A good sandbox is defined by the options it gives you to explore, experiment and discover your own solutions to problems. Day fifteen of The RPS Advent Calendar, which highlights our favourite games of the year, brings the best sandbox of 2016...
Brendan: I am a terrible hitman. I once panicked and shot two guards standing on either side of my target, without hitting the man in the centre. As I reloaded, I knew that I was going to die, but I tried to hide behind a civilian anyway.
Unlike the more disaster-happy players, I tend to restart my failed assassinations. For me, full-caps HITMAN works best on your fifth or sixth go, when you know the map and the routines of the puppets. You can stride through restricted areas with careful timing, tracing a route up and down and round an expensive hotel as if you were the janitor. Maybe you are the janitor. In that sense, it’s a fine return to the style of its ancestors. A collection of free-form playgrounds to study and exploit. That’s all I wanted, and I was relieved to say it’s what we got. I’m a terrible hitman, but I am not as bad as Hitman: Absolution.
Alec: Every time I think I’ve got a complete handle on what this new Hitman is doing, I see some tweet or Reddit post about some secret outfit or gonzo kill technique that reveals I know nothing. Approached superficially, this is a po-faced game about stealth kills. Dig in, experiment, try a few of the never-ending slew of bonus objectives and Hitman reveals that it wants to be Robin Williams at least as much as it wants to be Jean Reno. There’s a pulsing artery of absurdity beneath the dour surface, and it’s not just farce for farce’s sake - the wacky stuff is intrinsically tied to discovering new ways to complete one’s objectives.
I genuinely don’t believe that the degree of possibility and detail in Hitman would ever have been possible in a game that was released in one fell swoop. Not at the kind of budgets and headcounts a 2016 trupple-ay vidja demands.
Slow-burn development, gradual layering on of new tricks and treats after a chapter’s release - thanks to this, it’s built and built until we get something that is quite possibly the definitive Hitman game. Not necessarily the best - I think Hitman: Blood Money hits a superior sweet spot of grim/funny tone and outlandish-but-not-too-outlandish setups, but ultimately it is a more limited affair than its subtitleless successor.
If you skipped it because you weren’t down with the whole episodic thing, take my word for it: now that it’s effectively complete, this is an almighty and finely-crafted bundle of silent assassination. Absolution indeed.