How does IO Interactive's latest compare to Agent 47's past hits?
The noble art of murder
The old games: Agent 47 has always had a wide range of options when it comes to snuffing out his victims. Aside from a huge range of pistols, rifles and submachine guns, he can strangle enemies with his fibre wire, poison their food, or stab or bludgeon them with anything that comes to hand. He's also shown a propensity for using his surroundings to his advantage – rigging barbecues to burn their users, crushing people with chandeliers, and posing as a doctor so that he can deliberately botch an operation.
However, Agent 47 has never been particularly great at sustained gun battles. True, his innate toughness allows him to soak up bullets, but in all-out firefights he tends to lack the skill he shows elsewhere.
Hitman Absolution: Hitman's approach to gunplay has totally been transformed. At the forefront of the change is Point Shooting – a mechanic (loosely) based on a real-world technique, here transformed into a hybrid of standard bullet time, and the VATS system from Fallout 3. At the cost of Instinct, the player slows time and cues up a series of shots on multiple enemies, then triggers them all in a single, cinematic chain of executions.
Instinct can also be used to trigger show-off kills with melee weapons; the notable example in the last demo saw 47 killing two foes with an axe before hurling the weapon into a third opponent. From what I can tell, 47 can hold one large environmental object at a time, which can be used for melee purposes or thrown to cause a distraction. We've also seen him dual-wielding pistols. Weapons are selected from a quick-access menu, without breaking the flow of play.
It's hard to get a sense of how much punishment Agent 47 can take; as I've said, the last demonstrator was playing on god mode – and in any case, it's likely that damage will vary depending on difficulty level. According to Blystad, the game's health system will use a setup that's halfway between a regeneration mechanic and a limited reserve. When I suggested that it might use a segmented health bar, one that only regenerates up to the last partially-full block (as in Assault on Dark Athena, for example), Blystad confirmed that this was more or less accurate.
So far, we have yet to see a "proper" assassination, but expect less emphasis on technology and gadgets, and more focus on Agent 47 as a natural killing machine.
End of level feedback
The old games: A hefty stat page greets you at the end of each level, along with a rating. To get the rank of Silent Assassin, players must remain undetected, leave no trace of their presence, and use an extremely limited number of bullets – if any at all. Hitman: Blood Money also presented the player with a dynamic newspaper front page, with content that reflected your actions in the mission (still one of the most gratifying 'results' screens I've ever seen).
Hitman Absolution: Here's what Blystad has to say:
"We're logging absolutely everything. We're still looking into what kind of information people are most interested in. We haven't shown any end of levels yet, so obviously it's going to be a question. But it's a central part of the game – it's one of the things that makes the Hitman games.
"We do mark the end of each level, and we do give you info: 'This is how you performed. Think about this: Do you want to go back and re-do it, or continue the story? Some people won't care, they'll continue to the next setup. But people who do care – they want Silent Assassin or something similar, or they want to play for Achievements, or 'Challenges' as we call them – they will go back and replay a section or entire levels.
"That's what the game is made for, it's what the Hitman games are all about. It's the replay value, and being able to express yourself within the level."