The History and Controversy of Hitman

Today saw the release of the first episode of Hitman, the sixth entry into the now-infamous Hitman series to be released on a monthly basis. It’s been a few years since a new Hitman game has graced our downloads screen, and the overall run on the series has seen its fair share of controversy since its dawn in 2000. Here, we take a look at the series as it has developed so far, and dig into the reasons the name has become associated with such high levels of tension.

Hitman: Codename 47

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The first game in the series, developed by IO Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive, came to Windows PC in 2000. It saw the birth of Agent 47 – a human clone who has been trained and genetically enhanced specifically in the art of murder. As he escapes from his test facility and is picked up by The Agency, he becomes part of the famous European contract killing organisation and the series is born. Though it saw little controversial attention in its day, the game was one of the first titles to employ rag doll physics in its gameplay.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

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In 2002, IO took the game to consoles, releasing the sequel on PC as well as PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube within its first two years of release. The title saw improvements in AI as well as a tighter focus on missions. Chloroform and crossbows were thrown into the mix, however the essential mechanics of the mission-style gameplay still remained. A post-mission ranking system was introduced however – a feature which stuck with the franchise through various forms. The controversy of Silent Assassin however, lies in one particular mission which featured the murder of Sikhs while at a depiction of their most holy site – the Harmandir Sahib. If this wasn’t dodgy enough, the 1984 massacre that took place at said location was enough to put the final nail in this level’s coffin, and the game was rereleased on all platforms without the infamous mission. Despite this, and perhaps because of it, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin still remains the best-selling Hitman game to date.

Hitman: Blood Money

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Skipping forward slightly in our list, Blood Money took the series to the US for the first time in 2006. Released on PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox, and Xbox 360, the game revamped many combat features, such as unarmed combat, melee weapons, and the use of NPCs as human shields (in a subtle departure from the first title which actively punished the player for killing non-target characters). The ability to make the killing look like an accident was also paired with a new Notoriety System whereby if 47 is captured on CCTV or witnessed, more NPCs are likely to recognise him. There were a host of mechanics in place around this Notoriety System as well, such as the ability to swipe CCTV tapes before they could be accessed, or black mailing poor witnesses. With improved animations, and the entire game running on a new engine, it was the then-next-gen title to set the PS3 and Xbox 360 off. This time, though Blood Money has since been labelled the most violent instalment in the series, it wasn’t the game itself that raised issues. Magazine advertisements, the most famous of which depicted a woman lying on a bed in lingerie with a bullet hole in her forehead alongside the words “beautifully executed”, caused a ruckus with the media. Several other ads were published, each similarly designed.

Hitman: Absolution

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The first title to be published by Square Enix rather than Eidos Interactive, Absolution claimed before its release that it was far more accessible than its predecessors and its subtle departure from the mission style gameplay and more into linear narrative startled and upset critics. Released on the 47th week of the year, in November 2012, the game was the series’ first endeavour into online play. Featuring online ‘Contracts’, where players can modify the game world to create missions for other players, Absolution was representative of the industry’s shift to linear campaigns, and mission based online play. There were several aspects of Absolution’s marketing that ruffled some feathers however. First up, the cinematic teaser trailer released in May 2012, title “Attach of the Saints” depicted armed nuns wearing PVC and latex being shot down in an onslaught of gunfire. This, some argued, was a sexist portrayal of women, and the company apologised for the ad. Nevertheless, they were at it again in December when on the 4th, a Facebook app emerged that allowed users to flag and identify friends as targets for assassination. Said friend would then receive a video on their Facebook wall identifying them as a target, and merging their Facebook photos and details with a clip of 47 shooting them. As if this wasn’t dodgy enough, the methods of identifying female targets included “hairy legs”, “muffin top”, and “small tits”, whereas the males were identified by “shit hair”, or “tiny penis”. Needless to say, the app was taken down the same day of its release.

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