EPISODIC GAMES SHOULD BE WRITTEN TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FORMAT, NOT OUR WALLETS.
There’s a place for games released in chapters, as long as we can play on our terms
Episodic Hitman games are no more, after developer IO decided to revert to a traditional all-in-one release for future instalments. I think it’s the wrong move.
Hideo Kojima, whose cut-scenes should come with an intermission (in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, one clocked in at 27 minutes), told one interviewer that “massive, long games will be a thing of the past”. And while I don’t think singlerelease games with the scope of Horizon: Zero Dawn or Mass Effect: Andromeda are going anywhere soon, Kojima is onto something.
Take those taut Hitman episodes. With each outing a self-contained labyrinth of possibilities, piecemeal releases gave Agent 47 time to flex his fibre wire. Knowing that the next level wouldn’t be released for a couple of months encouraged me to pace myself, to take the time to listen out for telltale leads and to devise elaborate deathtraps that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Saw movies. Had I played Hitman: The Complete First Season as a traditional boxed release, I would have missed out on that creativity and nuance by settling on the most obvious assassination method before blundering on to the next mission on my to-do list.
LIFE IN PIECES
One of 2016’s standout games was Life Is Strange, the time-travelling teen drama. An enticing mix of Twin Peaks and Persona 5, it played as a more involving TV show, drawing you into young photographer Max’s world and giving the choices you made real weight in later episodes. Best of all, it kept track of those decisions and let you compare them with other players’. What would have happened if you hadn’t stopped to take a photo of the security guard roughing someone up? How would Victoria have reacted if you hadn’t made fun of her?
The problem with episodic games comes when they feel like they’ve been chopped into bits for greater profit. Games only work as episodes when they’re designed to take advantage of the format. If they aren’t, yet a publisher is hellbent on drip-releasing, at least give us the choice of playing chapter by chapter, or binge-playing the lot.