This is the forth post in a series of blog entries about the inclusion of an ‘easy mode’ in all games. The previous pieces were: Difficulty and Design Intent , Is Art for Everyone? and Designing Difficulty. In this post I want to expand upon my previous one, in which I looked at examples of how to make difficult games., this time focusing on the 2016 Hitman game.
N.B. I want to make clear that this post is for now putting aside the issue that an easier mode in games would be beneficial to differently abled or disabled players. I want to look at the discussion regarding this in a post on its own – mostly because I would like to research this topic in more detail so as to be more educated on the matter. Therefore, the arguments presented here relate mostly to players who can’t play games due to their skill level, although I am sure there will be some cross-over.
Black Friday came and went, and since we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, there was no family gathering with mountains of food for me. However, we have recently begun importing the more capitalist aspect of the holiday season, with price slashes worth fighting over. All this is to say I finally bought Hitman Season 1 in the sales and it was an excellent decision.
I find Hitman to be difficult. A combination of my impatience, and inexperience with the Hitman series (and stealth heavy games in general), left me feeling intimidated and lost when I open the first episode. The Paris map seemed impossibly huge to me, and I had no clue how to proceed. Luckily the game developers were there to hold my hand.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what this game has to offer me content wise, but what is apparent to me so far is the mechanics allowing for increased (or decreased) game difficulty. When you select a mission there’s no prompt asking you to choose what level of difficulty you would like to play at, so at first glance it appears to offer only one. But there are several features and HUD options that can be adjusted to select how much of a challenge you want.
Each map presents several ‘opportunities’ for the player to discover, which allow them to gain chances to kill their mark. The game lets you know when one is ‘revealing itself’ to you. It also tracks the opportunity and offers hints on how to fulfil this, allowing the player to be guided every step of the way. Alongside the ‘instinct vision’ (which allows you to see everyone on the map, even through walls, and highlights your hit as well as those who will give you trouble), this transformed me from clueless and confused into a confident Agent 47.
Turn off, or reduce, these features though and instantly you’re left with a more difficult game. The simplicity of it is amazing. Here is a game implementing mechanics that allow the player to customise their gaming experience to their own tastes and skill level. My only problem with this however, is that it is not at first apparent how to do so, which may lead to higher skill players feeling patronised. And lower skill players may not realise these features are present before purchase, since the game appears to have only one difficulty setting.
In addition to these features, each Hitman map offers further challenges once the main contracts have been completed. Escalations, well… escalate things: the player is given a target to kill, and over 5 levels more obstacles and restrictions are thrown in, making each level require more planning and careful execution than the last. The game also offers one-off Elusive Targets who appear on the map for a limited time, offering the player only one chance to kill them.
A generous save and load system also encourages experimentation and failure. Got caught? Reload a few minutes back and try again – this time avoiding your mistakes. Knowledge from each play through is carried over – once an opportunity is revealed, Agent 47 always knows about it. And over time the player learns the map. What was once a maze becomes a playground, it’s your world to master. Knowing all the exits, item placements, guard rounds and hiding places emboldens the player to try more interesting, creative and risky kills.
I’m sure Hitman is not a perfect game, and I’m nowhere near done with all the episodes. But I do think it’s a good example of how games can offer something substantial form both the new and veteran player alike.