Episodic Content

I’ve spoken before about my thoughts on chopping and changing a game to make your money’s worth, in my article on Season Passes. The latest installment in the Hitman series was released earlier this month, with a whole new model of distribution – if you ignore the fact Telltale Games has mastered the art of episodic releases.

This Hitman game will be released in parts over… however long it takes, once a month, with a new area to complete before the next one drops. You can buy the game in different ways; either through the Full Experience, which will allow you to immediately download each part as it’s released, or the Intro Pack, where you’ll have to decide whether to upgrade for the full game or buy each part as it becomes available.

This wasn’t the original plan for the release, although it was changed from “release half of the game at launch” to “release the first missions of the game at launch”. Next January, we can expect a full release of the game on disc. The change between larger portions of the game available at launch to spreading it thinly over a year would seem to show the direction, or lack thereof, of the team.

That leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. They seem to be so desperate to release a game, that they’ll drip feed what they’ve finished month-by-month before they move onto the next section, and the next section, always playing a game of catch-up with themselves – sure, they might have given themselves a buffer so they have some time to work on bits 8, 9 and 10, but eventually they will be in a situation where they’re on the heels of the next episode.

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to hold back and finish what they’ve started, before they give it to the public to enjoy?

It feels like a shady tactic to keep their fans interested, but things are going to change in the next year. Other games are going to be released which are going to demand more attention, if only because they’re actually fully fledged, 40+ hour campaigns that need time and effort to complete. I, for one, wouldn’t be able to keep myself invested what with Dark Souls 3 next month, World of Warcraft: Legion later in the year, or even against my new obsession with Destiny. Throw in the ever expanding Steam indie market, the fact I have to work and my focus is basically at zero.

I certainly feel more involved and accomplished if I can sit down with a game and play it through a day – I might not finish it, I might not do much, but I have hours of content to enjoy at my own pace. Instead, you could download Hitman and start playing on Saturday morning, maybe your girlfriend is away so you have some spare time, and just when you’re really starting to get a feel for the story after 4 hours, the rug is ripped out from under you and you have a black screen telling you “that’s all for now, next bit is coming in a month”.

That would be enough to derail me, I wouldn’t be heavily invested in waiting for my next short session of game, when I have another that I could have got transfixed on for the whole weekend.

Telltale Games cornered the episodic games market and consistently create amazing stories that can be told in that format. Unfortunately, I’ve not had a chance to try out any of their games, I can only speak from what other people have experienced. They understand the nature of an episodic game, that everything has to be crafted to keep their players engaged and waiting for the next part.

Hitman doesn’t feel like it’s been prepared in the same way. Sure, they’ll be able to split the missions by location and package the locations for each month, but with a single line of narrative to follow, what happens if a storyline gets cut off as it reaches a crescendo? Maybe you would need to stay invested between Paris and Sapienza and breaking the narrative where a cutscene would be will break the player’s concentration.

It’s a shame, because I’ve watched a few play throughs of the first mission and it does look quite good. I might pick up the full game next year, if it seems to be going well in the next few months. I’d much prefer to be able to sit down and play all I wanted, in one sitting. If I finish my session and I want to play more, I have the option for next time to carry on. For the next year or so, you won’t have that option with Hitman – the story will run out and you’ll have to wait for IO Interactive to decide whether the next chapter of the experience is ready for you.

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