Hitman 3‘s Agent 47 is the ultimate predator. He can kill you with fruit, see you through walls and even become you just by chucking on your clothes. If he’s after you, you’re screwed. I would very much like him to be after me.
Is this a lockdown thing? Maybe. It’s given us a thirst for tall vampires and bizarrely sexy diseases, so why not a desire to be chased around a sandbox by a stoic bald man with incredible bone structure? “Catch me if you can, Agent 47. Whoops, I fell over, I guess you win again.” But there are plenty of other reasons why this might be the basis for a very fun game.
Playing Hitman as the eponymous assassin gives you an absurd amount of freedom to go where you want and turn even the most mundane items into deadly weapons. Where there are limitations, they’re usually designed to be overcome through disguises or some other method of subterfuge. Playing on the other side, that freedom becomes an enemy, where a simple soda can could be used to knock you unconscious, giving Agent 47 an opportunity to dump your limp body into the sea.
That feeling of power is replaced by paranoia, but that also makes every moment exciting and dangerous. Every crowd could be hiding a killer. Every empty room could contain an assassin holed up in a wardrobe. But there’s still power in vulnerability. Maybe you use the assassin’s confidence to draw them out, possibly making them fall into your trap. And there are thrills to be found in simply running and hiding. Just look at asymmetric horror like Dead by Daylight and Monstrum, where players are chased by a relentless killer. There’s nothing more empowering than outsmarting an enemy who has all the advantages.
Agent 47’s skills add another dimension, though. You’ll know when you’re being chased by Freddy Krueger, but if Freddy can make himself look like an innocent bartender, then you’re in a lot more trouble. Like Mafia, Werewolf and, of course, Among Us, the real trick is figuring out who the killer actually is—is it you!? No. Now you’re just getting too paranoid. This opens the door to investigations, accusations and all sorts of other interactions that are a lot more elaborate than finding a good place to cower in fear.
Other people to cower in fear with would be welcome, too. Companions don’t make being hunted any less terrifying, but they do give you more options. Maybe, if your personal survival is more important to you than the survival of the group, you’ll decide to offer one of them up as a sacrifice or bait, securing your own life by ending your friend’s, albeit indirectly. You horrible, clever bastard.
In Hitman 3’s Berlin level, IO Interactive decided to forgo mission stories and make you find your own way through the club, including figuring out who your targets are. Ultimately that last bit is a doddle, since you steal an earpiece from your first victim and then get clued into who’s who just by listening in and bumping into them. But the earpiece also gives you a glimpse into the minds of the hunted, as they grow increasingly worried and their numbers start to dwindle. They argue, reassure each other and become more and more certain that they’re fucked. It was Berlin that made me want to switch teams and see what it was like to get on Agent 47’s bad side.
Simply trying to identify your enemy amid a sea of NPCs is enough to support a whole game, and there’s already one that hones in on this very specific conundrum. The Early Access competitive espionage romp SpyParty pits players against each other as a spy and a sniper, with the former attempting to complete objectives without alerting the killer hiding in another building. In this instance, Agent 47 is more like the spy than the assassin, having to blend into the crowd of NPCs, not doing anything to suggest there’s a real mind behind the character. Spend too long in one place, or pick a weird route around the room, and you’re a goner.
For the chase to work, the hunter would almost certainly have to be another player. Games like Resident Evil 7 and Alien Isolation proved that AI monsters stalking you can work really well, but it’s so much easier to create a dynamic, unpredictable killer if there’s a person controlling it. The Hitman sandbox is also considerably more complex than Sevastopol, where the xenomorph only needed to scurry around inside vents and leap out at the player. You won’t see any xenomorphs dropping banana peels, though Resident Evil’s gruesome family is a bit more playful. A conniving, clever player is a much more terrifying prospect, though, using everything from psychology to poison to get their mark.
IO Interactive is working on a Bond game now, so it looks like it’s taking a break from Hitman. It’s a pity, but at least it’s gone out with a bang, concluding one of the best videogame trilogies I’ve had the joy to play. There’s still so much that could be done with the setting and all of these wonderful social stealth systems, however, and showing us Agent 47’s adventures from a different angle would be a great way to make the most of them without covering the same ground.
I’m just imagining arriving in Sapienza, the azure sea behind me, a paradise in front of me, and somewhere, my killer is waiting. Sounds like a great first date.