Today, publisher Square Enix announced their official withdrawal from developer IO Interactive, the Danish studio known mostly for the Hitman franchise. Though this all sounds very bad, there’s still some hope for IO, as Square Enix is currently in negotiations to secure new investors. (Though, obviously, layoffs tend to be pretty likely in situations like this.) But does Hitman deserve this fate?
How Hitman Failed
This news comes at an especially bad time for IO, fresh off of their critically lauded episodic Hitman reboot. While the six-episode series didn’t exactly light the sales charts on fire, it existed as the best iteration of Hitman to date, with an inventive mix of adventure and stealth gameplay. But despite what its title would have you believe, Hitman isn’t a game you can go into with guns blazing—instead, it requires a careful approach and the willingness to learn from multiple instances of trial and error. It’s commendable that IO Interactive would give such a “not for everyone” experience the triple-A treatment, but it’s not hard to see why this latest Hitman didn’t amount to a smash-hit success.
Then again, it’s hard to know what to blame. You can easily point to Hitman’s episodic release, but IO Interactive designed their game around this chapter-by-chapter approach. With each episode potentially containing 20-25 hours of gameplay—for those willing to seek out every possible outcome and unlockable—sitting with a small chunk of Hitman really gave players a lot to savor. Plus, IO did an excellent job of keeping this episodic content lively by encouraging players to dip back in for limited-time events. For the first time in a long time, Hitman’s episodic approach didn’t feel like a case of a finished game being split into multiple pieces for the sake of profit. Instead, it was much more essential.
What Happens Next?
Though a second season of Hitman was planned but never announced, IO Interactive’s current state means we don’t yet know if we’ve seen the last of Agent 47. But if IO has to end their Hitman efforts entirely, it’ll be a real shame. The episodic reboot came out of nowhere to become my favorite game of 2016, as I’m sure it did with other players who gave it a chance to sink its hooks into them. In any case, despite what happens to Hitman, at the very least we can hope IO Interactive finds another investor that helps them stay afloat. Even if Hitman can’t continue, they’re still an amazing studio with a great future ahead of them.