Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Hitman 3 came out last week, bringing to a close IOI’s frankly revolutionary reinvention of a mostly moribund franchise, which started with the 2016 Hitman soft reboot and continued into Hitman 2. Five years later, it’s still an astonishing accomplishment in drilling into the really sublime parts of a franchise, cutting out the chaff, and creating the purest possible expression of its strengths. Hitman 3 carries through on that potential beautifully (give or take a final mission that trades out its rambling, beautiful murder playgrounds for a joylessly straight line, for some godforsaken reason). Much has already been written about the game’s successes, and the highs of its most exceptional levels: The twisty murder mystery of Dartmoor, the atmosphere-drenched streets of Chongqing, the sprawling neon sandbox of Berlin. None of which is what I want to talk about today. Today, I want to talk about KABONK-ing people, and the toll it’s taken on me and those I love.
I will confess, up top, that I already tend to have something of an impulse control problem when it comes to playing Hitman games. As evidenced on our A.V. Club Twitch stream of Hitman 3 last week, it’s basically impossible for me to see a prompt in these games that says, say, “Subdue,” or “Push,” or “Execute,” without just going ahead and pushing the button—consequences, witnesses, and common sense be damned. And once this “problem” has started, it only tends to escalate, as Agent 47 drops his stoic, professional demeanor and becomes “That guy who ran through a skyscraper in Dubai, hitting people with a hammer, and yelling ‘KABONK!’ every time another poor sap went down.” I’ve come to terms with these issues; I’ve accepted that I’m only ever going to get a Silent Assassin rating on one of the game’s levels through sheer force of will, and a few quick saves to get “the urges” out. It’s manageable.
Then I tried Hitman 3 in VR.
The PSVR version of Hitman 3 is supposedly one of the perks of playing the game on a Sony platform; the fact that you can take the enhancements back into the game’s incorporated Hitman and Hitman 2 levels, only moreso. In practice, it’s pretty inelegant, though, especially if you’re playing on a PlayStation 5. (Hope you have your special camera adapter and your old PS4 controller handy, or no VR for you!) Still, though, there is a thrill to walking through these levels in an extremely first-person perspective, gawking at all the 1-percenter bullshit—even if that often also involves watching people pop into existence several seconds after you’ve already walked by them. The VR version of Hitman is also very dangerous, though, for people like me. People addicted to the thrill of the KABONK.
I knew things were going to be bad the first time I had the option to push someone over a balcony (which I took, obviously), and then got to physically look over the railing to watch them fall waaaaaaay down to the invisible floor below. But things only got really dire when I realized how melee combat works in Hitman VR. Instead of bothering to incorporate the PlayStation Move controllers, the game just tracks the DualShock 4's light bar—represented on the screen by 47's grimly rigid right hand. Hold down R2, though, and that hand suddenly turns into a fist. Bring said fist down on a human head—or, perhaps, several dozen humans’ heads, in quick succession while running from people who are suddenly very angry at you—and what you’ve produced is a KABONK of nuclear proportions.
And, seriously: How am I supposed to focus on constructing precise, perfect Rube Goldberg machines of death when I know that the ability to play Little Bunny Foo-Foo with the entire population of a small Chinese city is always right there, lingering at the end of my wrist? It’s become a sickness, an addiction. Guard, waiter, janitor, dignitary: I look at all of them, and I’m like a starving cartoon character, capable of seeing only the next coconut to crack. It’s gotten to the point where I can hardly play the game anymore! (Also, they nerf the hell out of your Instinct vision, and there’s no mini-map, which probably contributes to my desire to get back to playing the game the “proper” way.) And yet I always know it’s out there: The seductive whisper of the siren KABONK, luring me to take one more run through a stately British manor like it was a mansion-sized game of Whack-A-Mole, with my stupid meaty fist as the hammer of doom. Alas, alas. Alas!