At a recent demo session with publisher Eidos Interactive, developer Io Interactive was on hand to show us a PlayStation 2 build of Hitman: Contracts, which is the latest (and third) entry in its Hitman franchise. In Contracts, everyone's favorite genetically engineered assassin-for-hire, Agent 47, returns once again. However, this time things are a little different. Io's goal with Contracts is to take the Hitman series in a darker, more noir-inspired direction by using both upgraded visuals and a much darker story tone to get it across. If what we saw during our demo session is any indication of things to come, we're happy to report that Io has definitely made great strides toward achieving its goal.
In Hitman: Contracts, we find Agent 47 holed up in a hotel somewhere in Paris. He has been shot and is heavily doped up on painkillers. He's in a ghastly state and is both hallucinating and suffering from nightmarish flashbacks. This is where the missions in Hitman: Contracts will come into play, as each one is designed to be a flashback to a previous hit from 47's past. Every mission in the game will use a structure that's similar to those in past Hitman games, thus giving you multiple objectives and multiple ways to achieve them. At his disposal, 47 will have more than 30 firearms and a host of new melee weapons and attacks, including new sneak attacks for stealth killing. These will come in handy, as you'll be facing some much tougher enemy artificial intelligence this time around. Nonplayer characters are much more reactive in Contracts and will respond even to slight shadows and subtle sounds.
Each of the missions we saw during our demo session definitely gave off the darker vibe that Io is aiming for this time around. For one particularly grim mission example, Agent 47 had been hired by the parents of a missing girl to investigate the recently acquitted suspect of their daughter's kidnapping and probable murder. The mission objective stipulates that if the suspect is revealed to be the killer, Agent 47 is supposed to eliminate him. The suspect happened to be the kingpin of a large meat company and was holed up inside a dank, cavernous slaughterhouse. The design of this level was extremely impressive, and it featured an extremely disturbing atmosphere with rivers of blood that were strewn throughout the various killing floors. There was drab, flickering fluorescent lighting, and there were plenty of butchers wandering around while menacingly holding various pieces of cutlery. To top it all off--and to add an even more twisted element to the whole mission--the slaughterhouse also came complete with an S&M/dance club that featured plenty of wildly dressed patrons. During this mission, we also got the chance to see how pieces of the environment can actually be interacted with during the game. For instance, if you kill an enemy, you're able to use one of the many meat hooks that are strewn about the level to hang the enemy. While we don't want to give too much away, we would like to say that some of the imagery seen in this mission was impressively disturbing. Not every mission in the game will be quite this disturbing, but the darker tone will definitely be noticed throughout the game.
Io has also put a great deal of effort into creating a new graphics engine for Contracts, and from what we saw of the PlayStation 2 build, the work really shows. The primary addition to the engine that really seemed to make the most difference was a postfiltering effect that essentially seemed to eliminate almost all aliasing and cleaned up the different textures and set pieces very nicely. This effect really gave the whole game a high level of polish that you wouldn't otherwise expect from an unfinished product. In addition to this, numerous other visual touches stood out. Some really spectacular lighting effects were included, which specifically set the mood for each individual environment, thus giving it its own unique feel. Each environment's lighting is also totally interactive. So, for example, shooting out lights in a room will cause enemies to shoot more erratically since they won't be able to see you and won't be able to aim at you. We also saw some really brilliant blizzard and rain effects in a couple of different missions. In fact, they were some of the best we've seen to date. These effects also interact with the environments, thus causing set pieces, like cloth flags and banners, to flail about very realistically.
At its current stage of development, Hitman: Contracts showed us a lot of promise, and we look forward to being able to see more of the game as its release draws closer. Currently, Hitman: Contracts is scheduled for release early this summer for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC. We'll have more on the game in the coming weeks.