As I write this opening paragraph, a timer is ticking. It's The Guru, you see. He's only in Sapienza for another 60 hours, and then he'll vanish forever.
I'm tapping away at some work. In a little under nine hours I have to leave for a flight to Berlin and what constitutes Christmas holidays for a freelancer. Honestly, I want nothing more than to leave the work, finish packing, and go to bed, but then I'm reminded of the timer. 60 hours and The Guru escapes. I'll never get another chance to claim the contract on his head, and I'll never be able to claim the successful reward, either.
So I stop writing, convince myself I'm packed, and play Hitman's latest Elusive Contract. Waking up the next morning is atrocious. The hour I spend trying to nab a Silent Assassin – failing when I accidentally walk through a room with a crowbar in my hand instead of hidden in my jacket, whoops – has me exhausted and tetchy. I killed The Guru, but it wasn't much fun.
I love Hitman
; it's one of the best games I've played this year, but I'm less fond of Hitman's Elusive Targets and their 'one and done' premise, where dying or failing means you've failed the contract forever. It feels like they stand in direct opposition to everything Hitman does well. Hitman is at its best when you play it like a psychotic Groundhog Day, with Agent 47 playing the role of Bill Murray, repeating the same small chunk of time with a bag of murderous toys as you take run after run at a level learning what works and what doesn't.
Hitman is, specifically, a game about careful exploration, exploiting patterns, and the occasional bit of explosive violence, whereas in the Elusive Targets, which give you just one chance to get the hit spot-on, you're robbed of the chance to explore or examine patterns while also being forced to play by Square Enix's time frame. Not only do you get just one shot to do this, but you've got to do it within two days, or a week, or maybe less.
In theory, the idea sounds great, and it pushes you outside of your comfort zone, but this is done better by both the main game's challenge system and the extensive collection of Escalation Contracts provided by the developers.
A lot of the joy of Hitman for me is not just in Doing A Murder to the bad guy but in learning the best time and method to commit that murder, and, let me tell you, when you're making a murder-omelette, you've got to break some retry-eggs. Not because you're bad at making omelettes, but because sometimes you want to try more than one omelette and see which one tastes best.
Unfortunately, by linking a variety of – admittedly cosmetic – rewards to the Elusive Target system, Square Enix has ensured that you have to throw yourself into the game whenever it puts a new target up regardless of what's going on with your own life at the time, which for adults is a pretty crappy situation to be in: forced to play a game you enjoy or running the risk of your experiences forever being incomplete.
The other downside is that Square Enix has spent a lot of money on this. Rumours before launch pointed at Sean Bean appearing as an Elusive Target, and we've already had a chance to murder Gary Busey – with two rounds to the back from an ICA Silverballer as he walked across the beach in a quiet Italian village – but anyone waiting until the boxed version to buy Hitman or away for a few days without access to the game has lost that opportunity forever. It's not just the chance of famous stars, either. The Elusive Targets have unique briefing videos, art assets, voice-work, and, occasionally, special dialogue too, and all of these are lost forever if you screw it up and walk a bit too quickly through a security checkpoint or accidentally explode a room full of the wrong people. One of my favourite memories from the year in video games is me crouch-waddling around a pair of identically dressed twins looking for which of the pair is wearing the expensive watch that marks them out as your target.
It was a fun challenge, and it gave me a great anecdote. Want to try it? You can't. It's gone forever now.
So, Hitman. Still an incredible game, but I hope when Square Enix pushes out its second year of content, it thinks about those of us that have other things to do, and doesn't time-lock all of the most interesting contracts.