Square Enix has announced the fourth chapter of IO Interactive's ongoing assassination game-slash-experiment in episodic content, Hitman. Debuting August 16, the next sequence in Agent 47's ongoing crusade to kill dudes real quiet-like will transpire in Bangkok and involve a rock band.
I haven't personally played any of the Hitman episodes, but USgamer team members who have invested themselves into the games — most notably Bob — have had nothing but good to say about them. This latest entry has definitely caught my attention, and in large part because of the hefty marketing and planning the publisher has invested into one of the most fleeting, ephemeral game experiences ever conceived.
While players have the ability to play and replay each episode exhaustively — indeed, that's the central idea behind their open, sandbox-style design — each episode also contains a single objective that players only get a single shot at completing. Called Elusive Targets, these potential assassination victims have been designed in such a way that they only appear in the game once. If you fail to take them out in your first attempt, they'll escape to safety and you'll never have another shot at them. It's a ballsy idea for a video game, especially in our age of achievement-hunters and completionists. But the remarkable thing is how this blink-and-you-miss it element of the game has become a central draw for its design... including, it appears, the company's marketing to press.
A few days ago I received a record in the mail by a band I'd never heard of: Providence, by The Class. I would have assumed it was a legitimate promo EP if not for the fact that the FedEx tracking code said "HITMAN RECORD." A quick search revealed that its arrival had coincided with the release of a music video by the band, which fans quickly recognized as a tie-in to Hitman — The Class lead singer Jordan Cross, according to some online fan analysis of the video, is the most-referenced character in the Hitman episodes who has yet to make an appearance in-game. From there, some people deduced Cross would be Agent 47's next target... a hunch that was confirmed today with Square Enix's press release for Episode 4.
Moreover, some people assume that either Cross or his lawyer (the two known targets for the upcoming episode) will be the next Elusive Target. If that turns out to be the case, that would mean Square Enix and IO have invested an incredible amount of effort into creating a story, and marketing, around a character who may appear on-screen only time only for just a few minutes. That music video probably wasn't cheap to produce, and the fact that they pressed a vinyl record is just ridiculous. There are only a handful of vinyl plants in the world, and the format's resurgence of popularity means they're all backlogged for months with orders. That's a lot of work and a lot of advance planning for a bit of viral marketing. (Shame they used some sort of awful voice modulation on The Class' lead singer — the music would be pretty good otherwise.)
Having been in the gaming press for many, many years, I rarely find game marketing anything other than annoying... but the sheer effort and planning that's being poured into Hitman is definitely an attention-grabber and makes me legitimately curious to play the games. Although the historian and archivist in me finds the idea of a game that vanishes into the ether by design frankly horrifying, it's both interesting and fun to see a publisher invest this much effort into something that players may only experience for a vanishing moment.