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Square Enix is breaking from tradition with the latest Hitman. They've decided to release the PS4/Xbox One/PC game to the public in stages rather than all at once.
A "significant chunk" of Hitman will be released on December 8th. Additional missions will then be released for the game throughout 2016. The initial $60 you pay for the game will include all of these later missions.
While Hitman is being rolled out over time, Square Enix stresses in their new announcement that it isn't an early access game:
Early access can often mean something unfinished or unpolished. That’s simply not the approach we’re taking. All of the content we release live to our players will be complete and polished, whether that’s the locations and missions we release on December 8th, the live events or the locations and missions that we will release in 2016. It will always be a polished Hitman experience.
They also don't like to call the new Hitman "episodic" because they're not selling chunks of the game individually. They also say that there will be more to the game besides the new chapters of the story. For example, they're planning some sort of "live events" for players.
Instead, Square Enix wants you to think of Hitman as a "live" game. Sure, why not?
The company also took the opportunity to clear up some other fan concerns about the game. For starters, they said players won't need to make any additional purchases to experience the full game.
There’s no micro-transactions or hidden costs in there. No extra paid DLC on top either. It’s one package, all-in for $60. We want that to be simple and clear and it was important for us to be up-front about that.
Also, unlike many recent single-player games, Hitman won't require a persistent internet connection. You can play the missions offline if you want. The only time you'll need to be online is to download updates, play the live events, or check out leaderboards.
I'm not sure how I feel about this phased release of Hitman. It's a bit annoying to be paying in advance for a game that's going to be delivered bit by bit over months. On the other hand, if Square Enix waited until the entire game was done to ship it, we'd have to wait far longer for it. Another potential upside of this staggered launch is that the developers can take in feedback from early episodes to make the later chapters better.
In Hitman, players will travel the world to assassinate high-profile targets. They can use stealth, disguises and a huge arsenal of weapons to take out their prey. The levels will be larger and less linear than Hitman: Absolution's and players will be able to save any time. Absolution's Contracts mode, which allowed players to create custom missions and share them, will be returning though.