Hitman: Blood Money is the latest addition to the Hitman series of games, and we had the opportunity to sit down with representatives from IO Interactive to take a look at the latest build of the game. Here are some impressions that we took away from the demonstration.
We happened to watch a demo of the PC version of the game, which is likely going to be the best-looking version, and it does look really nice. It looks somewhat similar to the PC version of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory at first glance, with high-res graphics and an eye to detail that the devs seem to be proud of. Our demo level took place in a Las Vegas casino, and Agent 47 started his mission outside the building, letting us get a quick glance at some of the exterior features. Fireworks were going off in the distance, and there was plenty of ritz and neon to contrast with the evening sky. The small details continued after 47 entered the casino, especially in the character animations; a man was seen trying to put the moves on a particularly drunk woman standing up against a wall, security guards milled about near the entrance to a security office, and so on. The casino had an Arabian Nights theme to it, complemented by the presence of belly dancers, of all things.
Agant 47 walked into the casino with only a sniper rifle in a case, so he was forced to find a handgun to do some of his dirty work. One of the new mechanics here is the ability to strip enemies of their weapons, so to obtain a handgun, the player approached a security guard, gouged his eyes to get him good and angry, waited for him to pull his gun, then swiftly pulled off a weapon strip and shot both guards before running up to a higher floor to pull off his sniping mission.
While all of this was being demonstrated, we learned more about the monetary aspect of the game. Since the story of the game sees Agent 47 flying solo to avoid a civil war between two rival assassin agencies, he has to have some way to obtain weaponry, and the cash system seems to solve this problem. As you play through the game, you'll obtain money (although we didn't learn the specifics of where and how this happens), which you can then use to buy stuff, the most prominent being weapon upgrades. Each of the five core weapons of the series (including a sniper rifle, submachine gun, and so on) will have 10 to 20 unique upgrades available for it. We caught a glance at some of these, and some of the options include short-range silencers for masking the sound of your weapon in a certain area, scopes, and weight-reduction modifications. Presumably there will be ways for you to improve the accuracy of your weapons, reduce recoil, and so on.
Anyway, Agent 47 had to take an elevator to get up to the upper floors of the casino, and we saw another new facet of the game here. As a special interaction, 47 will be able to dislodge ceiling panels in elevators and climb up to the top of the cab; when targets come into the elevator, he'll be able to grab them with fiber wire and drag them up to the top of the cab, effectively hiding the bodies and giving him plenty of time to pick up weapons.
When he reached the upper floors of the casino, Agent 47 laid a bomb outside the elevator doors and moved around to find a sniping position. When he had done so, he efficiently took out his target, then started jumping from balcony to balcony until he made it all the way to the room where the body was lying. On that topic, IO says that there will be plenty of new movements and animations available to Agent 47 to make movement feel more dynamic. There are also new body-disposal mechanics, such as hiding bodies in freezers and dumpsters or chucking them off balconies. You have to be careful, though, as non-player characters will run routes around levels, so if you hide a body in a dumpster, you can expect a waiter or maid to eventually find it when they take out the trash.
After reaching the body and finding the items he had come for on the target, it was time for Agent 47 to clear up any witnesses and make his escape from the casino. One of the new features that aided his escape is his ability to hide weapons after he has drawn them; if you pull a handgun in a crowded room, for example, no one will immediately notice, so long as you keep it obscured, which 47 will do automatically. When you make an aggressive move, though, everyone will spot you and freak out. For instance, Agent 47 managed to pull a small SMG and hold it behind his leg while he approached a few civilians; when he got up close to a standing woman, he grabbed her and used her as part of the new human-shield mechanic. This seemed to effectively prevent enemies from shooting at 47, and it also seems easy to use a shield and fire at the same time, so this could be a very helpful new addition to the series.
After slaughtering a few more security guards, it was time to make a final cleanup of the level. To do so, and to clear out any remaining witnesses (a lot of people ran when he started with the human shield and guard-shooting), Agent 47 pulled a fire alarm, which forced everyone in the level to leave their rooms and head toward the elevators. You know all those signs telling you to take the stairs and not the elevator when a fire alarm's going? Well, you might want to listen to them, because you never know when a cloned assassin with a shaved head might detonate a prelaid bomb near the elevators to kill you and your friends while you're attempting to leave. This whole episode is actually a lot more brutal than we're making it sound, oddly enough.
Speaking of brutality, another new feature in the game is notoriety. If you happen to go through the game slaughtering massive numbers of civilians and not caring whether or not anyone sees you, you'll earn what's called notoriety, and as people start to hear about your exploits, their reactions to you in future missions will start to change, to the point where you might eventually even become so terrifying that everyone in a level will run away from you. If you play it stealthy and try to set up as many deaths as possible to look like accidents, then you probably won't have to worry about this overmuch, but if you want to go absolutely kill-crazy, then you can expect to have to spend some cash to reduce your notoriety, by doing such things as buying security tape to prevent the cops from getting hold of it or even buying new ID.
IO seems focused on keeping the game's difficulty intact, but it explicitly stated that some aspects of the game that were just frustrating, such as being shot while you're reloading, are being retuned to maximize the fun factor. They're also promising a completely retuned tutorial that's more linear and more informative, allowing new players to get into the game more easily.
All told, we're seeing a lot to look forward to in Hitman: Blood Money. We didn't get a chance to go hands-on with the title, but it's currently looking like a lot of fun. Check GameSpot for more details on the game as its fall 2005 ship date approaches.