I/O Interactive, Eidos, and their corporate masters Square-Enix have had a tough time of it this year with Hitman: Absolution. Early demos have been well received, living up to the game’s reputation for offering an impressive degree of improvisation in its elaborate pulp fiction assassinations, but the game’s also been a lightning rod for controversy. Hitman’s been taken to task for both depicting graphic violence and being wantonly misogynistic.
The game’s creators can take solace in one fact though: People are going to play their game. In fact, they already are in a way. What’s more, Square-Enix may have a second Hitman ready to sell already.
The secret success of Absolution is Hitman: Sniper Challenge. The mini-game was given away in May to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners that had already pre-ordered Absolution. It was then released on PC in August. The game has proven so popular that I/O is considering releasing a standalone version of it.
“People are playing it a lot,” director Tore Blystad told MCV in a new interview, “I think the number 1 player in the world has clocked in hundreds of hours so far which is completely crazy, right? We’re very happy because that’s the essence of Hitman; it is made to be replayed. The scores have been ridiculous. The best one is 6.5m—how on Earth did they do that?”
Blystad and his team have been so surprised by Sniper Challenge’s success and the way people play the game, that they’ve changed Absolution as a result. “We are always learning. We wanted Sniper Challenge to have a big spread of scores. And that is now in Absolution. You can always see how your friends are doing.”
As for becoming a standalone game, Blystad says I/O is working on the idea. “It turned out really well. If we can find a way to make it work, then I guess we will.”
Sniper Challenge’s success is particularly enlightening for I/O considering what the studio’s metrics say about how people play the main Hitman games. Blystad said in June that only 20 percent of players are expected to finish Hitman: Absolution. What does it say about your game when only a fifth of players want to play it beginning to end, but they want to pour hundreds of hours into a freebie minigame? Maybe it’s time to reconsider the series future as a narrative.