‘Hitman’ lives on amid Square Enix split, first episode available for free

io interactive independent keeps hitman rights featured

Update: Added information on Hitman’s free first episode, available now on consoles and PC.

A few weeks ago, publisher Square Enix announced that it planned to sell or shutter Hitman developer IO Interactive following the game’s lower-than-expected sales figures, putting the future of the longtime stealth franchise in question. Today, we have some good news to report for fans of the studio and franchise. Not only has IO Interactive regained its independence, but it has taken the rights to the Hitman franchise with it.

“Our passion and determination has never been greater and so that is why we have decided it is not the time to stop as we have many more exciting and original tales to tell,” said CEO Hakan Abrak. “Therefore I am proud to announce today that IOI is now officially an independent studio. We have successfully concluded our negotiations with Square Enix and have agreed to a management buyout. Crucially, we will keep all of the rights to the Hitman IP.”

IO Interactive owns the rights to the franchise, so it could feasibly choose to self-publish the second season of Hitman at a later date, but Abrak added that the studio is “open to opportunities with future collaborators and partners.” It’s unclear if IO plans to rehire any of the employees it was forced to let go in May, or if Hitman will be scaled down as a result of the buyout.

For stealth-action fans, it’s especially important to hear about Hitman‘s second lease on life, as the other major espionage franchise, Splinter Cell, sounds like it’s at least a couple of years away, and Metal Gear has gone completely off the rails with a zombie-focused spinoff.

If you haven’t given Hitman a try yet, the game’s first location, the ICA Facility, is available for free on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It contains two story missions as well as their cinematics, challenges, “Escalation” contracts, achievements, and even user-created content. Any progress and achievements or trophies you earn will be carried over into the full game, should you choose to purchase it, and a hefty discount has been applied to the “full season” for the next week.

Last year, IO told Tech Crunch that Hitman was “a success,” and it continued to receive substantial content updates. These added everything from new objectives to the opportunity to murder Gary Busey in cold blood. We can guarantee there is no other game that allows you to do that. The game has continued to receive other “elusive targets” since then, and a MacOS version is even scheduled to arrive next week.

The first season of Hitman is now available as a physical disc for $50 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and as a digital download on both consoles and PC. The disc includes three bonus mission packs, a “making of” documentary, extra items, and the game’s soundtrack.