The Hitman games have always reveled in giving players the freedom to puzzle out their own murderous solutions — even ones that go against the developers’ wishes, as seen in the latest patch for Hitman World of Assassination (née Hitman 3).
Released Aug. 17, the patch made a key change to the Hitman Freelancer mode. More specifically, it reverted a change that developer IO Interactive made in the previous update: In May, the studio had patched out the ability to shut down Hitman World of Assassination by using Alt+F4 (the keyboard shortcut for quitting an app in Windows) while still maintaining the integrity of a Freelancer campaign. Afterward, the game would detect this exploit and count it as failing a mission.
For the uninitiated: Hitman Freelancer, which debuted in January, is meant to be a high-stakes roguelike experience — it’s explicitly designed to push expert players to improvise their way through increasingly lengthy sequences of missions. Failure is not an option (or at least, not an appealing one): If you die or otherwise fail to complete a level, you lose all of your progress in that particular series of missions, along with all of the weapons and equipment you’ve unlocked and half of the money you’ve earned. (If this happens in certain types of missions, you have to start your entire Freelancer campaign from scratch.)
Freelancer isn’t for the faint of heart, but it certainly lowered the blood pressure to know that you could always fall back on using Alt+F4 to abort a mission that was going sideways. Of course, IO’s elimination of that failsafe earlier this year suggests that the studio didn’t intend for players to have this eject button at their fingertips. After all, you can’t even save during a mission and come back later — if you need to step away, you’ll have to leave the game paused and your console or PC running. You could argue that Freelancer’s harsh restrictions are essential, and that to neuter them with a safety net is to deprive yourself of the mode’s true thrills.
But now, Alt+F4-ing is back, because enough players decried its removal. It’s worth noting that many people’s complaints didn’t merely amount to whining about the loss of a way to comfortably cheese their way through Freelancer. While the mode is about adapting to unpredictable circumstances, some of them include unfair circumstances such as glitches. “There are so much things that could go wrong during the game (bugs, crashes, NPCs seeing through walls as examples) that not having the ability to cancel this and auto-failing the mission will be a big problem,” a regular on the game’s forums wrote in May.
“Whilst we did intend to preserve the high-stakes feelings of a Freelancer campaign when we removed the exploit, the feedback from players was clear that this was harming their engagement and enjoyment of the mode,” an IO Interactive spokesperson told Polygon, when asked to explain the studio’s decision to reintroduce the Alt+F4 option. “Ultimately, it was doing more harm than good to have removed the exploit, with no active benefit or positive side. So, we reverted the change.”
It’s all part of the endless push and pull between game makers and players. An article Polygon published last week championing the use of save scumming in role-playing games such as Baldur’s Gate 3 and Disco Elysium quickly racked up more than 200 comments. Readers debated the practice, but most agreed with the author that it’s perfectly legitimate. (As it happens, save scumming is something I actively recommended in my beginner’s guide to Hitman World of Assassination!) Hell, Mimimi Games wanted to encourage save scumming in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew so strongly that the studio came up with an in-fiction explanation for quick-saving and -loading.
And anyway, upon the announcement of the Alt+F4 exploit being removed from Hitman World of Assassination, players quickly came up with workarounds — some of which involved going so far as to install additional software. What’s that line from Jurassic Park? Players who want to circumvent a developer’s intent will, uh, find a way.
Update (Aug. 24): We’ve updated the article to include comment from IO Interactive.