It’s easy to get distracted in the gaming industry. For days, outlets have been reporting on the impending announcement of IO Interactive’s Hitman 2, which some sleuths were able to uncover hidden in the game’s pre-reveal teases. And now we’ve finally received the long awaited reveal! It’s a great story, and we all love a good scoop, but what we really have here is the makings of a comeback story the likes of which the gaming industry, all too concerned with sure-things and too-big-to-fail sequels, has not seen in recent memory.
Getting this out of the way, Hitman 2 looks to have a lot of potential, all at once picking up where 2016’s underplayed gem left off while also taking the game, and the series as a whole, in new and exciting directions. And, if IO Interactive supports Hitman 2 post-release the way they did for 2016’s installment, those who play the game are in for a long relationship.
It was but a year ago that we almost lost Hitman – and our beloved Agent 47 – possibly forever. 2016’s critically acclaimed Hitman was an afterthought among the general population, and publisher Square Enix posted a $43 million loss related to the project. Shortly thereafter, they put IO interactive on the open market. In a bold move, the Danish developers put up the funds to buy itself and go independent. While this put Hitman back into the hands of those who built it, the future of the franchise was still a question mark. Would they continue to support the game with more content à la Rainbow Six: Siege? Would they simply release more episodes until their playerbase inevitably dwindled, as many games do? Or would they hunker down and get to work on a sequel? No one knew.
What we know now is that IO Interactive’s bold move was not toothless. While IO did continue to support the game, boosting sales numbers to a satisfactory level, they clearly wanted to breathe life into their franchise in a way that only a whole new game could. Sure, it’s a sequel, but Hitman 2 is a fresh start – it’s a second chance to make the game they wanted to make, and do it their way. No longer will the game feature an episodic release, often cited as a key factor in the game’s poor commercial performance. And, with the addition of new co-op content, Hitman 2 is breaking into new markets, and the timing of the release (later this year) shows how much IO has been preparing for this.
But more than that, Hitman 2 gives players an access point. It’s one thing to acknowledge that the 2016 Hitman looks good, maybe having played the free demo a while back, but what does a player do with that? Do they buy the game and start from square one on what is supposed to be an evolutionary experience? It’s hard to get into a game late, even one later recognized as great. Hitman 2 is everyone’s opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
Even with all that, though, Hitman 2 is not a safe bet. Sure, it’s part of a tentpole series that has its core of followers, but this amounted to a multi-million dollar loss in 2016’s Hitman. Imagine Hollywood making a sequel to a movie with those box office numbers – it’s an investment that only a fool would take. If you think of the major sequels that have come out recently and are on the horizon, they’re all backed by wildly successful previous entries. God of War, The Last of Us: Part II, Red Dead Redemption 2 – these are all safe bets, riding the coattails of hugely successful previous installments. The games couldn’t possibly fail.
While you wouldn’t think it before 2016, Hitman 2 is not that game. In fact, if Hitman 2 manages to rip success from the clutches of failure, it will surely go down as one of gaming’s greatest comeback stories ever. And who better to pull it off than IO Interactive? Who better to want to pull it off? Who better to cheer on? The greatest comebacks are orchestrated by those daft enough to not know when to quit and by those who think for no reason that they can succeed where others (and in this case, themselves) have failed. That sounds to me like something we should all root for.