There are plenty of games around these days that have you stepping into the shoes of a trained killer and task you with eliminating a valuable target. With the release of Assassin’s Creed 3 upon us, and Hitman: Absolution coming out next month, we take a look at these two franchises and see which one comes out on top in simulating the assassin experience.
The Hitman franchise has been been around since 2000 when Hitman: Codename 47 was released on PC and has since spawned several installments, Absolution being the fifth in the series. At the time there was really no game like it and it impressed with its stealthy gameplay, crisp graphics and innovative mission design. Other games like Metal Gear Solid had a strong emphasis on stealth but never before had we been able to step into the role of an elite assassin in this way. Each level was set in an open environment and it was up to the player to make use of available intel and formulate an effective strategy in order to successfully take out the designated target. Being able to choose whether you sneak around, make use of disguises and take out your target in silence or simply going in guns blazing was a mind-blowing concept back then, and has remained a staple in the franchise ever since.
Assassin’s Creed hasn’t been around as long, but already has five installments in the main series and several minor games across several different platforms. The series is known for its open world setting and mix of stealth, swordplay, and free-running mechanics. Scaling buildings to infiltrate enemy strongholds and stalking your prey from the rooftops of historic cities made for a new and unique open world gameplay experience.
Both franchises give the player a lot of choice in how to go about your assassinations. In Assassin’s Creed you typically get a bunch of different short missions, like eavesdropping and pick pocketing, that reward you with information regarding the whereabouts and movements of your target, weak points in guard patrol routes and so on. Hitman games will usually start you off with a briefing that gives you general intel on the mission as well as background info on the target and such, but once the level is underway however, it’s up to the player how much additional recon is gathered before attempting the hit. The result is that even though Hitman is a lot more structured in the sense that it is divided into specific levels, the actual assassin gameplay is a lot more organic. Where Assassin’s Creed gives you waypoints to missions that will reveal certain information, Hitman leaves it up to the player to explore each map and observe enemy patrols, or overhear valuable information in NPC dialogue.
You can’t call yourself a hitman or assassin without being proficient in the art of stealth. Being well aware with the layout of the environment and sneaking around in silence are valuable tools to any merchant of silent death. And so of course both these franchises offer various stealthy options for the player to make use of when moving in for a kill. To remain undetected you’ll need to dispatch enemies without making too much of a ruckus. Both Hitman and Assassin’s Creed offer several fun ways to achieve silent murder without breaking stealth. Agent 47 usually keeps his piano wire handy for asphyxiating bad guys, and the iconic hidden-blade gets the job done in Assassin’s Creed. Usually though it is better to avoid unnecessary killing. Assassin’s Creed is very focused on its free-running mechanic, and moving around undetected means that you’ll be climbing around, above or beneath enemies in combination with the “blend” mechanic that lets you hide in plain sight by blending in with crowds. Hitman however is a bit more varied and interesting when it comes to the stealth. Agent 47 isn’t quite as acrobatic and can’t climb up 30-foot walls and make leaps of faith. Stealth in the Hitman series requires a lot more thought and patience. The fact that you can utilize disguises freely adds a whole different dimension to hiding in plain sight. It’s not as simple as holding a button to blend in with a group of similarly dressed people, for a disguise to work it needs to fit naturally with the environment and the player must “behave” in an incognito manner. Stealth, while harder to pull off successfully in Hitman, is a much more rewarding gameplay experience.
What about the actual assassinations? Well once again the Hitman series is superior when it comes this. In Assassin’s Creed you do get some options as to how you approach your target, but each assassination mission usually ends with you stabbing the target with the hidden-blade and then you’ve got to run like hell and evade enemy guards. Hitman on the other hand usually has many different ways to make the actual hit. For example if the target is in a restaurant you could infiltrate the kitchen and poison his food. Or maybe you sit tight and wait until he goes to the bathroom where you slit his throat. Or perhaps you wire his car with a bomb and blow him to kingdom come once he leaves. Your options of course vary between levels, but you always get that sense of choice.
It’s fairly safe to say that as far as assassian simulation goes, the Hitman series takes the prize. Assassin’s Creed games are of course about so much more than simply eliminating specific targets, with vast open cities to explore and plenty of side quests and collectibles and such. But for a game series with “Assassin” in its title I definitively feel that I’m left wanting in the assassination department.