Hitman Reborn Review

Hitman RebornIO Interactive is reinventing the way it makes Hitman, but the essence of the assassination sim is intact.This is Hitman the way we want it to be. I have a firm idea of how this game of cold-blooded contract killing should work, and I don’t imagine it’s that different from any other fan’s. Stealth sandboxes with seemingly unlimited options for experimentation on the way to taking out Agent 47’s target. Done.As part of my demo of the new game, IO interactive switch the freecam on and fly me over the Parisian palace where it’s set. The place is densely packed with detail. I’m certain there’s no way to see it all in one playthrough.

From the red carpet where Agent 47 enters the complex, the camera flies over an immense layout: a full-on party packed with busily socialising NPCs that extends from a veranda outside to a nightclub interior, over a catwalk where a fashion show is taking place and even to the dressing room where the models are getting ready. There are main entrances and side entrances. A basement, top floor and attic form part of the complex. On the first floor, a secret auction is taking place where some secret society individuals are bidding on classified materials being sold by your target, Viktor Novikov. There’s even a dock, where a getaway speedboat is available. A helipad. A tower on the  outskirts of the grounds that’s as perfect a sniper spot as you’re going to get. It’s an exquisite, detailed killing playground, full of intriguing  variables. The sort of sandbox theseminal Hitman: Blood Money was renowned for, and which was not reprised in the disappointing Absolution. But if this is a Blood Money level, it’s one with ten years’ worth of upgrades in audiovisual detail.The IO team themselves are keen to underline that this is a return to old Hitman values, and honestly, I’m buying it, based on this confident showing of a characteristically exotic locale. Yet the manner in which this new Hitman is being sold couldn’t be any more different to the older games – or anything else, in fact.It’s a way of making and selling a game closest in theory to a season pass for an episodic series, but with a live element to attract early adopters as well. You pay your £40, and this December you get part of Hitman. Over the course of the next year, more and more content is added, bulking it out into a full game that’s shaped by feedback from the community. The end result will be a bigger experience than Absolution, but the journey itself is pretty unusual. I ask the team to help me figure it out, and why they’re releasing the game this way.“It’s pretty straightforward,” creative director Christian Elverdam says. “We’re building a substantial game, it’s bigger than Absolution. And what we’re basically saying is you can get this for sixty bucks or a standard price, and that’s all you pay. There are two different ways of doing it. You can be part of that live experience of the world unfolding and these locations appearing, and the joy and excitement of knowing that, ‘hey, this location is coming soon’, [and] being part of it when it happens. Or you can wait. At the end of it there’ll be a box. So if that’s what you’re more comfortable with, that’s what you get.”Plumping for the early adopter option gets you a series of live, one-off assassination events that sound very cool. “If you’re there at the beginning, you’ll take part in these live experiences or events we’re going to do,” Elverdam continues. “If you imagine a location like the palace we’re showing today, let’s say it’s the weekend and you get a ping on your phone, check Reddit or the internet in general, and you see that ‘wow, a target is appearing in Paris, the target is going to be there for 20 hours’. What we’re thinking is you get nothing more than a portrait, so you can’t really find the guy on instinct or anything like that. You’ll have to work your way around the level, finding his routine. If you make him nervous and he escapes, he’s gone forever. And then when you finally figure out what you want to do, that kill you do is going to be the kill you can do. You need to really pay attention because you’re not going to get a do-over. We really believe that you’ll have a segment of players who race to be the first. There’ll be bragging rights, Twitch streams, discussions of different strategies. And if you’re like me, you’ll figure out [how people are doing it], and then you’ll do it like this guy – but at the end of the day, you get that tension. You’re there with the sniper scope and you only get that shot. Those are some of the experiences that are new, we think. It’s a different take on the assassin experience. That’s some of the stuff you’ll miss out on. It’s not like he’s back next week.”It’s not dissimilar to a Spelunky daily challenge or a live MMO event in theory, and the systemic nature of Hitman means there’s a story for players to take away from a one-time mission and share with their friends – a bit like a Telltale episode. It’s a smart way to keep people talking about Hitman for a year without selling them extra stuff, and I can’t think of many other games where you could try a model like this and have it make sense.I’m not getting too carried away, though. It’s all pie-in-the-sky right now, and there’s also a risk of making the game feel too bitty and drawn out by