OPINION – When Square Enix decided to get rid of developer IO Interactive, it came as a shock to much of the gaming community. Things seemed to be going well for the company, and its reboot of the Hitman series was a huge hit. The 2016 episodic take on the nearly 20-year-old franchise breathed new life into its stoic antihero, Agent 47, and had people optimistic for the future of the franchise. Many hoped that Square Enix would be able to bring the Hitman into the modern age in much the same way it did with Tomb Raider.
When Square announced it would withdraw from IO Interactive, the news was met with bewilderment by the gaming community. The Japanese publisher perhaps best known for the Final Fantasy series acquired the developer in 2004 when it purchased its parent company, Eidos Interactive. The move will apparently cost Square Enix more than $40 million in losses, and the studio is currently looking for new investors. IO had done great things with Hitman, helping to reboot the series by switching to a bold episodic format, and, along with Square Montreal, spearheaded bringing the character to mobile devices.
It had seemed as though Square was investing more into the franchise with the new console games as well as recent mobile offerings that took the series in new directions. 2014’s top-down puzzle title, Hitman Go, was a surprise hit for smartphones, and transformed the hardboiled stealth action into a brain-teasing puzzler. The franchise was also adapted into a casual casino game in an attempt to bring in an even wider audience. The game takes Agent 47 and places him and most of his lethal arsenal into a slot reel where players use their luck as a means of taking down their target. But it wasn’t only meant for casual players. Diehard fans will appreciate the subtle homages to the legacy of the franchise thanks to the inclusion of the iconic insignia, the dual Silverballer pistols, and Agent 47 himself. These games gave the impression that the company was going all-in with Hitman and to see Square suddenly pull the plug has left many confused.
These mobile titles were followed by the new 2016 version for consoles and PC. Some were apprehensive about the new episodic format, with each episode featuring a new location to explore and plenty of innovative ways to experiment and test the limits of the game. It was a hit with both fans and critics, and was even considered one of the best games of 2016. Hitman featured six total episodes with locations ranging from exotic cities like Bangkok, Marrakesh, and Hokkaido and a number of interactive challenges and targets for players to find new ways to eliminate. Some have speculated that, while the game itself was good, the irregular scheduling might have thrown off some players and negatively affected sales.
Even so, it looked as though Hitman was more popular than it had been in years, which is why it was such a surprise for Square to get rid of IO Interactive just as things were taking off. As a result of the separation, the Hitman franchise has been put on hold for now. This comes as sad news for fans of the latest game, particularly because a second season was supposedly in the works.
We’re sure that IO Interactive will be able to land on its feet. It’s a talented developer with a track record of great games. It definitely has a lot more up its sleeves, even if the next games aren’t made with Square Enix. There’s no telling when we might see another Hitman, but the Season 1 collection was released in early 2017 for those looking to check out IO’s swan song.