One of the games I got to play and attend a panel for was the new Hitman title. Let’s get something out of the way from the start. I am a huge Hitman series fan. It happens to be one of my favorite series of all time. So playing this new installment a month early was pretty exciting. And let me tell you something, if you weren’t excited about Hitman before, now is the time. Because this is going to be the best game of the series, and the best games out this year. Here’s what I learned at NYCC, and here is why I’m this excited.
The mission that I got to play through was the first mission in the game, part of which was also a tutorial. At first, I didn’t enjoy the idea of getting my hand held, but most of that stuff was minimal as the game simply let you explore all of your options. The emphasis is still on stealth and being the silent assassin we all know Agent 47 to be, this time with a lot better mechanics. 47 Can now seamlessly duck in and out of cover, huge when sneaking around and trying to get an angle on someone. He can also interact with environmental items a whole lot more. Tossing things to create a distraction or clobbering an enemy with them for a not so subtle approach.
Your movement is a lot more fluid now, which is important in a game like this. Baldy is a lot more responsive to input commands and seemingly more limber. The big change for me was that garrotte wire assassinations will automatically transfer into a drag animation, shaving precious seconds off the “hide the body” process. This seems very minor, but in a game like this, it’s a big deal, especially when trying to avoid patrols. Hitman can still non-lethally dispose of guards by chocking them out (by tapping X or if you get to lazy just press Y for a quick neck snap).
Forty-seven will also have a number of special abilities you can upgrade through the game (leveling system rewards stealth and silence). Unfortunately, only one was available in the demo, and that was point shooting, somewhat similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction’s instant kill mechanics. You will have to save instinct meter to do that. Speaking of instinct, when active it is something akin to detective mode in Batman. Agent 47 can see guard’s planned paths and important objects in the area. It is also used to shield your face when in disguise and under suspicion.
That works well. I am happy with how the game is handling disguise. Obviously some people would recognize you don’t belong, while others won’t. In the demo, when dressed as a gardener, the house guards won’t give you a second thought, but the other gardeners might notice you’re not the bald guy that came with them in the van. Holding the instinct button will grant 47 a few more precious seconds to walk away unrecognized, disguise in tact.
One small issue I had was the instinct mode, it seems that in the demo it was a little too powerful. Part of the fun in Hitman series was figuring out what to do, how to do it. It was exhilarating to sit in cover and figure out gaps in guard patrols that led to a clean kill. Simply seeing the paths laid out in front of you now could be way too easy for series veterans. Hopefully the final build comes with a mode that limits that kind of game assistance.
On the other hand, some of it wasn’t too bad. Interface was a problem in past games. Sometimes the solution was right in front of you but it was so poorly integrated with the environment that you could spend 15 minutes looking for it. Case and point: in the demo you had to distract in-house bodyguards so you could steal a key card off one of them. The best way to do that was to open the electric blinds and let the key card guard walk up the stairs to close them up. If I didn’t have instinct mode there’s no way of telling that the blinds panel was even intractable without being extremely close to it. Considering that it was right in the open (and right beside another guard who I chocked out) that was an unnecessary risk without instinct, something I’d never do.
Overall, the demo was a nicely balanced experience. Since it was the very first (and probably tutorial mission for the game) I can forgive it for being a bit too easy and not as option filled by series standards. It was a great way to show off the new mechanics that make Agent 47 the most lethal killing machine yet. It seems like fine wine, baldy only gets better with age.
One more thing I do want to touch on is the Contracts mode for which I attended a panel. There, developers showed off three different ways to tackle a contract. Silent, hybrid and full out assault. Each had their challenges, but this being a Hitman game the silent approach obviously netted a higher score.
Contracts mode is a lot like AutoLog for the NFS series. You can jump into any map from single player, and set up to three assassination targets. On top of that you can set conditions for the contract, what weapons to use, whether or not you were detected, if you killed anyone else, if you set it up as an accident and which disguise did you use. There are many more, and considering you can set ANYONE on the map as a target the possibilities are limitless. You can get as rigid or as loose with specifics as you want. Of course, the game won’t let you set a contract until you complete it first with ALL of the conditions you want to impose. The time bonus will also be set by your own play time when you set a contract.
The mode looks amazing. It seems that it will give Hitman-heads (is that a thing? Well, it is now) a lot more to strive for. I can see myself spending many hours finding creative ways to kill someone and then seeing if anyone can replicate or improve on my performance. This will be the ground for bragging rights for the true fans.
Overall, the game looks phenomenal, and it seems IO Interactive really beefed it up for the newest release. They have listened to life long fans and seem intent on giving us the game we want. They also introduced a number of features that may be likely to draw the crowd in as well.
Hitman: Absolution comes out on November 20, 2012. I’ll be impatiently waiting. So should you.