A new Hitman movie is out today, and it’s a big missed opportunity. No one can seem to get the character and his world just right. And why? Maybe because there are so many different versions of Agent 47, some better than others, and fitting into different fictional archetypes you’ve seen in countless movies.
Hell, we could swap out Ocean’s 11 for Agent(s) 47, an ensemble cast of killers committed to some of the most entertaining missions we’ve ever played. You might think it’d be impossible to have all the Hitmen working side by side, but they’re clones! This is exactly what they’re for! Besides, if Terminator Genisys is allowed to go back and put all the previous film ideas together to make something new, so are we.
Which is why we got a little creative with this retrospective of the series’ history. We’ve played through the history of Hitman games to assign every version of Agent 47 a fitting action movie cliché while looking back at the franchise’s best and worst moments:
Hitman: Codename 47
2000 | PC
The New Kid
When Hitman: Codename 47 arrived in 2000, it was the new kid on the block in a genre full of running-and-gunning and not much else. This game favored wit, strategy, and patience and rewarded you with plenty of creative ways of getting your targets.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect outing, but it was a start for the franchise. The new kid is always deeply flawed. Which means launching into a career based entirely on eliminating people should be a short-lived mistake, but he has a raw potential which keeps him alive long enough to learn from his mistakes.
Codename 47‘s innovation of adding more steps than “move the crosshairs” and “pull the trigger” to killing enemies was an oasis of assassination in a desert of endless machine-gun shell casings.
The game arrived in 2000, the same year as several other slick assassins: Joanna Dark of Perfect Dark fame, JC Denton of Deus Ex, and Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever, but where most of these other hitmen have been abandoned, Agent 47 has lived on to keep killing.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
2002 | PC, PS2, Xbox, GC
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin went about cleaning up all of 47‘s mistakes. That’s not just a good idea for a sequel, but also the exact plot of several actual movie sequels. The brash new boy has become smoother, slicker, and significantly more intelligent. All the rough edges have been sanded off by experience, but the excitement hasn’t been worn away by the wetwork.
Silent Assassin is still the best-selling entry in the series. It’s the perfect sequel, doing things again, but better, without yet running the idea into the ground. Putting things into the ground is the entire idea of a Hitman, but far too many series tire themselves out with endless iterations instead of sequels.
47 is a professional at this point, and can adapt to any situation. If you want to blaze through it as a mass-murdering machine gunner, Silent Assassin will absolutely let you do that. In fact, the whole point of the play style is that nobody can really stop you. But you’ll be missing out on the true rewards. In Silent Assassin, 47 is an artist instead of a mass-murderer. And sure, you’ll get some nice titles and bonuses for pulling off a perfect kill, but the real reward is the reward of a professional: the satisfaction of a job well done.
2004 | PC, PS2, Xbox
The Tortured Soul
The regretful killer is an action movie cliché, one you’ve seen several times before, but he probably isn’t someone you’d personally choose to spend several hours alone. This is the problem with Contracts, a game where 47 remembers his past missions, and makes you play through them all over again, but this time in reverse. Which is a cunning idea for a fan-fiction, but really is utterly backwards for a series that’s all about getting to the next kill.
This would be the straight-to-TV entry in the action movie franchise. Still a perfectly competent action movie, and with a fun idea for people who’d already played the original, but not enough justification to exist on its own. Though you could argue that a Hitman doing a slightly distasteful task he’s done before just because he needs the money is the most perfect representation of the archetype.
Hitman: Blood Money
2006 | PC, PS3, PS2, X360, Xbox
The Master and the Masterpiece
In our action movie cast, Blood Money isn’t just a character, it’s the entire movie, one which every other Agent 47 was assembled to create. A movie where you’re not just the player but the scriptwriter, director, stuntperson, and star. If Silent Assassin was the artist, Blood Money is the masterpiece. Where Silent Assassin cleaned up the earlier mistakes, Blood Money was free to improve on the original strengths. Hollywood only tries to make movies because it can’t directly film the experience of playing this game.
