A Killer Concept - Hitman: Absolution Hands-On
A Killer Concept - Hitman: Absolution Hands-On
What’s harder than finding a needle in a haystack? Finding a needle in a giant stack of needles. It’s made especially hard when you don’t even know you’re looking for that needle and the needle is in fact a honed assassin at the top of his game. And the thread hanging from him is actually dual silenced M9s. Ok, this metaphor has gone too far.
But we’re staring down the barrel of a Hitman game which aims with its infra-red telescopic sights to do what Splinter Cell: Conviction originally planned to do and what everyone thought Assassin’s Creed was trying to do – plant a stealth-action game in the middle of a crowd.
Not every level, of course, but after hands-on time with a Chinatown assassination mission, it’s safe to say this game will bring something special to the genre, whether it succeeds or fails in its ambition.
“What we really want to do with this Chinatown section is bring back the classic Hitman experience that you’ll know from previous instalments of the series,” promises Roberto Marchesi, Art Director at IO Interactive, telling me a little more about what I’ve just played and assuring me that yes, you will be able to play through the entire game killing only your target.
I opted to kill my target using a time-and-Simpsons honoured tradition of poisoning him with Fugu.
The way you interact with the crowd is interesting. You wade through them Ezio-style, making your way to different parts of a largish level to do nefarious deals with people, rob them, distract them or do whatever else you’ve decided is in your best interests to take out the target. The omnipresent crowd notwithstanding, yep – this is Hitman alright.
“We really did want to improve the crowd that we had originally,” continues Marchesi. “The crowd idea we already had in the Mardi Gras level from Blood Money, which was in 2006.”
“That game had its own limitations due to technology at the time, but right now we have more variations in the size and height variations of the people on the screen. They have very real reactions, a very real AI behind them and they will react to what the player is doing. So if one stumbles across a body you’ve left out carelessly, they’ll react accordingly, and you can even use that to your advantage as a gameplay element.”
There certainly are a myriad of interactions to be had, with Marchesi promising 13 different ‘states’, although he concedes there might have been a fourteenth added while his back was turned – those sneaky AI developers.
I wait over by the fish market for the cook to turn away briefly, watching from mere feet away in the middle of a crowd instead of from around a corner in an otherwise silent mansion. I pace forward to snatch the fish and am back in the crowd in less than a second. From there, I quickly contaminate my mark’s food and am arrogant enough to let him bump into me as I walk away. He curses at me, and I round the corner, observing patiently as he begins to clutch at his neck and turn red.
Marchesi walks me through the other 5 options the player has to take out this particular target, spending considerable time talking about the new ‘Instinct’ vision system, which darkens the room and highlights NPCs’ trajectories, threat statuses and more, apparently designed to replace the old mini-map.
One of my favourite new treats is a reversal of the way disguises work. No longer will dressing as a cop make cops ignore you – instead it’ll make them look you over, realise you’re not known to them and aren’t a cop, and instantly go on alert. Pedestrians meanwhile, can’t tell the difference, as it should be.
A menagerie of invisible tweaks just like this have been made to make the AI more believable. If you’re in a crowd, you’re harder to spot. If your back is turned when you’re about to get caught out wearing a uniform, they’re less likely to call you out. If you’re in character (in the case of a cop, that’s eating a donut), you’re also much more ‘hidden’.
Perhaps the only disappointing element was that when you instigate mass panic and a crowd really starts to go crazy to escape a danger zone, it doesn’t decrease the likelihood of an enemy being able to spot you without you going through the rigmarole of getting out of sight and changing costumes. It’s a small thing in an otherwise very lively, vibrant crowd which holds potential for emergent gameplay easily on par with Dishonored or Bioshock Infinite.
“It’s a question of form following function,” Marchesi continues, musing about the more ‘accessible’ interface the game presents. “We wanted to have communication which was a streamlined and clear as possible. So the way things are presented now is pretty straightforward. We don’t want to give too much information to the player which is irrelevant otherwise they’re just going to get drowned in it.”
To that end, the game is full of pop-up prompts which are heavily contextual, none of which are too overt or intrusive. As for Instinct mode piquing the ire of some self-titled ‘hardcore’ Hitman players, it’s an easy fix to turn off, and it can in fact be argued that with the lack of a mini-map instinct allows for a narrower and harder gameplay experience.
Multiplayer is still very much out - something which, hearing Marchesi talk about it, is quite refreshing to know. “Regular multiplayer, as people conceive it, is just not a good fit for the franchise,” he asserts. “Multiplayer is usually just some dudes running around catching a flag, and that’s not what this franchise is about.”
Meanwhile the team at IO have implemented full leaderboard support and base your final score on everything from the amount of time taken to the number of times you’re spotted or raise any suspicion, making it every big as challenging to get that much-coveted ‘Silent Assassin’ ranking, and allowing for a wealth of possible high scores so you have a really strong incentive to go back and try and do better.
Overall, we’re looking at an earnest attempt at re-doing Hitman and doing it right. Not since Blood Money has the franchise had so much potential in an upcoming title, and it seems Square are giving IO all the room they need to make this very ambitious title work. The possibility of success is there – the team knows what it is we all love about classic Hitman gameplay - now we just have to wait with fingers crossed, breath suitably bated and suit specifically tailored to see how it all shapes up November 20 this year.
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Thu 26 Jul 12, 4:53pmAudi
Posted: Thu 26 Jul 12, 4:53pm
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