Change for Change’s Sake

The internet is full of idiots. Websites to do with gaming, doubly so. Normally I find myself ignoring the majority of commenters for their sheer stupidity, and even the topics which truly tend to rile me up have, in recent months, trended towards being less successful in doing so. (Evidently, being a member of the first generation to grow up with the internet has led to my growing weary of certain topics far sooner than ever thought possible.) But with the recent release of the (utterly shit) Hitman: Absolution, I find myself challenged by an old nemesis.

Trawling the internet for reviews of 47’s latest adventure to laugh at (if positive) or bathe in a puddle of mournfulness with (if negative), I came across Polygon’s review. The review itself was, of course, wrong but, as I’ve said, such a positive response to such a rubbish game didn’t quite enrage me in the way it used to. Instead, my irritation arose with this comment:

The suggestion seems to be that asking for an adherence to a series’ actual set-up and gameplay is counter to asking for innovation and evolution. The suggestion is also horse shit, because these are not two ideas that counter one another in the slightest, nor do they make the person asking for them a hypocrite.

Hitman: Blood Money is widely regarded as the best game of the series, and yet it was in many ways very different to its predecessors. Almost all of the game’s effort was now spent on imagining mini-sandboxes in which to experiment, whilst any sense of linearity had been almost entirely vanquished. No more trekking through blizzards in Japan, no more instant-insertions into dangerous territories. Mission areas became mostly inhabited by civilians, and players were, more than ever, encouraged to poke about their environment, to think and plan before striking. Blood Money was at once relaxed and yet puzzling. It was, fundamentally, the same as its forebears: introducing change in order to fully realise the concept that the series had begun with, yet evolved away from the crap that had kept it down.

Hitman: Absolution, however, is a game that does not do that. It is linear, heavily story-driven (don’t worry, the story’s also shit), and very rarely even features a target that you have to kill; let alone a fully-realised, open area in which to do so methodically. In fact, there’s only one mission in the whole game that anywhere near approaches what the four previous games have done their best to achieve. Sure, it’s changed, but only in that it has regressed: and change for the hell of changing is not worthy of automatic praise or an XX% score boost; but then neither would a carbon copy of the previous entry be particularly laudable either.

The fact of the matter is that we should always encourage evolution as much as we should encourage a sense of pride in a series’ uniqueness, mission-statement (a fairly horrible phrase for a creative effort, but the best I can think of right now), and spirit. Neither is a contradiction of the other, but what progress is built on: it’s what gave us Blood Money, and it’s what was ignored to make Absolution such a crushing disappointment.

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