Hitman Is Low-Calorie Stealth No Longer

At E3 2015, IO Interactive demonstrated how its beloved assassin series has returned to its roots.


Although 2012’s Hitman: Absolution was an excellent action title, it diminished much of what made the series unique. As a fan of the earlier games, it pained me to see IO Interactive’s sandbox assassination series begin to lose its complexity in favour of a focus on action and bombast.

At its finest hour (Blood Money), Hitman felt like peering into the guts of a grandfather clock, examining all the interconnected pieces, admiring the beautiful harmony in which they worked together, and then detaching the one piece that kept it all ticking.

I’ve come to accept that simplifying this formula may have been a commercial necessity. The Hitman series was always a beast too complex for consoles to contain, in part due to its roots as a PC series. But now, if the Hitman reboot shown at E3 2015 is any indication, IO Interactive appears to be done with low-calorie stealth.

Although we weren’t given an opportunity to get hands-on with the new Hitman, IO Interactive creative director Christian Elverdam took us on an in-depth tour of one of the assassination contracts from the game, highlighting the numerous ways the new Hitman returns to its roots.

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The area demonstrated to us is the same as the one featured in the gameplay trailer, above. In the video, Agent 47 emerges from a limousine and walks along the red carpet towards a VIP fashion show, his invitation held high as an array of blinding camera flashes break out.

For long-term fans of the series, the invitation is an important detail. Agent 47’s relationship with the International Contract Agency had become strained in the more recent editions of the series. In Absolution, his former employer was in fact hunting him, but for the new game Agent 47 is back in the ICA’s good books. This means he begins missions with the full backing of the agency, so you arrive as a guest.

The ICA’s support of Agent 47 also informs the feel and pace of the game. You’re no longer the dog backed into the corner by its master, as was the case in Absolution, so this new title is less about desperation and survival. Instead, you are again the fully-resourced apex predator, with the time and freedom to stalk your prey and come up with a perfect assassination plan.

As Elverdam takes control of Agent 47, two targets are designated for assassination, but for the purpose of this demo, and in the interest of not spoiling too much, we’re told the focus will be around Victor Novikov. Although his public-facing persona is a powerful oligarch, he’s also a member of a spy-ring known as IAGO, which deals in secrets capable of toppling governments and compromise covert operatives.

"Even this early, it seems the studio has confidently struck a balance between the approachability of Absolution, and Blood Money’s depth and freedom."

Elverdam guided us through the area by popping into a freecam mode, and moving between points of interest to highlight key areas of the game. First up, a top-down perspective over the sprawling location, which is fully accessible to Agent 47, provided he meets the right conditions to access them.

“The entire palace, from the cellar to the attic, and the grounds outside are all your playground,” he said. “There’s life everywhere. There are guards patrolling, there are things happening, there are different security zones to bypass throughout the whole level. It’s very much what you expect from a Hitman game, just on a much larger scale than you’ve had before.”

Hitman’s freedom of approach was best showcased at the very start of our demo. At the end of the red carpet, standing in front of a lavish water fountain, was a TV reporter and her camera-operator. As Agent 47 walked through the shot, she stopped, watched him for a few moments, and then resumed her recording. In most games, players wouldn’t think twice about a random NPC. However, in Hitman every character could provide an opportunity. On this occasion, if players listen to her report for long enough, she reveals she will be interviewing Victor Novikov later in the night. Obviously, a perfect opportunity to take him out. In front of the world, no less.

We then move onto a quick overview of how to tamper various objects in the environment, and also how to lay traps; a pillar of the Hitman series. The area was filled with dozens of objects and environmental features that Agent 47 could put to use.

There's a gas canister, which, if you have a screwdriver, can be punctured. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There is a bar fully staffed by waiters serving the rich and famous--including Novikov.

Within the sandbox, there’s so much opportunity for expression. Let’s take the bar as an example. Should you decide you want to take the subtle approach and take out your target by poisoning him, you’ve got the option to use a lethal poison that kills him instantly, give him a drawn-out death with a concoction that makes him violently ill before he gives up the ghost, or simply knock him unconscious. Importantly, every choice you make in the lead-up to taking out Novikov, has the potential create a domino effect that changes the parameters of your mission.

Taking Novikov out lethally, for example, may put security on a higher state of alert, which means taking out secondary targets, or even reaching the extraction point, becomes significantly more difficult than if you sneak in, knock him out, hide his body, and vanish.

