When the Epic store released Hitman for free, I added it to my list just because it’s free, and as the wise sage Usagi Tsukino once said, “Nothing is cheaper than free!”
And yet, I did not start playing it right away. I could lie to you and say the slow speed of my internet connection put me off of trying it, but the honest truth is, I was scared. See, I played the original PC release of Hitman, and I was terrible at it. Back in those days, I might have spent an hour tailing my target to the loo, cornered and strangled him with a garrote, only to have a random stranger walk in on us and run off screaming at the top of his lungs, “There’s a white bald killer on the loose!”
I bungled my way through three levels like this before admitting that maybe I was just kinda shit at being an assassin. I hung up my guns, garrote, syringe, and knife, and despite lots of Hitman games coming out afterwards, I always said, “Yeah, it’s not you, it’s me.”
But I got this free hit, so to speak, and then we got a much better internet connection, so I downloaded the game and played the tutorial. Without hyperbole, I was fucking amazing at killing targets. The first fake yacht, I went into the target’s office, killed him and dragged him back to his bathroom, and then I left before anyone could notice the body.
It took me two tries to actually get onto the training base for the second part of tutorial instruction, but once I knocked out a military guard and stole his uniform, it wasn’t that hard to locate the target, knock out his escort while my target’s back was turned, and then strangle the poor bastard before slipping away like a fart in a strong breeze.
Then the game says, “Okay, do it again, but this time do it with style.”
So I snuck in, knocked out the guard and took his uniform, but this time I sabotaged the ejector seat of a jet and tricked the target into following me for a flight check. He went up in a blaze of glory, and I went on to pass the tutorial with flying colors. It’s at this point that I thought, “Okay, I think I can do this!”
Oh, what a fool I was.
The first level took me to Paris in Fashion Week, and I needed two real-time days to wander the whole level just to understand what was where. Then I needed another two days to wander around and absorb all the little dramas taking place at this fashion show. Everyone from the models to the caterers were full of interesting stories, so I lost track of actually being a killer to take in the side show.
I think it was almost a week later that I managed to sort out the best plan to pose as bartender and poison the main target, sneak into a bathroom with him, and drown him in his own vomit. What happened with the secondary target was a disgusting case of save scrubbing that I won’t bore you with, but suffice it to say, I had hell finding the right blind spot to drop her body so I could reach the exit before some guard screamed that old chestnut, “Oh my God, there’s a white bald killer on the loose again!”
The game then said, “Good job, now go find these two guys in the same level.” So I did, and I similarly offed the three targets in the next side mission. All that time goofing off paid off because I knew the building like the back of my hand. At that point, I was feeling like Death Incarnate, so when the game offered a new set of targets in the same place, I said, “Nah, bitch, we good.”
Oh, what a fool I was.
The next mission was in Sapienza, a fictional Italian town that instantly entranced me. Let’s be clear, though: after living in Italy for close to two decades, the all-American vocal cast broke my immersion to the point where I walked away for a week. But before that “ugh-quit,” (credit me when this becomes a thing) I was thinking, Wow, this is the most amazing place I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve been to a nudist beach in France!
Once I logged back in, it was just like Fashion Week, but times eleventy. I kept wandering off to explore, eventually tripped over a security camera or someone who didn’t like the look of my agent and had a shit fit, so I kept starting over. And over, and over, and over. One attempt, I looked at my phone and realized I’d just spent two hours wandering the coast to admire the boats. Another, I lost and hour and a half just watching people.
Sure, I made some attempts to reach my primary target, but I was observing him in his back yard when the game pointed out his pack of weed and said, “Hey, you can poison this!” That sounded fun, so I restarted and added poison to the safehouse stash, and then I reloaded the level to hunt down the safehouse.
It’s been two months of attempts, and I still haven’t found the fucking safehouse. Maybe I’d have more luck if I didn’t get distracted by every little conversation and assassination opportunity, but I can’t help it. Like many gamers, I am sick to death of games that hold my hand to the point of drawing a line on the ground so I can’t get lost, but this is a level of freedom so vast that I can’t complete my assignment because I’m flummoxed by the options available to me. I can poison my target’s food by posing as a caterer, or I can poison his weed. I can hunt him down and stab him, or I can use a sniper rifle to tag him from across the peninsula. I can sneak into his office while he’s away from his guard all sneaky like, or I can get crazy and whack everyone in full view of God and the tourists roaming this pretty, pretty level.
Only, I can’t commit to any of it. Hitman is quite possibly the greatest game I’ve ever experienced, and I can’t play it because it’s given me too much creative freedom to play in its sandboxes. It’s not a crushingly difficult game, and is in fact quite forgiving of fuck-ups. I just can’t seem to do what it wants from me because wandering up side alleys and listening to tourists complain is more entertaining to me than killing the dude who very obviously needs killing. (He’s tailoring a virus that can kill specific targets. Yeah, it’s unbelievable sci-fi dreck, but if you’ve got to have a reason to kill a scientist, that’s as good a reason as you can hope for.)
Maybe someday I’ll get over my inability to commit to a plan and do the whole game, but given how long one level is tripping me up on the little details and freedom of choice, I think it might be the last thing I do before kicking the bucket. Then maybe the plaque next to my urn of ashes can read, “Here lies Zoe E. Whitten – She finally beat Hitman.”
But I wouldn’t place bets on that happening.