The Hitman panel at PAX has just ended, offering a few snippets of information, as well as a video playthrough of the game’s Showstopper level.
I’ll stick up the level playthrough when it’s online (Update: It’s up now) but for now let’s recap the panel, which offered insight from both art director Jonathan Rowe and lead writer Michael Vogt. And, uh, possibly a third person, but I missed the very beginning so I’m not quite sure who that was. Ahem.
IO Interactive are reiterating yet again that they want to go back to the Hitman: Blood Money way of doing things. It’s described as having a “more sober tone”, which feels less like an action film and more like a “classic spy thriller.”
This is 47 in his prime, as the client of – and assassin of – the 1% elite, as they’re the only ones in his league, and also the only ones who can afford him. 47 will be leaving the confines of the United States for plenty of his assassinations, with a number of exotic locales acting as sandboxes for your artful murder. Expect to be strolling through high society all around the world.
The game’s main plot is delivered through the mission briefings; while the team toyed with the idea of having levels where you unraveled and pieced together the story, it proved too difficult to do in a sandbox environment. If you fire off a shotgun and alert everyone in the level to your presence, for instance, any nuanced plot revelations will completely fall apart. That said, levels will offer a lot of extra subplots, with extra details on your targets and the goings-on of the level up for discovery by exploration-focused players.
Part of that comes with the “Opportunities” system, which points out interesting things to the player which they may or may not decide to use to complete their mission. As an example (which, I should add, I’ve just made up, as no examples were given) you might overhear a conversation between guards about how your designated target is continually snacking on the canapes, and the Opportunities system will note this down. They mostly seem like little guidelines as to possible paths you can take through the mission and little facts you can put to use, which – if done right – should be a pretty inobtrusive way of gently nudging you towards certain possibilities.
Indeed, replayability is a massive focus, with the team reckoning you’ll have to play through a level 10 to 20 times to really see everything. If you run in guns blazing you’ll only see a tiny fraction of what the level has to offer, and sneaking around and pulling off a perfect assassination will still only really show you 10% of the level’s content. Probably because there are many, many ways you can off your targets. A quote from later in the presentation was “Hitman is very much about listening and exploring”, which indicates to me that they’re thinking along the right lines with this game.
The team are still being cagey about how difficulty levels will work. They did note that the game itself is harder than Absolution insofar as it’s significantly more difficult to survive gunfights, and while Instinct makes a return, it now has absolutely no bearing on the way your disguises function. It’s mostly there to point out useful objects in the environment to you, and is completely optional.
Three little bits and pieces from the panel that I found quite interesting. First: 47 was originally created to be bald because doing decent hair was incredibly tricky back then. No TressFX, and all that. Second: the iconic barcode on the back of his head was originally part of a disguise on the first game’s asylum level, but the team liked the look enough that they made it permanent. And third, when asked if IO Interactive had thought about setting games in different time periods of 47’s life – his early missions with the Agency, or towards the end of his career – they were very cagey, only really responding that they’ve “thought about these things.” So, yeah, games like that aren’t exactly out of the question, but then I doubt they’d really rule it out anyway.
The mission playthrough itself showed off parts of the Showstopper level, which is the Paris fashion show we’ve seen in pretty much all of the footage so far. The target is Viktor Novikov, the owner of a fashion house but – more pertinently – a member of a spy ring called IAGO. As the host of the Parisian fashion show, this is pretty much 47’s best chance to take him out – but he’s still heavily guarded.
I’m not going to talk too heavily about the playthrough because you can see it for yourself right now, but a few things deserve attention. There are massive crowds; this level has over 300 unique NPCs and all of them are active at once, which means that triggering a fire alarm on one side of the level will still impact the rest of the level. By comparison, IO reckon that Absolution had 40-50 NPCs tops in the most densely populated checkpoints of that game. And yes, every single one of those NPCs is a valid target for the returning Contracts mode, which lets you create your own objectives on any given level of the game and challenge your friends.
Disguises now do more than just vaguely mitigate your being spotted; sushi chefs are no longer psychically linked to all other sushi chefs like bizarre food-selling pod people, and will no longer shriek HE’S NOT ONE OF US if they see you. Certain NPCs can still see through disguises – on this level, BOTH the head of security and Novikov’s bodyguard will both be able to spot you through all disguises – but that actually makes a degree of sense. Likewise, specially marked “Enforcer” NPCs can see through particular disguises, which is also entirely plausible. It stands to reason that the head waiter would know the rest of the wait staff, but wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you’re dressed as one of Novikov’s security entourage. So yes, you’re relatively free to walk around in a disguise as long as you don’t do anything illegal or stupid, or walk into one of the rare NPCs who can tell you apart.
All of that aside, there are loads and loads of items in the environment that you can interact with, ranging from sabotaging gas lamps to switching off the lights, or maybe just picking up a crowbar and lobbing it at a guard’s head. Expect a lot of environmental ways to make your way through areas and pick off your targets.
Hitman is due out on 8 December, and if it lives up to what’s been shown today, I think I’ll be rather happy indeed. Eyes peeled for the playthrough video if you want to see it in action for yourself.