Later in the demo, an explosive is planted on the floor near some guards. Agent 47 then throws his trusty coin near the explosive to direct security’s attention towards it. Instead of going straight into an alert mode, the guard approaches it, diffuses it and then walks inside the building. According to Elverdam, players can choose to follow him he will take them to a weapons armoury beneath the mansion.

The puppeteering element of Hitman also returns. Novikov won’t just stand around waiting for you to appear. He’s a man with things to do, at any given moment he can be behind the stage getting grief from a fashion designer who feels she’s been forced to sell out, trying to hit on a model, or walking around the grounds outside the mansion. Luring Novikov, and any of the other NPCs, into where you need them, requires some forward-thinking and finesse.

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In our demo, Elverdam pointed out a series of barges floating on the river surrounding the mansion. At the end of the fashion show, these launch fireworks to illuminate the night sky and dazzle guests. However, with a little effort, Agent 47 can also set these off early to lure guests out of the mansion, spread a little confusion among the guards, and slip through the cracks in the security unseen.

There have also been a number of other smart tweaks in other areas. The Instinct mode, for example, is less about telling the player exactly what to do and what’s around them, and instead now represents Agent 47’s innate assassin’s intuition. It shows enemies in his immediate surroundings that he could conceivable hear or see, and points of interaction that he’d naturally gravitate to.

Of course, since it is based on Contract modes, that means other players around the world can create new scenarios and designate the dozens of other NPCs in the area as a new target for Agent 47. Which means the sheer variety of strategies available to players is almost overwhelming.

What we’ve seen so far is highly promising. Using Absolution’s Contracts mode as a foundation on which to rebuild the classic Hitman experience has obviously worked for IO Interactive. Even this early, it seems the studio has confidently struck a balance between the approachability of Absolution, and Blood Money’s depth and freedom.

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Avatar image for thiagodcf

Damn that Instinct mode... hate it... To me it's a supernatural power (to let the noobies finish the game)...

I'm an IT professional for so many years and not for that I'm seeing the world in "0" and "1" like Matrix movie.

awful decision maintaining that Instinct mode.

(bad english, I know)

Avatar image for mkygod

Having thoroughly played and enjoyed Bloody Money, I don't see much wrong with Absolution. It still had loads of stealth gameplay and big levels to explore and exploit. It makes me wonder why Absolution gets a bad rap.

Avatar image for Ultralazuli

That video showed no actual gameplay. I saw no UI elements, only about 4 potential weapons, and only 2 or 3 actual stealth mechanics.

I don't see how people are deriving that this is a return to Blood Money for the series. I don't hold out hope for things like that. It would be nice, but I doubt it's the case.

This coming from someone who's favorite game of ALL time was and still IS Hitman Blood Money. Know that game inside and out.

Avatar image for manoogian

that triflin' ass Iago...

Avatar image for Krisrocz413

Hitman fan.. and i dont mean the Movies

Avatar image for porkins

@Krisrocz413: no one ever means the movies.... (sighs sadly...why god?...why did they have to make those damnable movies?)

Avatar image for Xicarah

@porkins: I dunno Timothy Olyphant wasn't that bad as Agent 47. I blame the director and writers....

Avatar image for ubisoftno1fan

Great to hear! Absolution was a good game but very dissapointing compared to blood money.

Avatar image for dylandr

yes please!

Avatar image for brainiac1988

This is all very good news. Freedom of approach once again.

Too bad I never got to play Blood Money. I hear everyone saying it is the best one. I played the first 3 games a lot though, and I think they're brutally awesome. Good times back then.

Absolution, although a great game, disappointed me a little. because of the lack of freedom. But still I played the hell out of it, this franchise is just too unique.

I hope that in the new Hitman game they dont over exaggerate the main enemy characters in the storyline too much. Those rednecks etc. in Absolution were a bit over the top. Keep it serious and realistic. :)

Cant wait to play this!

Avatar image for gotyourzergs

hopefully it's 10 parts blood money, 0 parts absolution. unfortunately I doubt it

Avatar image for abhisheknerdy20

Why They Reboot Hitman?

Avatar image for SterlingFox

@abhisheknerdy20: They said that its a reboot, but it doesn't seem like it. It looks like they're just pretending that Absolution never happened.

Avatar image for rshk-gt

47's face looks weird!

Avatar image for SterlingFox

@rshk-gt: I was thinking the same thing. He looks really young, and like he's got a permanent smirk on his face. They're probably using a different guy for facial capture.

