Games that break themselves: Hitman 2
Posted on 9th Feb 2009 at 06:58 by Joe Martin with 12 comments
It’s an odd, old purchase admittedly, but the buying habits of game journos tend to be quite different from regular customers in my experience. I already get sent and get to play all the new games as they come out, so any money I spend in stores is dedicated to collecting older games I missed out on before.
Hitman 2 though is a game I have a turbulent and colourful history, mainly because of one aspect of its game design. I've tried to complete it four times now and each time I've given up when I got to the Japanese levels.
Playing Hitman 2 over the weekend, I again got to the second Japanese level (the one with the ninjas, where you have to infiltrate the castle) and I thought of giving up on it again.
The reason I’ve never managed to get past this level properly is quite simple; it’s here that the game betrays itself in my eyes.
The Hitman games have always been about puzzle-solving and adaptation in my eyes. There are multiple ways to tackle every mission, with each one having at least two ways to complete them in a perfect way – using only one or no bullets. There are special poisons and traps on each level and the process of finding them and springing them is fantastic.
At the same time though, you never feel like you’re going through a linear event because your plans always go awry the first few times. You have to improvise, taking down alerted guards and swapping disguises if bodies are discovered. It genuinely feels creative, emergent and realistic...until you get to the Japanese canyon level with its ninjas and snipers who shoot you in a second.
This level breaks the game for me in two ways. Firstly, it breaks the suspension of disbelief to think that there’s only one path into this Japanese mafia boss' castle and that he has it guarded by more than 70 men – especially when the target is supposed to have been in hiding for years.
Secondly, the awareness and vigilance of the ninjas and snipers breaks the back of the game. This level isn’t about springing a trap; it’s about finding a singular path through the snowy tunnels with no apparent reward. It strays too far from the formula the game builds up of being about a silent assassin. It feels more like a badly made shooter than a well made sneaker.
It’s something I’ve noticed in other games too, where they stray too far from the actual concept and disappoint players. It’s like that bit in Mirror’s Edge where you have to fight all the soldiers while you wait for the lift to come and you ask yourself; wasn’t this game about running, not fighting?
This time I’m pushing on with the game however, forcing through this shoddy bit to see if the game can pick up – mainly because I’ve heard the later games correct this fault. The question that’s bothering me though is, if everything I’ve heard about the later games is true, then why did it take IO Interactive so long to realise what players wanted from the design they came up with?