We've been getting a steady stream of information about Hitman: Blood Money for the last few months, but until recently we hadn't gotten to see the version we were most interested in--that being the Xbox 360 edition, of course. That all changed recently when Eidos whipped out a nearly completed build of Blood Money on Microsoft's next-gen wonder box, and we got a high-def dose of Agent 47's most feature-rich covert operation yet. For more information on all these new features, such as the customizable weapon and persistent notoriety systems, check out our previous coverage of Blood Money on the, uh, lesser consoles.
For now, we're just looking at how the game has made the transition from those current-gen platforms to the Xbox 360. One of Blood Money's most interesting new features on the technical end--and one we hadn't yet gotten to see to our satisfaction--is the large-scale crowd system, which we finally got a good look at with the 360 build. Essentially, the new engine can populate an environment with literally hundreds of fully interactive NPC bystanders, which we saw in action on two different missions without any appreciable hit to the game's frame rate. You can part the crowd when you confidently stride forward, and nearby citizens will even react appropriately when you end up taking hostile actions against enemies. For instance, we saw 47 throw a dead enemy over a balcony railing into the crowd, which made people scatter and hang back, gawking at the body. Little touches like this helped to make the missions we saw more organic and lifelike than usual.
The crowd system was most evident in a New Orleans level set during Mardi , in which Agent 47 had a number of objectives. Primarily, he had to protect a politician who was in town to give a speech, and in support of this objective he had to neutralize three rival assassins who were undercover in giant chicken costumes. Per the Hitman series' preference for stealth, it was far more effective for 47 to corner these three operatives in isolated locations and kill them without raising the partygoers' suspicions. Of course, you could always just gun the bad guys down amid a bunch of onlookers, but that will affect your notoriety, which is something you'll generally want to avoid.
Several missions in Blood Money will take place in Las Vegas, and we got to see another level that will take a look at a fictionalized version of Sin City's shady underworld club scene. This mission took 47 to a series of heaven-and-hell-themed bondage-style clubs in which everyone was wearing some sort of disturbing costume (and of course, if you can covertly neutralize them, you can wear those costumes). In this mission, 47 had to take out the mistress of the rave, who would be performing in a heavily pyrotechnic show later that evening. The best way to do this, of course, was to tamper with the effects controls and roast her alive. (Nobody said this assassin stuff was pretty.) We saw 47 sneak in through the club's garage, disguise himself as a security guard (complete with devil mask), and toss one of those same guards into a shark tank, just for kicks.
In addition to the massive crowds, Blood Money naturally just looks a lot better on the 360 than the previous versions we've seen. We were quite impressed to see the game running in the 360's full resolution of 1080i without any noticeable impact to the frame rate. The level of detail on characters and backgrounds has also naturally been increased significantly. Developer Io has also added some stylistic touches to the visual presentation. For instance, you'll often see the screen split into a comic book panel-style format so the game can show you some key event that's happening elsewhere in the level.
Lastly, as with all Xbox 360 games these days, we couldn't resist asking Eidos how Hitman's gamer points will be distributed. Though the list for all the achievements hasn't yet been finalized, we were told that unlike the first run of 360 games, Blood Money's achievements won't all be easy to come by. Moreover, the achievements will primarily be focused not just on completing the game's missions, but specifically how you complete them. For instance, one achievement might require you to get through a particular mission without ever firing a weapon, or another might instruct you to take out your targets in a particular manner. It's a safe bet that however the achievements end up being implemented, it won't be a walk in the park to unlock the full 1,000 points.
So far, the Xbox 360 version of Hitman: Blood Money is looking like the one to get, with its vastly superior graphics and all those delectable points to unlock. The game is slated for release around the end of the month, so we'll bring you more on it at E3 and beyond.