After six long years, fans of the Hitman franchise have a new title to salivate over. Hitman Absolution is set for release in November and (despite a questionable marketing campaign) things are looking very good indeed. Assuming Hitman survives some bad PR, there is still, however, one more obstacle to overcome, a new challenger to the assassin throne. Dishonored will arrive in stores a month before the new instalment of Hitman, sporting many of the latter’s elements but with freshness in abundance. Which of these two is worthy of your pennies? The superhuman abilities of Agent 47 or the supernatural powers of Corvo Attano?
Hitman is one of my desert island games. It is a franchise that has consistently provided entertainment, but more than that it has struck a balance between linearity and open play that few other games have achieved. Hitman games are organised into levels, each level set in a relatively small and restricted environment with clear objectives that must be completed (one or more people have to die, bar one or two levels that advance the story where escape or survival are the aims); yet the player doesn’t feel restricted. From the moment you begin a level you are left to your own devices. The game offers you ways to complete your objectives and help along the way, but all of it is optional, you’re free to choose how to go about the task at hand. As a result, Hitman feels like a series of sandboxes, each new level supplying new toys and ways to play: you can be the ghost assassin or you can be the gun wielding maniac and still have multiple ways to complete the level. And unlike so many other franchises, Hitman has not overloaded us with unnecessary tie-in games or sub-par, rushed sequels. Six years have passed since the last game and this is only the 5th of 12 year old franchise; Hitman provides greatness in moderation, preventing the experience from becoming old.
However, despite the delay between games, Hitman still has an uphill struggle against its own confines; all Hitman games after the original have had to try and maintain their identity while at the same time bringing something new to the party. Hitman games are restricted by having to include the things that made their predecessors successful, a burden that brand new games do not have to bear. Enter Dishonored. In this we once again take the role of an assassin, Corvo Atano, a man framed for the murder of the empress. After being given some magic powers by the Outsider, Corvo goes on a rampage of revenge, learning what really happened along the way. Much like Hitman, Dishonored is not set in an open world environment but it still encourages exploration by the player. Dishonored also promotes player creativity allowing you to complete missions in a variety of ways.
So far, so familiar both from Hitman and the likes of Deus Ex, but Dishonored also provides a completely new environment and a whole new style of gameplay with the inclusion of supernatural powers. Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, Dishonored has a distinctive steam punk style with clear influences from Victorian Britain and an arsenal of weaponry to match; no high-powered sniper rifles here. You do, however, have the ability to teleport short distances, to possess animals and people, to slow time and you can see through walls. Corvo’s abilities are upgradable and you can mould him into the kind of assassin you want to play. Like Hitman, missions have clear objectives but you don’t always have all the information you need to complete them to begin with, often having to eavesdrop or maybe just plain ask for it. Dishonored has taken many of Hitman’s aspects and added new layers with powers and more espionage all wrapped in a complete fantasy world rather than the individual locations of Hitman missions.
Does Dishonored surpass Hitman Absolution? That remains to be seen. In reality both games are likely to be worth a look. From Hitman we know mostly what to expect. Certain things have been tweaked such as being able to use 47’s instinct mode rather than the map of previous games. My main worry about these things is that the game may be a little easier than before. Agent 47 can now predict the movement paths of enemies where before it was a case of observation or guessing and in a play through of one of the levels we see little warnings pop up like “Visibly Armed”.
These are only little things but if too numerous, the challenge may be lost. Dishonored looks very good but maybe the array of powers and abilities will prove too complicated and like so many other games the player may discover that it’s easier to stab or shoot than to implement a more elaborate technique. Hitman might also have the edge on longevity, with the introduction of Contracts Mode, where players can create contracts by selecting up to three hits in any level and then challenge the community to complete them. In the end your decision will probably be based on scores from critics or whether they spell dishonoured correctly in the UK or how badly Himan’s marketing gets. Whatever you decide you will be getting a game with an emphasis on the player’s decisions and both titles look like game of the year contenders. All that is certain is Q4 2012 is looking good for games.