Looking Back: The Origins of Hitman

Hitman: Codename 47 is a game I remember fondly from when it was first released. I had maximum hype replaying the demo, exploring every permutation for the restaurant assassination or just running around shooting mindlessly. As an adolescent, I thought it was one of the coolest concepts ever. Thankfully, when it came out it wasn't a disappointment, although it's too long ago to remember more than hazily. After purchasing the series courtesy of a Steam sale I decided to replay the original: not bad timing, considering that Hitman V has been announced.
 
Anyway, to get to the game itself, the gameplay concepts were, for the time, quite novel and well-executed. Thief had been released two years prior, but Hitman wasn't a mere retread of that brilliant game. One of its defining mechanics was the ability to change one's appearance, namely to open up otherwise inaccessible areas, perform a role that allows you to pull off the hit, lose pursuers if discovered, or fit in with patrolling goons. It's a great concept and executed quite well. As a result, most missions can accordingly be accomplished stealthily, with little or no loss of life. The game stresses the importance of this, posing heavy penalties for indiscriminate mayhem or dying (ie. using a continue). If you're too unsubtle the Agency may even decide to terminate you. Another key aspect was monitoring guard routes in order to avoid detection or time kills when out of sight. Although not perfect, the AI was impressive for the era and punished sloppy execution. Bodies had to be kept hidden, weapons kept out of sight unless appropriate, etc.
  
However, Codename 47 is also an action game, and missions that involve a lot of combat are by far the weakest. The guns are laggy, weak, and often inaccurate, Hitman takes a lot of damage, and they don't fit in well with the concept of the game. It makes for a schizophrenic play experience. By far the worst offenders are the missions "Say Hello to My Little Friend" and "Plutonium Runs Loose", which are the longest and most challenging. "Say Hello" has you take out a drug leader surrounded by virtually an entire company of troops, some stationed in watchtowers, as well as multiple objectives that require you to not only alarm every soldier in the base but perform a Benny Hill impersonation twice as you try to avoid the hail of machine-gun fire. "Plutonium Runs Loose" is similar, in that it has a lot of enemies, but you also have to ensure that you're relatively stealthy and thorough in killing everyone otherwise the target will be alerted, activate a nuke, and run to his limo to escape. Fucking asshole. Although the gunplay might have been acceptable for the time, it hasn't aged well, and shows up as the weak link in the original's design.
  
I also found that the game's presentation holds up relatively well from a design standpoint. The visuals are atmospheric and the music is pretty good.  There's a storyline in there, but it's pretty haphazardly told and forgettable. Something about cloning and creating the perfect killer, the standard paranoia concerning genetic manipulation. Anyway, despite its missteps I found replaying the first Hitman to be a highly enjoyable and nostalgic experience, and definitely one of the more seminal games in the stealth-action genre. Hitman 2 and Blood Money are definitely next on the list to play.
 
So, what were your experiences with the Hitman series, and how do you rate the first? What do you want to see out of the fifth game?
9 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by owl_of_minerva
Hitman: Codename 47 is a game I remember fondly from when it was first released. I had maximum hype replaying the demo, exploring every permutation for the restaurant assassination or just running around shooting mindlessly. As an adolescent, I thought it was one of the coolest concepts ever. Thankfully, when it came out it wasn't a disappointment, although it's too long ago to remember more than hazily. After purchasing the series courtesy of a Steam sale I decided to replay the original: not bad timing, considering that Hitman V has been announced.
 
Anyway, to get to the game itself, the gameplay concepts were, for the time, quite novel and well-executed. Thief had been released two years prior, but Hitman wasn't a mere retread of that brilliant game. One of its defining mechanics was the ability to change one's appearance, namely to open up otherwise inaccessible areas, perform a role that allows you to pull off the hit, lose pursuers if discovered, or fit in with patrolling goons. It's a great concept and executed quite well. As a result, most missions can accordingly be accomplished stealthily, with little or no loss of life. The game stresses the importance of this, posing heavy penalties for indiscriminate mayhem or dying (ie. using a continue). If you're too unsubtle the Agency may even decide to terminate you. Another key aspect was monitoring guard routes in order to avoid detection or time kills when out of sight. Although not perfect, the AI was impressive for the era and punished sloppy execution. Bodies had to be kept hidden, weapons kept out of sight unless appropriate, etc.
  
However, Codename 47 is also an action game, and missions that involve a lot of combat are by far the weakest. The guns are laggy, weak, and often inaccurate, Hitman takes a lot of damage, and they don't fit in well with the concept of the game. It makes for a schizophrenic play experience. By far the worst offenders are the missions "Say Hello to My Little Friend" and "Plutonium Runs Loose", which are the longest and most challenging. "Say Hello" has you take out a drug leader surrounded by virtually an entire company of troops, some stationed in watchtowers, as well as multiple objectives that require you to not only alarm every soldier in the base but perform a Benny Hill impersonation twice as you try to avoid the hail of machine-gun fire. "Plutonium Runs Loose" is similar, in that it has a lot of enemies, but you also have to ensure that you're relatively stealthy and thorough in killing everyone otherwise the target will be alerted, activate a nuke, and run to his limo to escape. Fucking asshole. Although the gunplay might have been acceptable for the time, it hasn't aged well, and shows up as the weak link in the original's design.
  
