At a recent press event, representatives from Io Interactive gave us an updated look at Hitman: Blood Money, the latest installment in the saga of genetically engineered superassassin Agent 47. As we learned when we saw Blood Money back at E3, the storyline will see Agent 47 battling against the operatives of a rival agency--one that's attempting to remove the competition by picking off 47's compatriots one by one. Eventually you'll be the last man standing, and you'll have to take on many of the rival agents as boss characters throughout the game. These enemy agents will also influence your own objectives from time to time. In fact, an example mission was given in which you'll have to prevent one of them from killing an individual with a bounty on his head.
Agent 47's repertoire of moves has certainly expanded in Blood Money, and Io has especially emphasized close-quarters combat. You'll get a number of new combat abilities when you're in melee range. As a result, you can head-butt or shove people when the situation is appropriate, and you can perform a disarm move to strip them of their weapons if they try to shoot you. You can even use an enemy as a human shield if you're feeling dastardly enough. The combat has also been tweaked to make things go a little more smoothly. For instance, you can now have a weapon equipped without blatantly waving it around; 47 will conceal a sidearm behind his back while keeping it at the ready, giving you more flexibility when planning an attack. You'll also be able to take out certain targets creatively, without raising alarms by rigging accidents. For example, Io mentioned that you could plant a bomb on a chandelier and then drop the entire thing on top of a character, making the death look more or less like a random mishap rather than a hired killing.
We've previously reported on the new notoriety system in Blood Money, which will quantify Agent 47's reputation as a cold-blooded assassin based on your actions. Essentially, the more open you are about your ill doings, the more people will fear you--and react to your presence appropriately--in subsequent missions. Your performance will actually manifest itself in the form of a newspaper that you'll get to look at between missions, with a front-page story detailing your antics. The images and text of this story are actually generated dynamically, and you can zoom in to read about exactly what you did during the mission, all the way down to how many shots were fired and who was killed. If you wantonly took people out and didn't try to conceal your identity, you'll see a police sketch of 47 himself. But if you were perfectly covert, you'll see a sketch that doesn't look anything like old baldy, and your identity will be safe. In the former case, you'll actually see wanted posters in the next mission bearing your likeness, and people will instantly recognize you as a threat, making your job a lot harder.
Cold, hard cash will play a significant role in your missions in this latest Hitman. As you earn money for carrying out dangerous jobs, you'll not only be able to upgrade a number of your weapons, but also you'll be able to "grease the wheels" of your missions. For instance, if you're sloppy about covering your tracks, you'll have the option at the end of a mission to bribe certain individuals to keep quiet about your activities. You'll even have to cough up some cash to get your suit back if you happened to finish the mission wearing a disguise. You'll also be able to purchase "intel" during a level, which will manifest itself in the form of hints that will guide you to the logical next step in completing your objectives.
We also got a bit more info on the weapon upgrade system in the game, which will let you modify a set number of stock weapons with some very handy modifications. Each weapon will have between 10 and 15 mods that you can purchase, such as scopes, silencers, and laser sights. You'll even be able to get more-esoteric modifications, such as making a particular gun impervious to metal detectors. All these mods will carry over from one mission to another, and you'll be able to better prepare your strategy for a coming mission based on which mods you want to pony up the cash for.
Io has been hard at work improving the technology that powers Blood Money, and veterans of the series should see a lot of improvements when they fire up this latest installment. On a high-end PC, you'll see a number of modern shader effects at work, and the developer has even managed to implement specular mapping and character normal mapping in the PS2 version. Indeed, from what we saw of the Vegas level, Blood Money instantly looks like the most detailed and visually appealing Hitman game yet. One interesting new piece of technology, which we unfortunately didn't get to see in action, is a new crowd system, which Io says will let 3,000-4,000 characters appear in a scene at once. These will all be fully 3D-modeled and functional entities, so you'll theoretically be able to interact with and can attack any one of them at will.
During our demo, we got an updated look at the Las Vegas mission that we checked out at E3, in which two characters are meeting to exchange briefcases in a lobby. It's your job to prevent this from happening, and you can go about it in a number of ways. You can secretly plant a bomb on one of the briefcases and then blow both persons up, or you can take one person out ahead of time to disguise yourself as that character so you can then attend the meeting yourself. Io says a new "rookie" difficulty level will be available in the game, making it more accessible to casual gamers. The mode will essentially reduce the prowess of the enemy artificial intelligence. However, the harder modes should still serve up the open-ended stealth gameplay that Hitman fans crave. Blood Money is due out next spring for the PC, PS2, and Xbox, and we'll bring you more on the game in the coming months.