Now that the newest Hitman game has wrapped up its pre-planned episodic launch content, it's fair to say IO Interactive and Square Enix's latest endeavor will go down in franchise history as one of the best. The new Hitman delivered on all counts, innovating the series enough to keep it relevant in the modern era of open world sandbox games and consistent DLC while maintaining the qualities that have made Hitman so charming.
Part of that charm has to be attributed to voice actor David Bateson, who has provided the calm, cold, and calculated tone of Agent 47 for 17 years now. Recently, Bateson spoke with Game Rant about Agent 47, the Hitman series, and why both character and franchise have remained popular after nearly two decades.
One of the first questions we asked Bateson was about his involvement with Hitman over a span of 17 years. Bateson was quick to elaborate on the circumstances that have kept him returning to a series with a main character who demands a lot from his actor with very little dialogue to work with. Unsurprisingly, the game's heavily-lauded level design was at the forefront of that interest:
"The whole world of Hitman fascinates me. The attention to detail, the level of concentration and skill the game demands of its players, not to mention the sheer lavishness of the graphics...I feel both part of a great team, as well as a sense of personal responsibility to up my game and give...my absolute best, when called into the studio to record."
Beyond the scope and complexity of Hitman games, however, Bateson also credited the intriguing nature of Agent 47 as something that draws him back in whenever a new Hitman game is announced:
"After 17 years I feel I really know [Agent 47]. Not that I aspire to being a hitman, but I genuinely admire his skill and his attitude. He is just…cool. It’s not just about the ballers or the other “toys” he gets to use. It is about his calmness, his lone wolf persona that just walks into a situation and owns it. He’s not a victim or weak. That, and his very well concealed dark humor."
How Bateson Becomes Agent 47
It's an interesting answer from a man who has more insight into Agent 47 than perhaps anyone other than the character's creators, and it could explain why the role of Agent 47 in the Hitman movie felt a little off without Bateson contributing some of the nuances to the international assassin. When asked about how someone even begins to get into the mindset of Agent 47, Bateson offered up a personal anecdote to help explain:
"You know, a million years ago, I was living in London and had a shitty “in between job” working for a big finance company in the city area of London. One day, coming back from lunch, an office colleague said to me as I walked by her station in this big open plan office set up: 'I envy you'. I was taken aback, especially at that point in my life where I felt a total loser as an actor – having to don a suit and 'pretend to be a mortgage broker'. I asked her what she meant. She said: 'I envy you because when you get to act, you get to be other people.'
It struck me – that’s why I love acting! I get to be other people. To feel what they feel and do what they do...though I have no experience of killing people, the closer you can get to that character by way of learning the lines they say or “pretending” to do the things they do, or in my case, having the luxury of having Agent 47 in my head for so many years, the closer you can get to feeling what that character feels. In Agent 47’s case, it’s often more what he doesn’t feel that’s interesting, coupled with his feeling of aloneness. I owe it to him to be absolutely loyal to his personality and not try to deliver his lines in ways which are simply not true to his character."
Perhaps it is that familiarity that has allowed Bateson to remain, inextricably, the voice of Agent 47 throughout his missions. Despite Bateson admitting that he "rarely [has] much time" to play Hitman games anymore - and his assertion that he doesn't really need to play the games anymore to get into Agent 47's mindset, given how long he has been doing it now - the man behind the sharp-dressed killer still finds himself drawn towards the series' creative gameplay, especially now that it is released as episodic content:
"I am allowing myself some time to play [Hitman] this time around. I think mainly because the game was released one level at a time. It kind of didn't overwhelm me with the time needed to get through the whole game...so sometimes I slip away to my studio around the corner from where I live and in between voice-overs, I will try and kill someone [laughs]."
Hitman Goes Episodic
Bateson was clearly a fan of Hitman's episodic content, then, despite the fact that it was rather controversial when IO Interactive and Square Enix first announced the business model for the newest Hitman. Despite that initial friction, however, the game's episodic content has been very well received in execution, perhaps proving that an episodic content model for video games can be the norm in the future as long as it is done well.
"I am no expert [on episodic content in gaming]...however, from what I have read over the last year now, from gamers to media comments, I think it is fair to say it has been a tremendous success. It has given the developers and the fans an ongoing communication to the franchise. I think it's brought them closer together and that can't be a bad thing."
It's interesting to hear what someone who has been a part of both a traditional game release and an episodic model thinks about the strengths of the latter, and Bateson's comments make a lot of sense. Thanks to the way Hitman was designed, the developers have been able to release content and gauge community response to see if it is worth doing more. That's how Hitman got the Home Alone robbers as targets as part of a DLC release, for instance.
The success of Hitman's episodic content, incidentally, should spell good things for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake that Square Enix has been working on so diligently. Final Fantasy 7 Remake will be episodic as well, and despite fans being resistant to that in the same way they were to Hitman's announced business model, Square has proven it knows how to execute on Hitman - no pun intended.
Ultimately, however, Bateson believes the longevity of Hitman is something that should serve the series well in the future as well.
"With virtual reality knocking on the door of game developers - who knows. Wouldn't it be extraordinary if a single-person shooter game could use the technology of Pokemon GO to develop an almost live-action version of a Hitman level, where the player had to avoid being discovered in order to get close to the target - where the target had the ability to spot you before you got too close. Might create chaos in the streets though..."
We'll be honest - although Bateson was quick to say that his suggestion for Hitman's future was "off the top" of his head, it sounds like just the thing to capitalize on the sudden success of virtual reality and alternate reality games. Fans of the franchise will have to hope that the voice of Agent 47 is heard loud and clear by the developers of Hitman as well.
Hitman is available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.