Hitman Understands the Power and Pain of Uniforms
Garroting a man isn’t easy. It requires a great deal of effort, technique and occasionally brute strength. Agent 47 – the protagonist of the Hitman series – understands this. He performs all his tasks with lethal efficiency from braining someone with a wrench to shooting the wheel off a moving race car. He can do it all while dressed as literally anything. From a chipmunk mascot to a sushi chef to a Dutch biker Agent 47 is able to move through different environments and situations with ease and grace. I have to catch my breath after climbing a flight of stairs.
But there’s one thing me and Agent 47 have in common and believe it or not it’s customer service. Admittedly Agent 47 spends his working days and nights murdering people with the cold efficacy of a great white but it’s still serving a customer for the most part. A great deal of the back and forth between 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood in the Hitman games is about ‘the Client’. The Client would prefer if the target died by accident. The Client would like the target poisoned. The Client wants the target to view a photo of the Client’s dead son. You get the gist. Agent 47’s entire job is to please the Client. So is mine but I don’t murder people though God knows you’d be tempted to in retail.
Something that caught my eye throughout all of the Hitman games that I’ve played is that people rarely look past a uniform. Bar those born with the empathy, sympathy and compassion of saints people rarely see past the uniform you’re wearing regardless if it’s an expensive suit, McDonald’s shirt or rubber chicken outfit. It’s something Hitman recognised from the jump and implemented to great success. There’s a reason nearly every other assassin or stealth game out there either copied Hitman or came up with their own gimmick. Splinter Cell had Sam Fisher’s night-vision as well as his groin-splitting acrobatics. Metal Gear Solid was, well, Metal Gear Solid. Hitman had uniforms. Something so simple I bet every major stealth game developer has kicked themselves for not coming up with it.
Uniforms grant access but more than that they often grant anonymity. Conveniently a lot of Hitman’s mission throughout all the games but especially the later ones took place at big events with beefed up security and extra staff. A chiseled bald man is easy to miss especially in a waiter’s uniform. From shows at Paris Fashion Week to nuclear weapons deals in Kamchatka right up to killing a race car driver in Miami Hitman’s developers, IO Interactive, have only refined this mechanic. Customers in shops and restaurants or even guests at events usually won’t notice the guy stocking the shelf or the waiter clearing a table but their fellow workers might.
The psychology is simple. Say I walk in through the ‘Staff Only’ door in McDonald’s in my normal clothes. I’m going to be asked firmly to leave. In Hitman it’d probably be the Met Gala and the kitchen staff would alert the pistol-wielding security guards. Cut to Agent 47 hiding in a broom closet. Now say I steal a McDonald’s uniform and walk quickly through the kitchen. Chances are no one will notice. In Hitman the psychology is the same but if you walk into a kitchen in Hitman you’re usually looking for a dinner tray to hide a pistol in or a concealable knife or a dish to poison. This is where the co-worker effect comes in. I’m sure IO Interactive has a fancier name for it but I’m sticking with it.
The co-worker effect is just as simple but it complicates the AI of the game to levels that give Hitman the challenge and variety it’s noted for. Dress as a waiter and there are likely to be other waiters that don’t recognise you as one of the regular guys. These guys get suspicious enough and they’ll tell a guard. When a security guard at a Paris Fashion Week event that’s also playing host to a Dark Web auction upstairs is told there’s a suspicious bald dude injecting green liquid into a cake they’ll be on the lookout. But for the most part steering clear of the more suspicious staff members does the trick.
Hitman is all about blending in with the crowd. No one’s going to notice a chef with a butcher knife or a guard with a shotgun or a doctor with a syringe. Of course it all depends on the crowd. Dress as Santa Claus with a fire axe, yes you can do that, and you’re asking for trouble. Hitman allows for and encourages perfectionism but it also allows for and occasionally encourages chaos. If you want to drop a chandelier into the crowd before firing indiscriminately with an assault rifle hoping you hit your target you can do that. If you want to slip a vomit inducing drug into their champagne and then drown them in the toilet that option’s there as well. Luckily that’s Agent 47’s job not mine. Like I said I wheeze after climbing stairs and maybe that’s for the best.