CW: Nazis, discussion of violence, racism.
With Hitman 2 coming up, and how public perspective about the games seems to shifted from the disdain of Absolution to near-universal adoration of the rebooted Hitman from a year or so ago, I think it’s important to look back at these games and think about them critically.
First off, I have to say that I love the Hitman games. I absolutely love crime fiction, and have enjoyed it ever since I was a teenager. The idea of a game series that allowed me to live out that assassin fantasy, while perhaps disturbing to think about now, was very appealing to me. I have played and beat every Hitman game in the franchise, and I feel like the main focus of the criticism of these games seems to be the recent Absolution. I remember the talk around the overly-violent CGI cutscene where Agent 47 takes apart a elite squad of killer nuns. The discussion of sexism and violence towards women was an appropriate one, and I found it refreshing to see Hitman get some well-needed criticism.
But for me, I have always wondered why the imagery of Agent 47 himself hasn’t given anyone pause. It’s really blatant when you think about it.
Here, this is what he looks like:
Ok, so who is Agent 47? Well, he’s a genetically engineered clone who is completely bald, has blue eyes, has pale white skin tone, wears a color palette of red, black, and white, and travels to exotic (mostly foreign) locales to assassinate people for an organization that is heavily implied at the end of Blood Money to be working within a branch of English intelligence services.
Agent 47 is a Nazi’s wet dream. His color palette is the color of the nazi flag. His physical features are of a ‘perfect aryan specimen.’ He’s genetically engineered (Eugenics?) to be the perfect killer. He works for money, but the organization you take all of your contracts from is in the hands of a famous Imperialistic empire. Diana reports directly to ‘your majesty’ at the end of the game, meaning that the ICA circumvents parliment and reports directly to the Queen. You are basically playing a Nazi skin headed super-spy assassin, and NO ONE has spoken about this in the 18 years since the first game’s release. I find that a bit troubling.
I think part of the reason why this is the case is because modern Hitman is sort of a joke. IO Interactive have wisely taken the route of making the Hitman series more James Bond than Leon: The Professional, and in doing that a more socially aware modern audience hasn’t really thought about the Hitman series in a lens more critical of its visual messaging. You’re encouraged to wear silly costumes, kill targets in goofy/interesting ways, and play around with the environment to see what makes it click. It comes off more like a puzzle game than a Assassin fantasy. Agent 47 can play drums REALLY WELL, he knows a ton of yoga poses, HE KNOWS HOW TO WALK A CATWALK! He’s been supposedly trained in a number needless activities that allows himself to be planted into any environment need be, and that in turn makes him a sort of Buster Keaton stone face joke within the game world.
It’s a stark contrast to how he’s presented in Blood Money. Just watch some of the opening minutes of Blood Money to see this game at it’s most troubling:
A lot of people spoke about how Hitman of 2016 basically gave every character in the game a American accent, even with characters who lived in Morocco and Japan. But what’s the alternative? This? A white supremacist metaphor murdering badly-accented foreigners?
I think it’s important to reflect on the legacy of this series in a way let’s us both acknowledge it’s VERY troubling past, as well as encouraging it to look at the more modern entries with those thoughts on the past games. Hitman 2 looks like it’s going to be a fantastic game, but I am worried with levels set in places like India and Mexico, we’re going to see the weird racial side of this franchise show itself again.
What do you all think about the Hitman series?
Fun side note: There’s a Hitman Novelization that details IN DETAIL a scene about Agent 47 going to Denny’s and ordering a ‘Grand Slam Breakfast.’ I cracked up so hard I had to stop reading.