selling it this way. Personally, I tend to play games in one- or twoweek chunks until I’m done, and I let episodes of Telltale games stack up because I can’t be bothered to wait for the next instalment. The challenge for IO Interactive is to show people these events are compelling enough for them to want to be in on the ground floor, instead of just picking up the finished thing a year later in a Steam sale.For the team, this model is also a means of getting valuable feedback. “We’re humble enough to say there are things we will learn across this journey,” director of production Hakan Abrak tells me. “We just want to put ourselves in a position where we can react to tailor the experience even more precisely for our fans out there. And this takes a lot. We had to rethink everything. And the technology as well – it’s not only about creating the biggest sandbox levels we’ve done today, or the most NPCs, which we’re proud of and have done, but this is also about building technology that can adapt and evolve with the content and the community. We know things and we have assumptions, but we’re looking forward to learning more.”During the demo, I’m shown the different ways Agent 47 can accomplish his missions: you can use a screwdriver to make a fitting fall off a balcony and kill someone, you can poison a drink at a bar. You can knock guards out, and their AI functions so that they work individually, instead of as a hive mind, giving you scope to manipulate them. You can use explosives, which enemies can defuse if they find and also take indoors to store, meaning you’ve both temporarily distracted an enemy and got a weapon into the grounds without setting off the security alarms.I’m really impressed too by the promise of mini narratives that play out within this Parisian palace, which are designed to lead you to ways to get at your target. “It’s our ambition that we’re going to create many different types of missions,” says Elverdam. “There’s going to be a core gameplay element that’s going to be the same, then when we talk about what’s in every level, for example Paris, inside every level there will be something going on. In Paris it’s a palace and a fashion show. And within that there are a lot of sub-narratives. You have the reporter in the beginning giving an interview, and she actually tells you she’s going to meet Viktor Novikov later, which is one of your hooklines you can use.“There is a KGB station chief within the level meeting Viktor Novikov which is also something you can figure out. He’s having violent arguments with his head designer backstage, and if you figure it out, it’s a way to get Novikov on stage in the first place. Levels will have a lot of these small narratives in there, that will actually be something you can latch onto. We love the idea you’re a voyeur: you’re walking around listening and figuring out what your opportunities are. The tone of each mission is quite different – depending on where we are with the overarching story, but also so you don’t always know what to expect.”That sounds much more like Hitman than Absolution did, to me, but these will be sandboxes with the benefit of Absolution’s improved interface. “We had a really good chance to say ‘what’s the best possible Hitman game we can build?’” Elverdam says. “For us that meant looking at 15 years of creating Hitman to begin with. The first step was saying, we have a game like Hitman: Blood Money that a lot of our fans appreciate. In its essence it’s a large sandbox. And it’s also a promise that there’s a hitman and there’s a target. That was the base, the core of everything. Then we have a game like Silent Assassin where there’s a tone, some world travelling, and you get the feeling that everything is a little bit more high stakes.“Regarding Absolution, we had a lot to build on there – we built a living world in Absolution where NPCs are talking quite a bit, where NPCs are lively. If you’re hunted by guards or looking for opportunities, it actually matters that you pay attention, which we wanted to [carry] over into Hitman. I think we also accomplished building a stealthaction game in Absolution where people can pick up the controller and know what they’re doing, and can reliably fiberwire people. The cores of different Hitman games came together in what we’re doing today. That’s the best way to explain the journey we’ve been on since Absolution.” The Contracts mode from Absolution will return, too.Level variety is crucial to the team – Paris is just one slice of what they’re building over the next 18 months and beyond. “It’s supporting the fantasy of globetrotting, travelling the world and killing these highprofile targets,” Abrak says. “The other part of it is deep core gameplay – some locations may give more vertical gameplay opportunities, some are more dense environments. That’s also something we incorporate into locations.”Hitman could be back on form. IO is figuring out what a game starring Agent 47 needs to be in 2015, and the studio is banking on fans being part of that process. For all the potential buzz of its unusual business model, I’m just happy to see a classic Hitman game underneath all that, a truly exciting sandbox experience that could finally give fans what they’ve been asking for ever since the release of Blood Money.

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