I also found that the game's presentation holds up relatively well from a design standpoint. The visuals are atmospheric and the music is pretty good.  There's a storyline in there, but it's pretty haphazardly told and forgettable. Something about cloning and creating the perfect killer, the standard paranoia concerning genetic manipulation. Anyway, despite its missteps I found replaying the first Hitman to be a highly enjoyable and nostalgic experience, and definitely one of the more seminal games in the stealth-action genre. Hitman 2 and Blood Money are definitely next on the list to play.
 
So, what were your experiences with the Hitman series, and how do you rate the first? What do you want to see out of the fifth game?
Posted by TheDudeOfGaming

I played the first Hitman when i was around 7-8 didn't know English very well at the time so i would just kill everyone and hopefully pass a mission.

Posted by CaptainTightPants

I actually started with Hitman 2 on the Gamecube but I never got in to it. Later on I bought Hitman 2 on the Xbox and I fell in love with the game, there was just something about every plan coming together and knowing that the execution was coming closer and closer that I found to be fun. I continued with Hitman Contracts which was definitely my least favorite although I still loved it. 
 
Then came Hitman Blood Money, and I thought that was absolute perfection. I replayed level after level just to see the different ways of completing it. I unlocked every gun modification and after wards I went back for the Silent Assassin rating. 
 
I played Hitman Codename 47 after every other entry, and I actually enjoyed it a whole lot. That restaurant level where you could pop out of the restroom and just shoot the targets down was incredibly fun. 
 
 The Splinter Cell and Hitman games would always be the games I would go back to over and over, I still go back to them right now actually. I do hope that the new Hitman entry at least has a bit of focus on stealth and planning, because the newest Splinter Cell games focused on action more than anything else.

Posted by TreeHouse

It was the first time i saw ragdoll physics!

Posted by Jaqen_HGhar

I also just started revisiting Hitman. Bought the Ultimate Contract box, which contains all games on one DVD. 
I got as far as the "Say Hello..." mission before I went on to play Hitman 2. The focus on shooting up the place is just not what I like Hitman for, and it seems I remember the first game being more stealthy than it really is. What is funny is that I am certain I managed to beat that mission when I was younger without really killing that many people. I remember getting an outfit that allowed me to walk around with the sniper found in one tower, then sniping the bastard from outside through the window. But that just doesn't work for me now. 
 
The first game is good, and I like the story really. But revisiting it now makes me think it is the weakest in the series. Having a rating, and having a focus on only killing your target, makes the later games a lot more fun. 
 
For the next game, I hope they stick to the stealth and planning as they have in the latest games. If it is possible to beat every level without killing anyone but your target, then I am happy. If you cannot do that the first time, but later once you have unlocked more weapons for your customizable safe house, then I am even happier. I love unlocking shit.   
 
Also, I want the slow motion button from Codename 47 back. That is so much fun to play with.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Hitman is a series that appeals to me in concept more than anything else. I've never played a single one, and have occasionally toyed with doing so, but then I remember that even though I'm not nearly as violently opposed to stealth games as some other people, I'm also not very good at them. Never finished Thief, and the way I played Metal Gear Solid consisted of "Shoot everyone in the head with a tranq dart" Which worked for the most part.

Posted by Icemael

I've only played Blood Money so I can't comment on the others, but if it's a good indication of what the rest of the games is like, they can't be very good. 
 
I actually loved Blood Money at first, and seriously expected it to end up as one of my very favorite games of all time. A couple of missions in, however, it went downhill. While there were light action elements, it was more than anything a puzzle game, and what puzzle games need are variation -- unlike a reflex-based challenge, a puzzle stops being challenging when you've overcome it once (unless you forget how to solve it, but than can take years). Blood Money had no variation. While the environments changed (and were all amazing -- serious props to the artists), every mission basically boiled down to the following:

  1. Find a guy with an outfit that lets you go to more places. Wait until no one sees and kill him.
  2. Go to the places you couldn't before.
  3. Find a guy with an outfit that lets you go to even more places. Wait until no one sees and kill him.
  4. Go to the places you couldn't before.
  5. Find your target and kill him.

It remained fun for about four missions, but after that it was unbearably tedious. I never even bothered to finish the game.

Posted by CL60
@TreeHouse said:
" It was the first time i saw ragdoll physics! "
Ragdoll blew my mind when I first saw it.
Edited by owl_of_minerva
@Resident4t:  @Durandir: I agree, it'd be a let down if they went full action with Hitman V. Stealth and planning are essential to the series.
 
@Icemael: Well, in the first's defense it came out 11 years ago, and it wasn't quite that formulaic. There were often multiple solutions to each level and the planning and execution could be quite challenging. Your criticism is valid though: it applies to the first to some extent, but should be less true of the sequels. I haven't played Blood Money but if they simplified the later games instead of making them deeper and more varied that's disappointing.
Posted by ahoodedfigure

I had Hitman for my Gamecube, and I didn't get very far. I was pretty good at Thief, always taking the highest difficulty level and loving the challenge, but for some reason I never quite fell into the mode Hitman wanted from me. Maybe I needed to take more time on missions, but I soon found myself playing other things. I probably would have enjoyed it, especially for the added challenge of not killing indiscriminately, if I'd spent more time with it.