I see a lot of "this game is so good" posts on this sub and instead of being annoyed by them I almost always read them to see what people are saying, and why specifically they like Hitman so much. Often, it seems people are really excited about the humor, or the story, or the artistry of the world and characters, and while I like these things about Hitman, I've recently realized that what makes the series so good, to me, is that it's basically the antithesis of most modern videogames.
Videogamedunkey actually just posted a great
about how most modern AAA games are basically the same: explore an open world, level up, craft weapons/armor, get new skills, fight stronger enemies, repeat. It's fucking boring. In the last few years I've noticed that I no longer care to play games designed around leveling up, and I think that's why I have been playing the hell out of the most recent Hitman titles.
What I mean is: a player starting Hitman has effectively the exact same in-game abilities as the most seasoned player. You don't level up to gain new abilities. You don't gain increased HP or more armor. You don't really get any game-changing weapons or tools apart from, perhaps, silenced weapon variants. And yet there's a huge difference between a new player and a veteran.
More interesting is that you don't even really get "good" at Hitman by playing it. You just get smarter. You replay levels and approach the same problem from multiple angles. You learn where items and secret routes are, where characters go, when and how to exploit opportunities. Escalations are brilliant twists on the Hitman formula that actually reinforce the core gameplay mechanics of replaying levels and experimenting, because they often make you REALLY familiar with small portions of each level, so when you go back to that level for a new mission, or to replay an old mission, you remember, "OK there's that wrench here, and that guard will go that way, and from that room I can hop out the window and…" And now you have a new "tool" in your tool set, not because you bought it from a vendor or progressed up a skill tree, but because you invested the time and attention to learn the game, and to thoroughly explore its world.
In a gaming ecosystem dominated by skill trees, collectibles, level-ups, lookout towers, and all kinds of other gamey bullshit, Hitman gives you all the tools you need up front, and in doing so empowers you as a player, putting you into the shoes of a character who actually feels powerful because he starts the game at max level. He's not killing rats in a sewer for a sword that will let him kill the gnolls in the field outside. There are no mini-bosses. It's just you and the targets, and there's never a question about whether you can beat them, but whether you can do so efficiently and effectively. (And if you want to shoot them in the face in a room full of people, you can do that, too!)
On top of that, what "leveling up" there is in the game isn't tacked on as just some way to make the gameplay loop more addictive. Like Escalations, mastery levels actually reinforce the core gameplay mechanics of replayability and experimentation: mastery rewards don't make 47 more powerful, they just open up new options for approaching the game's many challenges. And by trying these options, just like by playing the Escalations, you're seeing new parts of a level, and discovering new items and interactions, and in doing so, becoming more powerful as a player, rather than a collection of stats and gear.
And this isn't to say I don't also appreciate the more commonly-mentioned aspects of the game, like the small story and character details that I'm still discovering after probably 150+ hours. (Hitman may be the only rival to Dark Souls in terms of how much content was included that the average player will never find.) Or how the levels actually have a real-world logic to them. (Hello, bathrooms! I thought you only existed in Fallout and Silent Hill games!) Or the brilliant way almost everything you need to know is conveyed visually in-game, such that I often play without the minimap and, while I find it more challenging, I don't find it unfair or even that much harder, because all of the information I need is conveyed via Instinct, enforcer dots, in-game signage, NPC body language, etc. Seriously, if you haven't tried playing without the minimap I highly recommend you try it, because it is way more cinematic and immersive, and will really make you appreciate how incredibly well-designed this game is.
ANYWAY. This got long. But I wanted to share because, while I've seen some great analysis of Hitman's game design, I haven't seen anyone recognize it for what I believe it is, and what I think makes it so great: a near-complete rejection of modern game design.
I think the same elements I love about Hitman are also what I loved about games like Celeste, Into the Breach, and Shadow Tactics. Because I don't want level ups. I don't want skill trees. I definitely don't want another fucking foraging/crafting system. I want the information I need to make smart gameplay choices. To develop new strategies. To practice the game's core mechanics, and actually improve as a player, not just get the best weapon, reach the highest level, beat the game, and never touch it again.
TL;DR: ILY, Hitman.
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