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