or PayPal account and deposited into your PlayStation Wallet, and those funds are then used to complete the transaction. From what I understand, in the United States, cancelling a preorder on the PlayStation 4 is a very daunting task and once you’ve finally convinced the Sony Customer Support representative to cancel the preorder and refund your money, it gets transferred back to your PlayStation Wallet…for good. There is no option to transfer the funds in your PlayStation Wallet back to your preferred payment method. Therefore, you will never get a true refund: you just get store credit. With refunds on the Xbox One, Xbox Support will gladly refund your preorder back to the payment method used. There is no ‘Xbox Wallet’ middleman involved. Now, I’m not sure if that was a deliberate action, or if Sony paid IO Interactive and Square Enix for exclusivity rights to the beta. The latter is most doubtful, considering the fact that the beta is also coming to PC, which runs Windows OS, which is owned by Microsoft, who own Xbox. It sounds, on-the-whole, most suspicious and disturbing regardless, and it does not bode well whatsoever.
The overall approach regarding Hitman makes me most uncomfortable, primarily because there is a lot of stealth and sneakiness surrounding the release, and the lack of information surrounding the overall quality of the delivered content post-launch is disturbing. As much as I want to experience the latest Hitman title as soon as possible, I know that the best course of action would be to wait for the physical release toward the end of the year, even if that means missing out on the pretty spectacular collector’s edition. It’s worth it if it means I am not supporting this toxic practice of releasing unfinished content at full retail price as well as saving myself from a potential waste of money and a tremendous level of disappointment.