Avatar image for tincho305

@SterlingFox: THIS FACE http://static4.gamespot.com/uploads/scale_medium/mig/4/3/8/5/2214385-box_hitmanbm.png

Avatar image for Shouoken4Peace

Buy the day-1 DLC for the low price of $120!

Avatar image for sexyragu

This gives me a little more hope for the industry

Avatar image for reza_razor

After MGS series only hitman way of stealth was interesting for me (of course before absolution) and back to a more blood money type stealth is a great news for me.

Avatar image for solid_snake1461

Ok, when I'm done with MGSV (which, maybe in 2 or 3 years), I'll give it a shot. Doesn't seem too shabby after all.

Avatar image for CapnXtraObvious

@solid_snake1461: Same here, but with Mad Max in place of MGSV ;P

Avatar image for ohjtbehaaave

Hitman games are cool. Need more sneaking into position for some sniping action this game.

Avatar image for sanitysoldout

I've always been a big fan of the series. I really liked Absolution but didn't really think the story line was too captivating, a little predictive. Hoping this one is more enthralling!

Avatar image for Blood_Angel

The 1 thing that really irked me the most about Absolution was when I found out in-game that he could conceal a Kazo TRG Sniper Rifle in his jacket. I just could not get over how arcady that felt, that I have yet to complete the game.

Avatar image for Neo_Sarevok

@Blood_Angel: Yea, in the first game on literally the very first mission, not only could he not conceal his sniper rifle, Agent 47 had to bring a suitcase and assemble his sniper rifle, then disassemble it and return it to his suitcase when he was done.

I guess the series felt that was too slow. I personally miss seeing that. Assembling and disassembling the sniper rifle was the coolest thing ever.

Avatar image for Blood_Angel

@Neo_Sarevok: And it was still like that in Blood Money, guess they just wanted to make it more easy to play. (Dumbing Absolution down to care for the "casual" majority) *Casual - being people who've never really played a Hitman game in this case.

Avatar image for mtb1646

Exciting news no doubt. I've played every Hitman game through multiple times. I don't agree that the earlier games had more of an sandbox element. When Hitman was released the concept was unique but compared to Absolution (which I think was the best so far) there wasn't a signifant difference in the number of meaningful ways to approach a mission. I think the authors comparison is nostalgia mixed with what we all desire Hitman to be,...More variety, more creativity, non linear, but don't sacrifice story and atmosphere. I'm optimistic.

Avatar image for muzza93

@mtb1646: No way Absolution was better than Blood Money

Avatar image for hollandsytse

Never played hitman, but this looks awesome!

Avatar image for BigPrimeNumbers

Really liked Absolution, so looking forward to this!

Avatar image for hansdonner

@BigPrimeNumbers: I really liked Absolution as well. Only in the end of the game that I felt "well, is that it?", I thought it would be more epic. Either way, is an awesome game :)

Avatar image for naryanrobinson

This is great to hear; it's nice to see a dev with real vision keeping a firm eye on where its series is going, while constantly pushing it forward.

Even Absolution didn't feel like they'd really dropped the ball, something they haven't done once throughout the entire series.

Avatar image for vadagar1

good we dont need another useless shooter with a gear grind fest

Avatar image for anderswhk

I am a huge fan of the hitman games, and has been since i tried the demo for the first game waaay back. I must have played the demo with the chinese restaurent assassination so many times i lost count.

My absolute favorite has been the second game. Getting Silent Assassin on that was actually difficult.

Avatar image for chriss_m

I've only played Absolution, because Hitman looked like a series I'd love. But didn't really like the game, to be honest. Was willing to give this one a try until I read it'll be episodic. Count me out!

Avatar image for godfather830

@chriss_m: Yes, you should try Blood Money. The earlier games were excellent too, but at this point the graphics are so bad it's hard to accept them.

Avatar image for Hjindee

@chriss_m: Blood Money.... Hitman: Blood Money by far is the best one in the series so far. You've got to try Bloody Money... Absolution is an abomination..

Avatar image for deactivated-58e3156c76d0d

"I’ve come to accept that simplifying this formula may have been a commercial necessity."
I don't agree with that at all. Good games tend to be the ones that take the risk and break away from the mold. Otherwise, you just end up with another COD with a different story.

Avatar image for parabola15

I love HItman series. Absolution was my favorite so far. This looks even more fun. Cannot wait!!