Few franchises have done as well as the Hitman series at getting better as they've gone along, and the history lesson alone may be worth the price of admission.
Hitman HD TrilogyPublisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: 2013-02-01
The relatively recent trend of repackaging franchises from the last generation of consoles into a single, affordable, high definition package has seen its successes and failures. While some have set the standard as the definitive editions of beloved cult classics (the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus collection comes to mind here), others have served merely as convenient packages that fit franchises onto single discs, without enough visual overhaul to immediately justify repurchasing content that series fans likely already own.
There are a number of possible reasons for this trend. The first is that upscaling content and packing it onto the high-capacity media available today is a far cheaper proposition than developing a new title from the ground up. Another is an effort to capitalize on the nostalgia of gamers for long running series whose earliest (frequently seminal) titles haven't yet been available on the current crop of consoles. It wouldn't be hard to argue that Nintendo, for example, has turned repeated repackaging of well-liked material into a high margin art form.
But from a less cynical perspective, collections comprising a sequential run of titles in a popular series of titles also allow the player to view the growth of a franchise with respect not only to technical achievement, but also to game mechanics as well. Control schemes, narrative tropes, and AI behaviors that were innovative a decade ago might seem archaic by today's standards, and it can be fascinating to see how franchises that have been relatively well received over a long period of time changed to address shifting expectations from gamers along the way, as well as how gracefully they've aged.
The Hitman franchise first appeared on the PC in 2000, offering a unique take on the stealth genre. At their best, stealth games can be viewed as tense puzzles, and throughout multiple titles the most memorable Hitman missions certainly hit that mark. In late 2012, Hitman: Absolution was released the current crop of consoles. Likely in an effort to allow players new to the franchise to catch up with the exploits of Agent 47 with the release of a new title in the series, the Hitman franchise has now been given the upscaling treatment with the Hitman HD Trilogy.
While Hitman HD Trilogy isn't truly a comprehensive package of the Agent 47's appearances prior to this console generation (given that it doesn't include the original PC-only Hitman: Codename 47, HD Collection is still a fairly complete package. It should be noted, though, that these titles were already collected in Hitman Trilogy in 2007, though that title was only available for the PS2 and PC.
In any case, unlike many other HD collections that have been released in recent memory, the Hitman HD Trilogy isn't a packaging of material that has only been released separately to this point. As such, the most compelling reason for its existence is arguably its high definition presentation. But as has so often been the case with HD rereleases, while the originally non-HD games have been upscaled, there doesn't appear to have been much texture work to smooth out the rough edges.
Also, as has been the case with many of collected franchises we've seen recently, many of the game mechanics used by Hitman haven't aged all that gracefully. Since its inception, the Hitman series has been regarded by many as a shooter that values observation and planning over aggression. But as is the case for stealth games in general and the Hitman series in particular, some of the earliest games, for all their flexibility, are painful trial and error affairs. The most frustrating thing about Hitman titles is that failure often occurs without a clear reason.
But it's easy to see the series gaining its footing as it goes on. While Silent Assassin has plenty of weak spots, Contracts sees the franchise becoming more sure of its approach. By the time Blood Money rolled around, the developers clearly had a firm idea of what makes for an enjoyable Hitman game, and it's easily the included title that offers the best overall experience.
For those fond of the series and who wish to own the most comprehensive console edition to date, Hitman HD Trilogy is a solid decision, particularly at its budget price. Having said that, it's arguable that Absolution is the only one of the included titles with enough fun factor to warrant another playthrough for those that have already completed it. And since those enamored of the series may already own the aforementioned Hitman Trilogy, there may not be enough extra incentive to warrant a purchase.
However, those whose first exposure to the franchise came with last fall's generally well-received Hitman: Absolution may find pleasure in delving into Agent 47's past exploits. Few franchises have done as well at getting better as they've gone along, and the history lesson alone may be worth the price of admission. To fully appreciate what Hitman brought to the table in its earlier incarnations, though, players will have to be willing to forgive a relatively painful difficulty curve or view some of the game mechanics of those titles as relics of another gaming age. But the sense of accomplishment that accompanies a perfect hit may well be worth it.