Hitman 2 and its Difficulty Curve

Posted on October 28, 2019 by Richard Goulter

I’ve been playing the recent Hitman 2 quite a bit.

I never played the earlier Hitman games, but from comments I’ve seen in YouTube videos, it seems the situation is a bit analogous to the Tomb Raider series: for one, the recent games re-use the same titles as earlier games. (There’s a “Hitman 2” which was released in 2002; which is similar to how there are two games called “Tomb Raider”). But it seems that the recent games in each series are different enough from the earlier games, and you get some people bragging in a kind of “I’m so hardcore I love the early games and the new ones are bad”.

Well, I enjoy Hitman 2.

The criticisms I buy are: - Although the game is Single Player only, the game requires you to be online all the time. Presumably this is to support integrity of the scoreboards. (I don’t think anyone cares about the scoreboards). The most pragmatic concern here is: the game isn’t going to be playable in 10 years or so. - An interesting criticism I kinda buy is that the levels in these games all stick to the same formula, whereas levels in the older games had more variety to them. - And, uh, the more embarrassing criticism is just how sloppy the maintenance of the game seems to be. They added a ‘concealable shotgun’ that the player could start the game with; but it was quite buggy. When starting the level, it wasn’t ‘concealed’ at all. (Did they know it didn’t work and release it anyway? Or did they not know? Or does it actually work in some situations, but not others?).

These problems aside, I think the game is still a fun game. I cannot think of other games which have level designs with the amount of replayability as is inherent to Hitman 2. You start each level overwhelmed by how little freedom you have, and after exploring the level a bit have a sense of domination over the non-playable characters in the game.

I saw some interesting comments about Hitman 2’s rating system:

Hitman 2’s rating system is uncreatively ‘binary’:
Currently the game ‘rates’ a playthrough of the level ‘Silent Assassin’ if the player finishes the level without being spotted doing anything bad, and no bodies are found. (With some exceptions like: it’s okay if the bodies of the level’s targets are found if they were killed in an accident, or by poison).
There are score points lost for: taking a long time, or for killing non-targets, etc. but no one really cares about the score. The important rating is getting ‘Silent Assassin’.

I think the levels are designed in an accessible way.
You can follow game-provided checkpoints that provide a paint-by-numbers style of killing the target. (This is along the lines of: the target wants to meet in private with the chef. Here’s the chef; so, grab his disguise, then meet the target, then kill the target in private).
Once you follow each of the game-provided walkthroughs, you will have navigated your way around most of the map in various disguises, which helps you get to know the map.
(Without the game provided walkthroughs, there are still characters who you can overhear e.g. “gee, the boss wants to meet with the chef in private, but the chef is feeling sick over there”).

This is nice, but the rating of ‘Silent Assassin’ or not is still quite ‘binary’.
TheKotti provides an example of a ratings system for stealth style games which is more adaptive in nature. Rather than punishing the player for a mistake, it would be more interesting to have a ‘threshold’. This would enable dynamics like: if you make a mistake (e.g. get spotted), you can still play and get a good rating; but you have to be more careful.
A ratings system like this would also measure the difference between “didn’t get spotted, because you knocked-out everyone in the map” and “didn’t get spotted because you skillfully moved around the map”.

As in, the nice thing about this is: as a beginner player, there’s a clear measurement for an incentive to get incrementally better. The current rating system has ‘cliffs’. (Getting spotted means “not silent assassin”, which is the same rating as run and gun).

It would also avoid some weird ‘quirks’ about the current rating system.
e.g. currently you can set of the alarm as many times as you want, knock out as many people as you want, even ‘shoot’ people as many times as you want; so long as you don’t get spotted, it’s ‘silent assassin’. Whereas, if you get spotted even once (because you walked somewhere you weren’t supposed to be), it’s not ‘silent assassin’. Or if you use a sniper rifle and shoot the target from a distance, it’s also not ‘silent assassin’ (if the body gets found).

This would probably also resolve another problem with Hitman 2’s rating system: that it doesn’t measure skill for highly-skilled play.
Currently, the hardest thing to achieve which is measured in Hitman 2 is getting a Silent Assassin rating without using any disguises on the Master difficulty. (Master difficulty restricts the player to saving only once, has a few more camera/guards. As I understand it, it essentially means you discover a good route on Professional difficulty, and execute it on Master).
There are some challenges players in the community will try which are harder than this: e.g. silent assassin without using disguises, killing the targets wtih a loud weapon. But the game doesn’t measure this explicitly.

Recent changes to the game have made it more accessible to new players (which is great imo).
One item they added was a James Bond style electrocution phone. An ‘electrocution kill’ counts as an ‘accident’, so it can be used for Silent Assassin. This makes it quite easy to get Silent Assassin. (Experienced players snob this; but I liked the argument that it’s more interesting to have items which are actually useful, rather than everyone using the same loadout for every level because the items are all lousy). Obviously, getting Silent Assassin when using such an overpowered item isn’t super impressive. But the player still needs to be sneaky killing the other targets.

So: that the game doesn’t ‘measure’ between high-skilled plays, and the game is making it easier to reach the highest-measure of skill in the game is unrewarding to the kinds of players who play Hitman long enough to get very proficient at it.

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