Hands up anyone who has ever played a FPS set in a remote research facility? How about an army base, or a space cruiser in dire peril? Yes, I think that’s all of us then. How about the French Quarter of New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Or a redneck wedding? Or a rehab clinic? Oh, and how could I forget, a gunfight at your own funeral?
Original locations aren’t the only thing the Hitman games do well. Generally, there’s something else going on that you’ll need to contend with on each mission – perhaps the police are about to bust your target, or the client has requested that you wait until a certain moment before carrying out the hit. It’s pretty rare that you’ll start a new level on any Hitman game and not murmur ‘Hmm, this sounds interesting…’
Like Mr. 47 himself, the latest Hitman game has crept up on us, and is almost upon us before we’ve even realised it’s there. Now, with the release of a frankly stunning 16-minute gameplay clip, we can see what’s in store for us. I’m a big fan of the series, and I’ve been musing about what we can learn from this latest intelligence…
So the first thing that struck me is that there’s no target. Mr. 47 is fleeing from the police – a scenario we’ve seen before, way back in Contracts – and the action begins in a disused Chicago library on a dark and stormy night. Rather than having to single out a particular mark and waste them, 47 has to get clear of the police and melt into the city streets.
A few years ago, I’d have never really thought about the Hitman games and Splinter Cell as having much in common besides the obvious stealth-action thing. However, it looks like both series are growing away from their stealth-only roots, encouraging more of an action-packed pace. Mr. 47 pulls a guy off a landing into a hole (very reminiscent of our old pal Sam Fisher in his latest Cell Splintering outing); smacks some poor cop over the head with a statue and strangles another with an electrical cord. And this is all before leaving the first room! Of course, this could just be the way it’s being played – presumably there’s a 100% stealth course as well, but playing it the action way just looks so much fun.
There’s a lot of dialogue, as well. A lot. It seems that nobody is a faceless goon here – the policemen who are tracking you down chat to one another, the sergeant cajoles and browbeats the patrolmen, who then mutter about the sarge under their breath, and later on a loft hangout full of potheads try to deal with the fact that their building is suddenly being overrun by SWAT. These conversations keep the player informed about what’s going on around them without breaking into cutscenes very often.
47’s new sense gimmick allows him to see the course that enemies are going to take, allowing him to drop out of sight easily and conveniently. Presumably there’s a tight time limit on how much this can be used, but the demo shows it used to good effect. Whether it’s really that much of an advantage or not can only really be told through hands-on play, of course.
The Hitman style is definitely in place, which is something of a relief as the look and feel of the series is a really important element. It’s all about the small touches: Pigeons roost in the eaves of the library like corpse-white angels of death; a stoner desperately tries to flush one weed plant down the toilet while the very next room is packed wall-to-wall with full-grown plants; Mr. 47 puts an unsuspecting policeman in a sleeper hold, whispering ‘shhh…’ as he lowers the body to the ground next to a sign that says ‘Silence Please’. And of course the cold, dead look in 47’s eyes as he rides down in the elevator, with the unsuspecting landlord wittering on about the great work done by the police.
Map layouts look good, with plenty of cover while remaining believable. It appears that the stealth is relatively forgiving – there were a couple of moments in the demo where a cop’s flashlight clips 47, yet the cop fails to notice.
One of my favourite bits of the demo is also the one that gives me most pause. After the Hitman escapes onto the roof of the library, he is tracked by a police helicopter as he flees through a series of pigeon coops. The action is pretty intense, with the pigeon cages blowing off the shelves due to the helicopter’s rotors, and eventually the entire place exploding in a hail of gunfire as 47 ducks and dives from cover to cover. On the one hand it’s obviously a white-knuckle set-piece, reminiscent of the rooftop helicopter scene we saw in Need For Speed: The Run at E3 this year. Beautifully and imaginatively executed, it’s slick, stylish and adrenalized. However, it pretty much puts paid to any idea of a 100% stealth version of the level, as it doesn’t appear that you can avoid it. Perhaps this isn’t such a terrible thing – it’s just noteworthy as the previous games have usually offered the option of pure stealth for purists.
There’s pretty much nothing in this latest playthrough clip that doesn’t fill me with excitement. 47 is back in all his sharp-suited, amoral badness. Like the anti-Batman.
Please, IO, let’s get a definitive release date up for this bad boy. Or are you playing it 100% stealth?
(Oh, by the way, if you missed the shootout at your own funeral, perhaps you haven’t quite finished Blood Money yet. Yes, I know you THINK you have, but perhaps run the end credits a couple more times…)