Io preps a world of marks for the cold­est-blooded as­sas­sin in games


PC, PS4, Xbox One

The latest en­try in the Hitman se­ries might have shaken the sub­ti­tles that have been tail­ing these games ever since Agent 47 first snuck men­ac­ingly onto our screens, but it’s not the re­boot you might ex­pect from such an act of nomen­cla­tive re­straint. Io-In­ter­ac­tive in­stead sees its new game, which takes place af­ter Ab­so­lu­tion, as a dis­til­la­tion of ev­ery­thing that’s good about the se­ries – its per­fect as­sas­sin sim.

“We wanted to try to send that mes­sage that we’ve tried to con­dense ev­ery­thing into what we be­lieve is the best pos­si­ble ver­sion of Hitman,” ex­plains cre­ative di­rec­tor

Chris­tian Elverdam. “So we took DNA from a lot of our pre­vi­ous games, and that’s why we called it, sim­ply, Hitman. We in­tend to keep adding new lo­ca­tions and ex­pand­ing the world, so this is where we’re go­ing to be for a while. And since Agent 47 is at his peak, it’s a pretty cool place to be.”

The stu­dio has dubbed this vi­sion of an ever-ex­pand­ing, con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing game a ‘World Of As­sas­si­na­tion’. This will en­com­pass reg­u­lar up­dates that add new lo­ca­tions, new mis­sions and new hits – some of which will only ap­pear tem­po­rar­ily and fur­nish play­ers with just a sin­gle at­tempt at a suc­cess­ful kill. Within this frame­work, Agent 47 con­tin­ues to take or­ders from the ICA’s Diana Burn­wood, his long­time han­dler at the Agency, who will dis­sem­i­nate where the next mis­sion will take place and also up­date 47 dur­ing mis­sions.

“We thought there was some­thing cool about Diana go­ing, ‘Oh, we’re go­ing to Italy, 47,’” Elverdam says. “We’ve talked about Paris, we’ve hinted at Italy, Africa and Morocco, but we’ll go be­yond that. That feel­ing that you don’t know ex­actly where you’re go­ing to go next is re­ally com­pelling.”

Be­fore those des­ti­na­tions come into view, how­ever, Elverdam walks us through the game’s Paris map. The mis­sion is set dur­ing a fash­ion show hosted by our tar­get: Rus­sian oli­garch and fash­ion mag­nate Vik­tor Novikov, who has staged the event to cover his at­tempt to sell sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion about Euro­pean covert op­er­a­tives. It’s be­ing hosted in an open sand­box that’s gated only by the brawny­look­ing se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives keep­ing the guests in check, but to­day Agent 47 is just one of that crowd, armed with a VIP pass thanks to ICA con­nec­tions. Which means that one op­tion to pro­ceed is sim­ply to saunter in right through the front door. Do­ing so might re­sult in some pretty un­der­cooked prepa­ra­tions, of course, but there’s go­ing to be plenty of time for re­con­nais­sance in this Hitman.

“When you build a Hitman game like this, the pac­ing changes,” Elverdam says. “In Ab­so­lu­tion, you were of­ten hunted, and

a lot of the game was tra­di­tional stealth game­play. What we have here is a weird hy­brid. Be­cause I’m go­ing to kill Vic­tor Nabokov, which means I’m go­ing to strike – I’m go­ing to start tres­pass­ing – we don’t need to pres­sure the player up­front. That will come all on its own when you start fool­ing with the sys­tems. I think that’s the first men­tal jour­ney that peo­ple need to take: to re­alise that this game is all about do­ing some­thing, and then find­ing out what hap­pens if you tam­per with that part of the sand­box. And some­times the re­sults can be pretty un­pre­dictable.”

