Add one more name to the “yearly sequel” list. Today, concept art for the next Hitman game, which will be developed by the new Square-Enix Montreal studio, was released to the world. Which is a nice way of saying that the developers put it up on their site and waited for people to notice it.
The screens in question show varying moods. In one, we see the familiar Agent 47, with his leather gloves and Highroller pistol standing against a rainy cityscape. In another, we see him entering a court house, a crowd of protesters and policemen waiting outside as a reporter covers the goings-on. And in yet another, we see a man with the same face as 47 but longer hair leaping back, Matrix-style, while firing dual machine guns.
We were promised a different look into the series with this next iteration. We were also told that Square Enix Montreal will ping-pong development with the parent company, in the same way that Treyarch and Infinity Ward tag-team on a yearly basis with the Call of Duty series. That means a new Hitman every year. A new yearly sequel.
And it’s actually quite brilliant when one stops to think about it.
Square Enix, after purchasing Eidos Interactive, found itself with a wealth of new IPs and no real direction for them. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a one-off. The new Tomb Raider is trying to go to the roots of the series, and start over, hopefully establishing a new franchise in the process (that depends, of course, on its success). Hitman: Absolution is the first real sequel to a franchise from the Eidos era that continues the original mythos. It’s an expansion of the core gameplay, rather than a renovation. It’s big-budget but still supremely intelligent in it’s approach, like Assassin’s Creed 2 when it first released.
With the struggles that Square Enix have had trying to establish a foothold in the Western game publishing market, a yearly Hitman game that can bring in the moolah is precisely what they need. Games like Sleeping Dogs are all well and good, but it’s something solid and stable that the Japanese giant needs above everything else. And then consider those who’ve established the yearly sequel model and are reaping great rewards like Assassin’s Creed, whose latest sequel went on to become the biggest software launch in Ubisoft’s entire history of development.
Square Enix, for it’s part, recognizes that the Japanese gaming industry isn’t what it used to be. JRPGs are no longer made by the hundreds and sold in the millions. Even established franchises like Final Fantasy weren’t doing anywhere near the level of business that higher profile games like Halo were doing. The company is at a level where they’re convinced that their ideas for Final Fantasy XIII will succeed if geared more towards Western gamers. That it’s become one of the more universally reviled franchises in gaming is a different matter. A yearly sequel for a high profile series, that too in the Western market, will give them the kind of returns they never could’ve achieved even in Final Fantasy’s best days.
If nothing else, it’s only the beginning. The more successes it has, the more yearly sequels the publisher will seek to establish. It’s a risk, as all AAA sequels are, but it’s one with tons of reward.
And sadly, it’s yet another blow to the gaming industry where the norm is to go big or go home; where blockbusters and big brands are replacing quality and innovation; where Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 can allegedly sell 11 million copies in it’s first week and feature some of the shittiest textures matched by the clumsiest additions and the most boring of gunplay; where a high profile release like Assassin’s Creed 3 still has bugs, even with patch after patch; where your best chance for innovation is to cut your teeth in the indie market and Kickstarter campaigns; where, quite frankly, mid-tier development goes to die.
It’ll be nice for a while – it usually is, until monontony sets in. And this “new look” at the Hitman series could either be Square Enix dumbing down the gameplay to make it more accessible or just expanding further on the experience from Absolution. Either way, it’ll be what sells. And it’ll continue, until a humongous backlash hits it like it would hit all the other big names.
Will that day ever come? Even the mighty Guitar Hero fell with it’s constant, never-ending stream of sequels. Then again, FIFA and Madden are still going strong. Either way, the ball is in Square Enix’s court. Let’s hope they bring their AAA-game.