Praising a new gaming mechanic: Hitman’s “Elusive Target”

I made fun of Hitman’s decision late in the release cycle to go from finished game to a series of releases of episodic content. I called it the hallmark of an unfinished game. But guess what? I’m wrong. They’ve found a way to keep their community energized and now I come to praise them, not bury them.

Hitman’s six episodes released so far (Square Enix will release a complete Season One in January 2017) have provided a pretty good storyline, but there’s also a challenge to keep top players (and fans) interested, and that is the Elusive Target.


Square Enix took a risk with Hitman's Episodic Game play... And it worked.
Square Enix took a risk with Hitman’s Episodic Game play… And it worked.

Each elusive Target is only available for seven days, but there’s an additional kicker involved. If the target is alerted, and you fail to make the kill, your chance to kill the target (and get any rewards, such as new suits and other such cosmetic items), is gone. That’s right, no continues on this one. So you have to be very careful, and spend a ton of time scouting out the area, for patrol patterns that guards (and innocent bystanders who would complicate your mission), possible ways to eliminate your target and make it look like an accident, and all that, and then exfiltrate, only to come back in with the perfect plan to make the kill and escape unnoticed.

Your Mission, Agent 47, should you choose to accept it...
Your Mission, Agent 47, should you choose to accept it…

It encourages fans of the game to congregate and talk strategies, or ways they completed or failed the mission, and it provides the one thing that video games with unlimited restarts do not give you.. and that’s the sense of failure. You make one mistake, one tiny screw up in planning, fail to account for ONE guard in your plan.. and that target will leave and never come back. So, it provides white knuckle moments as you hide behind a counter, praying that the guard doesn’t see you as he walks by, and your breath quickens as you frantically try to think of ways you can salvage the mission should he spot you.

It keeps you engrossed. If this was a regular mission, you wouldn’t be concentrating so much, because while you might lose a couple minutes, or even 10-15 minutes of gameplay in some cases, you know that you can just go back and try again. Here, you have no restarts, no continues, no extra lives. Just you and your skill, and perhaps a bit of luck.

Sure, a lot of great stories go with “Oh man, that boss was so difficult! It took me 105 tries to beat him!”.. but think of the story you can tell, the bragging rights you have where you can say. “I had one shot, one moment, one opportunity. And I captured it” (Sorry Eminem, had to do it).

That’s the gamer’s bonus. Square Enix gets the bonus in that it keeps the fans interested in the base game. Folks who would have beaten the game, said “Meh, ok” and stashed it away, now have a reason to come back, to see how the game’s changed, and to interact with fellow fans, to keep their interest (to buy more episodes, or eventually the next game if/when Square Enix wins). It’s a win-win situation, as long as the content is good. And by all indications, the content is better than good.

I am HORRIBLE at stealth games, or I would try it myself, but even thinking about what goes into a successful run makes me happy that Square Enix tried this method to keep fans interested. It’s still content coming out drips and drabs, but like say, Mass Effect 3’s Multiplayer, it brings people back again and again and again.