One par­tic­u­larly pleas­ing ex­am­ple we’re shown of this flex­i­bil­ity in­volves smug­gling an anti-per­son­nel mine into the fash­ion show. Those afore­men­tioned se­cu­rity staff will frisk you if you try to en­ter re­stricted ar­eas, so if you’re plan­ning on walk­ing through, you can’t have any sharp ob­jects, guns or ex­plo­sives about your per­son. To get around this, Elverdam plants a mine be­hind two guards sta­tioned out­side, next to a foun­tain. We ini­tially as­sume he’s go­ing to take them out, but in­stead Agent 47 flicks a coin in their di­rec­tion. Both no­tice the noise, and one moves for­ward to in­spect fur­ther, notic­ing the de­vice. Per­haps ill-ad­vis­edly, he bends over, picks up the de­vice and tells his col­league he’s tak­ing it to the ar­moury for safe keep­ing. The re­sult is twofold: mov­ing a weapon into the build­ing for you and iso­lat­ing a guard should you feel the need to choke him.

It’s an in­tel­li­gent piece of de­sign and hints at the com­plex­ity of the AI sys­tem, which is bal­anced in equi­lib­rium and await­ing your in­quis­i­tive prods. You might equally sneak a ri­fle into the show us­ing one of the crates filled with AV equip­ment stacked up out­side, or per­haps find­ing a way of get­ting up high and loos­en­ing the bolts of a well­cho­sen chan­de­lier could bring your mis­sion suc­cess­fully to a close. If you’re care­ful, you could tam­per with the pa­tio heaters out­side and rig one to ex­plode. Then again, you could just pro­cure a bar­man’s out­fit, wait un­til Novikov comes to the bar and then serve him a poi­son of his choice – and yours.

But there are more rolls of the dice to con­sider, com­pli­cat­ing your task be­yond sim­ply get­ting Novikov to suc­cess­fully in­gest the con­coc­tion. It might prove ef­fec­tive and re­sult in his death, or it could sim­ply ren­der him un­con­scious, caus­ing a scene at the bar and ne­ces­si­tat­ing a change of plans. It could even make him vi­o­lently ill and send him run­ning to the bath­room – an eas­ier mess to clean up, per­haps. If you pre­fer a more hand­soff ap­proach, all of this un­cer­tainty could be avoided by get­ting the ICA to plant a sniper ri­fle in the grounds of the venue, but you’ll still need to ac­quire it, find a good po­si­tion and wait for the right mo­ment.

Ev­ery sin­gle NPC is vul­ner­a­ble to a broad spec­trum of ac­tions and, in cases with greater am­bi­gu­ity than a shot to the face, will ex­hibit a com­plex range of re­ac­tions – a boon given that Con­tracts mode, where any­one could be your next tar­get, re­turns. As such, the game con­stantly keeps tabs of ev­ery­one on the size­able map. Cre­ate an ex­plo­sion in one cor­ner of the es­tate, and the rev­ellers on the op­po­site side are as likely to hear it as the guards close by. As a re­sult of this sim­u­la­tion,

Hitman also drops Ab­so­lu­tion’s check­points. “If a model or a stylist goes miss­ing, the stage man­ager will just find a new one,” says Elverdam. “If you kill ev­ery­one, it’s go­ing to be a pretty empty fash­ion show, but it’s not like the whole thing breaks down be­cause one of them goes miss­ing. [The game is] very ro­bust on ev­ery level, and we need to be, be­cause you’re com­pletely free to do what you want.”

And this drive to free Agent 47 from the smat­ter­ing of re­stric­tions placed on him in the past in­cludes the abil­ity to clam­ber up drain­pipes. “Build­ing tra­ver­sal is now a le­git­i­mate strat­egy. It’s not like we’re do­ing full park­our, but we wanted that to be an el­e­ment as well,” Elverdam says. “We talk a lot about our lev­els be­ing Swiss cheese: there’s al­ways some place to blow holes through, and it should never feel like there are dead ends. There’ll never be a place and time where you feel like you came to the end of the line.”

“We talk about lev­els be­ing Swiss cheese: there’s al­ways a place to blow holes through”

Cre­ative di­rec­tor Chris­tian Elverdam

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