Mental Diarrhea #00002 – Hitman, Mirror’s Edge, death of culture etc etc

So Hitman: Absolution was a wet pile of shit. It abandoned a model the series had followed for years, threw a bunch of established lore, characterisation and features out the window marked ‘Retcon’ and caused a lot of lost faith in IO, who seemed hell-bent on turning their most prized IP into Kane and fucking Lynch. I’m not saying Kane and Lynch isn’t fun if you’ve got a friend and a bottle of vodka, but so are bad movies, poetry slams and awkward sexual experimentation, all of which are less likely than K&L to give you an STI. When I heard Jesper Kyd wouldn’t be returning to compose for Absolution I knew it was going to disappoint, but as a card-carrying fanboy of the series I sighed, hitched up my girdle and plonked down the £40 I needed to be proven right.

It was a horrible mess of a game and I traded it in a few days later for Far Cry 3 with no regrets. I picked it up again when it went on sale out of some kind of misguided loyalty to the series; I figured I might as well finish the damn thing. Shockingly enough it didn’t improve.

Sounds odd, but the main draw of Hitman, at least for me and some people I spoke with, was similar to that of Mirror’s Edge: the fluidity of precise movements and actions within a well-memorised landscape/scenario. Mirror’s Edge was interesting in that it actually improved with repeated plays, the first few forays into red-and-white-palette parkour mostly consisting of stabbing Templars with your wristbl- wait, no, that’s the OTHER game where a secret society seeks to disrupt authoritarian control by way of running on rooftops to a red and white colour scheme. SORRY EVERYBODY. But yeah, first few ‘runs’ in Mirror’s Edge are mostly about awkwardly bumping up against walls and falling to your death on the streets below. Later, once you’ve got a feel for what you’re doing/where you’re going, the game really comes to life. It’s surprising how many clever shortcuts you can find, and the combat is actually pretty enjoyable (no, seriously) if you just never use guns and experiment with the hand-to-hand stuff.

Hitman was similar in that the first few times you took on an assignment in Blood Money, Contracts or any of the others it was mostly a blind grasp at the walls. You’d explore the area, stealing disguises to hide in plain sight, figure out where your target was, what their routes and routines were, and plan accordingly. The next time doing the same mission you might try a little something you’d considered before, or check another room you’d missed, or just figure out something brilliant. The more you experimented, the slicker and more streamlined your hit became, and soon it wasn’t long before you got that Silent Assassin rank you’d been hankering for. If you wanted to you could just grab an assault rifle and cowboy the joint I suppose, but it’s playing like that which lead to Absolution being made, so I hope you’re fucking pleased with yourself.

Absolution offers little of this. I know it’s a well trodden point but most mission don’t even seem to involve assassinating anyone, which felt like the equivalent of a Dynasty Warriors game featuring Guan Yu doing his taxes or baking some bread. It’s just not right. The thing is… Absolution isn’t even necessarily a bad game, really. It’s just a terrible HITMAN game. Whack some hair and a different outfit on 47, remove any mention of “The Agency” from the script and BAM, new IP from IO and a halfway solid one at that! But we’re living in a ball-less era for the industry, for all creative industries I suppose. Curse of the postmodern. Adorno and Horkheimer wrote about this beautifully in their 1944 text The Culture Industry, wherein they identify in the young Hollywood industries a horrifying future: one in which media is made primarily to be sold, rather than to educate or even entertain on any level deeper than that needed to ensure future sales. Why would a developer take the risk of starting a new intellectual property with some genuinely unique features when we’ve got all these fucking spreadsheets telling us that players like all this ubiquitous shit, have a distaste for escort missions and supposedly fucking LOVE the sewers.

It’s the era of the reboot, the long-since relevant sequel, the game which immediately sends me flaccid by self-consciously trying to latch on to past glories. Hitman is dead; Long live Hitman.