Gamers will once again get the chance to walk in the shoes of a contract killer next spring. Danish development house IO Interactive is revving up work this fall and winter on Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, a sequel to last year's Hitman: Codename 47. That original stirred up no shortage of controversy, thanks to a plot that featured more mob-related violence than three seasons of The Sopranos and The Godfather trilogy combined. If you weren't using piano wire to garrote a thug, you were blowing apart heads with a telescopic rifle or setting off a car bomb to kill a half-dozen mobsters. A Merchant-Ivory production it wasn't.
Don't expect too much to change in the follow-up. Fans can expect to see more of the same cold-blooded action in Hitman 2 when it arrives next March. The genetically engineered assassin with a shining pate and a bar code on the back of his neck returns for another kick at the corpse after being dragged out of a monastic retreat in Sicily. Subsequent assignments will take the still unidentified killer across the globe as he attempts to unravel the mystery of his existence by visiting the exotic locales of St. Petersburb, Japan, India, North Africa, Sicily, and Malaysia, all the while colorfully murdering the locals.
As before, the gameplay will lie somewhere between the first-person sneaker atmosphere of the Thief titles and more traditional festivals of carnage like Soldier of Fortune. Bringing the game even closer to its shooter rivals is the option of a first-person camera view, provided as a new option for FPS fans who didn't like Hitman's third-person perspective. This changed point of view won't alter the main thrust of play, which will still involve killing opponents in creative ways. IO wants to let gamers discover some of these new murderous methods on their own, though some details have slipped. One new scenario will see the hitman sneaking into a hospital to impersonate a surgeon and ensure the tragic failure of an open-heart procedure being performed on a mob boss. More directed missions like this are said to be a major part of the design. Where the original had you engaged in regular shootouts, the sequel promises to-the-point assassinations. Like any real-world contract killer, you'll often have to get in and get out with a minimum of fuss.
IO's own Glacier engine is again being used to power the graphics, though this is an upgraded version of the technology that pumps out more polygons. The exclusive screenshots that accompany this article already reveal more detailed characters and background scenery that is more visually impressive than anything in the original. Shots from the Sicilian monastery where the game begins would be peaceful and inviting--if you weren't aware of the slaughter to come. A unique sound for the new game is being provided by Jesper Kyd, an old hand with electronica and techno who's blending his specialties with the Budapest Radio Philharmonic. Recording is still in the demo stage, though the early results are said to be very promising. At any rate, the music should certainly be unique. For more details on Hitman 2, we sat down with the game's lead designer, Jacob Andersen.
Interview With Lead Designer Jacob Andersen
GameSpot: The original Hitman: Codename 47 was hailed in most quarters as being a good game that was awfully close to being a great one. Is that one of the reasons that you're developing Hitman 2: Silent Assassin? To sort of wrap up unfinished business?
Jacob Andersen: We're not wrapping up, we're continuing where we left off. Of course, there were things in Hitman that could have been better, and we've tried our best at fixing that--and yes, we do read what people write on the message boards and take it into account. We have added a full save feature and first-person viewing mode and have taken a serious look at the controls, since a lot of non-hard-core gamers found them hard to learn in the first game.
GS: And speaking of unfinished business...why does everyone's favorite contract killer with a bar code on the back of his neck make a comeback?
JA: Well, you can't run around the globe making such extraordinary assassinations without anyone taking notice. Hitman is trying to put his past behind him by settling in a quiet monastery in Sicily, but he is soon dragged back into the killing business.
GS: How many missions will be included? Will they be as large as the ones in the first game?
JA: There are currently 20 missions plus training levels in the game, split into six different chapters. We aimed at making them a bit smaller and more intense than some of the larger missions in Hitman, like the Budapest hotel killing and the Lee Hong assassination. But somehow, we still seemed to end up with pretty large missions. Not that you have lots of objectives, though, as most of the levels are pretty simple. For example, the agency wants this guy cold, and you have to make him that way. It's just that when we start building the levels, new ideas pop up and the level grows--not in size, but in complexity.
