I remember the first time I set foot in the lavish party of the Paris level for season one of IO Interactive's Hitman. I took one of its many suggested approaches: I impersonated a model, killed my targets successfully, and went on my merry way. My second time hopping back into the level, I decided to take a freeform approach—I ignored the guidelines laid out for me in the menu, and decided to wing it.
That was the beauty of Hitman's episodic approach, contrary to the largely negative response that seemed to surround the structure in the early goings of its release. Then the episodes rolled out over the course of a year, and the tone largely changed. This episodic structure for Hitman not only worked, it felt like the ideal way to play the game. And for Hitman 2, the second season (or just plain sequel), is unfortunately getting rid of that format.
What made episodic Hitman so great was that it allowed me to take my time exploring its large-scale levels. With its sandbox nature, it often felt like anything was possible. And in a lot of ways, it was. Any sort of approach to an assassination was feasible, whether it was laid out in a step-by-step guide in the menu or your own personal keen eye for assassination guided you. No matter how you wanted to play it, you could figure things out and experiment on the fly. A bathroom could become a stash room for corpses and disguises; a nearby pipe could be climbed to get to a higher level, avoiding the need for a specific disguise. With the episodic release structure, every level's corners and challenges were encouraged to be explored. If it were all played in one sitting, you could just blaze through the levels and assassinations without ever feeling the inkling to stop and smell the roses. You could assassinate without ever looking twice over your shoulder, and wondering what could have been.
The episodic release structure forbade that binge, because Hitman: Season 1 is not a bingeable game. Like a good television show, it was best when taken in slowly; where the week or weeks between episodes became fodder for rewatching or exploring fan theories. In Hitman, I was able to savor every level's detail and unique quirks and disguises. I loved the sun-kissed coast of Sapienza, and the sprawling amount of pathways laid out. The mansion, for example, had a number of secret entry points. I could dress up as a cook and sneak in through the back, or hike all the way around until I found a clear path. On just one runthrough, the breadth of Sapienza's intricate level design isn't really comprehendable. It's on your return trips where you really soak it in.
Hitman: Season 1 is arguably one of the best uses of an episodic structure, because it never waited too long in between episodes and peppered in limited time "Elusive Targets" and other challenges to keep you interested and coming back too. In an era of games as services, Hitman: Season 1 was one of the rare examples of keeping players engaged in a healthy, exciting way, and it's why every episode felt exciting to explore even for your tenth time. (Minus the lackluster Colorado episode.)
Thus, learning that Hitman 2 won't be adopting the same structure is a big disappointment. From a business perspective, it's probably the smarter deal—and I'm sure there are fans out there happy about this change. But as someone who considers Hitman one of the best games of 2016, I'm worried that cramming everything Hitman 2 has to offer in one single release might hinder it. It's easy to burn out on a game like Hitman, and with all the content being available at launch, it might be a bit too much for the assassin. It's being turned into a binge game now, rather than one to be carefully savored with each bite.
Still, IO Interactive talked in a stream today about the game's post-launch content, which will remain free like the Elusive Targets from season one. Personally, I'm hoping that sort of content's expanded now that Hitman 2 is doing away with its whole episodic structure. Maybe the team at IO will experiment with redressing levels again, such as Sapienza being turned into a movie set for the bonus The Icon episode. Maybe we'll see more holiday-themed events too, like the one where I hid in a bathroom with a Christmas tree waiting for Santa to show up so I could murder Santa and wear his jolly suit.
Even with my grievances in doing away with the episodic structure, the news of a new Hitman is still something to look forward to. After IO Interactive's rough couple of years and near-loss of the Hitman license altogether, WB Games is publishing it this time around. You can still probably drown a man in a toilet, a fitting way to kill for the "most creative assassin." Agent 47 gets his handy briefcase back, something that was absent in the prior season. I just hope it's a binge that doesn't feel like too much of a good thing. I'll miss poking at each level in solitude with those months in between, knowing that on the horizon was always a new map with unexpected wonders to explore. Like discovering Agent 47's dormant drumming skills. That boy can drum!