This game is the movie, and the opera assassination is the climax. An assignment to assassinate a tenor involved in child slavery sets the stage for the most spectacular freedom you’ll ever enjoy. You can shoot him wherever and whenever you want, but this is where you best appreciate how limited that standard gaming option truly is. You can sprint in and strangle him backstage, time your sniping to match his mock execution in a play, replace the prop gun with the real thing and watch your own plan acted out, or even replace the executing actor to march on stage in front of a full house, kill your target in full public view, and stroll off from the greatest performance of your life. Although it’s even better if you hang around to explode a chandelier onto his accomplice.
This isn’t just the best Hitman level ever made, it’s one of the best video game levels ever created. (Which may be why they released it twice, teaming Blood Money up with Contracts and Silent Assassin in Hitman Trilogy.)
2012 | PC, PS3, X360
Every ensemble movie needs a traitor, someone selling out the gang’s principles to try to make big money from a bigger corporation, or for ridiculous ideas of sex or violence, and it’s always an explosive disaster. And Hitman: Absolution is that disaster.
You can usually tell the traitor because they’re trying too hard to be part of the team. They’re saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, but they’re doing it with that nervous energy of someone trying to fit in. Common symptoms of this kind of stress are stuttering and freezing in action sequences, and sometimes breaking down altogether. These are all things Hitman: Absolution absolutely did when some people tried to play it on release.
This was a game where the gameplay was massively simplified. You could apparently hide an entire sniper rifle up your sleeve, and if you got caught, you could just call for a do-over from a few seconds ago. Doesn’t sound very professional to us.
2014 | PC, Mobile
The Retired Craftsman
Sometimes the squad has to tempt an old expert out of retirement. A truly great killer who’s moved beyond mere killing, escaping the action-packed stress to earn an unlikely living as a simple craftsperson. Sometimes they have to be bribed or extorted into returning to the trade. Because “forcing someone much better at killing than you” is such a good idea.Except Hitman Go really is a great idea.
This Hitman has retired to whittle wood, and it’s gorgeous. It’s a masterful representation of the main series. It extracts a few key elements of the original and makes them the entire game, an exquisitely carved board game based on guard patterns and planning. The console titles’ greatest strength is how they have interactive dioramas instead of simple sequential levels, and this turn-based game renders them in whittled wood and pastel tones.
The board game theme removes the need for expensive graphics without looking weak or reverting to overexposed retro graphics. The first few levels teach you everything you need to know while letting you get on with the gameplay.
Relaxed and educational, understanding everything about the game, and succeeding without any hurry: this game truly is the retired master.
2014 | Mobile
Every ensemble movie has a cameo. The Cameo Killer is an auxiliary assassin, a character whose gimmick is good enough for a scene or a single sequence, but not quite enough to carry the whole thing. Either that or they simply couldn’t afford the actor for the whole movie.
Hitman: Sniper is both: an entertaining touch-pad gimmick which makes for some unique kills, but is equally based on a tablet’s limited capability to adapt the whole Hitman experience.
The cameo only appears in a single scene. Which suits Hitman: Sniper‘s views on the matter, because it also only sees a single scene for the whole game. Which isn’t as cheap as you’d first think. One of the greatest joys of Hitman is learning the level layout, observing enemy patterns, crafting the killer’s equivalent of one of those world record domino attempts. (And you can get actual domino kills in this game, sniping glass walls so that people fatally fall onto each other.)
It’s only a cameo, but it’s a perfect cameo, capturing this single level-learning aspect of the franchise. Escalating missions exist only to unlock new weapons and encourage you to try different kill techniques. (Hint: wait for a couple of people to lean against a glass wall, then set off a gas heater). If it just had a couple more levels—maybe a factory with an attached R&D lab and office, say, and the hard level could be an army base—it’d be perfect. As it is, it’s merely brilliant.