GS: The new settings in Hitman 2 seem to be a lot more varied than they were in the original. Does that mean that each will have its own distinct style of play?
JA: Of course. The player will not be stuck in the same environment throughout the game. We think it's more rewarding to play a game with a lot of different graphics representing different settings. And it's also more fun to make.
GS: Any hints on what sorts of objectives we'll need to solve in Hitman 2? Some of the challenges presented by the original game were pretty out of the ordinary.
JA: Yes, we're trying to make the game different by introducing alternate killing methods. Along with the traditional shooting--sniping is still cool--you'll be messing with things like food poisoning and [disrupting] heart surgery.
GS: In light of the attacks on September 11, there's been a slight cooling in the industry regarding violent games. Have there been any thoughts about toning down the violence in Hitman 2? The first game was already pretty controversial. Are you at all worried about a potential negative public reaction?
JA: We were all pretty shocked by the disaster. I myself lived in Manhattan for about one-and-a-half years and looked at those towers every day. We thought a lot about it but ultimately decided not to change anything in the game. After all, it's only a game, and we have no missions in New York. I think that, as far as it is possible, people should not change what they're doing because they're scared of terrorists; that's exactly what the terrorists want.
GS: Have there been any major changes to gameplay? Will veterans of the original Hitman notice any big differences right away?
JA: The changes we've done [include cutting] out all Rambo-style shooting levels, as they just did not work that well. Sneaking around is still the most fun. We've also tried not to put in way-off objectives, like running around the jungle carrying a pig (which looked funny, though). We've added the possibility to paralyze enemies instead of killing them by using chloroform or hitting them with a blunt weapon.
GS: Will a multiplayer option be added? Can it even be done in a game like this, which emphasizes stealth and careful movement?
JA: I'm afraid I have to disappoint here--though we are talking about adding multiplayer in an expansion pack some time after the main release. We believe that Hitman 2 could be a great multiplayer game. We have a couple of sinister ideas, but right now, the single-player experience demands all our attention.
GS: Some people found the third-person camera angle in Hitman a little off-putting. Any chance of seeing a first-person view in Hitman 2?
JA: That's what we heard too, so we decided to make a full first-person viewing mode as well. A good thing is that it does not take anything away from the third-person experience. You actually end up playing a combination where you use first-person mode to shoot precisely and third-person to move around and to make close-range attacks, like strangulation.
GS: What new weapons have been added?
JA: Several new sniper rifles, of course. They all have their own scopes, with different zoom and vision capabilities and different characteristics. For example, some are silenced and some are high-caliber. We also added a few more close combat weapons, like surgery scalpels and fire axes.
GS: Will the hitman be given any new items to play with this time around?
JA: Lock picks and night vision goggles have been added for some of the levels. In regard to the former, hitman can shoot up doors as well, but it's just not as stealthy and will alarm guards.
GS: While the original game looked great, Hitman: Codename 47 will be going on its second birthday by the time this sequel hits the shelves next spring. Are any improvements being made to the graphics engine? Is the same basic technology being used to produce the sequel?
JA: No. We have had to rewrite large parts of the engine to make it work with the next generation of console systems [Hitman 2 is also shipping for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox]. This includes changes to almost every aspect of the engine. It's become much more efficient, with a lot higher polygon counts (four to five times what was in the first game), real-time lighting and T&L support, and support for those lucky enough to have a graphics card with vertex-shader capabilities, like the GeForce3. The save feature required a great deal of work too.
GS: Finally, any hints on whether or not we'll learn the hitman's name?
JA: Professor Ort-Meyer was the only person who knew the hitman's name (besides hitman himself), and he's now dead. The hitman's about to get some new "friends" who might tell us his real name, though.
GS: Thanks for your time, Jacob.