Sep 24, 2013
Announcement - Valve
Save 75% on Hitman: Absolution™ during this week's Midweek Madness*!
Hitman: Absolution follows the Original Assassin undertaking his most personal contract to date. Betrayed by the Agency and hunted by the police, Agent 47 finds himself pursuing redemption in a corrupt and twisted world.
*Offer ends Thursday at 4PM Pacific Time
Hitman: Absolution follows the Original Assassin undertaking his most personal contract to date. Betrayed by the Agency and hunted by the police, Agent 47 finds himself pursuing redemption in a corrupt and twisted world.
*Offer ends Thursday at 4PM Pacific Time
Dark clouds may have formed over Square Enix’s financial future months ago, but that doesn’t make the storm of layoffs at IO Interactive any less surprising or disheartening.
In a statement to Develop, Square Enix confirmed that almost half of IO Interactive's staff has been laid off. What makes this news particularly depressing is Hitman Absolution actually saw decent sales, but 3.6 million units sold (and that’s only physical copies) still wasn’t enough to hit Square Enix’s lofty expectations.
So what does this mean for IO? The studio has cut production on all non-Hitman projects while attempting to refocus on the next Hitman game.
"The studio will focus resolutely on the future vision for the Hitman franchise and is in pre-production on a new AAA Hitman project,” Studio Head Hannes Seifert said. “However, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel other studio projects and initiatives at IO and reduce the workforce in this studio, which will impact almost half of the employees currently at IO, as we make internal adjustments to face the challenges of today's market."
Hitman Absolution may not have scratched our homicidal itch, but we still wish everyone affected the best of luck.
Feb 10, 2013
This all started in Chiu Dai park, Hong Kong, twelve years ago. The first mission of the first Hitman game. You’re given a target, a pistol and a disassembled sniper rifle in a briefcase. And something is odd.
You’re just a guy, in a street. No one’s shooting at you. No one’s hunting for you. The challenge isn’t to survive, or to get to the exit, or to solve a puzzle. You can just explore, observe, and understand this space, then decide how to make one man dead.
For the rest of that game, and for two others, the Hitman series kept giving us glimpses of that perfect assassination sim. And it kept screwing it up. The first game had you sprinting through a jungle warzone to steal a sacred tribal statue. Silent Assassin made you trek across fields of snow in Japan. Contracts hounded you with SWAT teams. And last year’s Absolution missed the point more completely than ever: it’s a story driven sneak-’em-up primarily about reaching the door to the next cut scene.
But one time, in 2006, IO Interactive did make a near-perfect assassination sim. And it wasn’t just the best Hitman game, it’s one of the richest, most open-ended and enduringly satisfying games ever. Hitman: Blood Money is the darker twin of Deus Ex.
There’s a short, restrictive tutorial that isn’t very good. And there’s an ending so odd that many players don’t even realise it’s playable, and simply quit. But that’s it: every single one of the 12 main missions is a proper assassination in a space you can explore, with dozens of possible approaches.
A Hitman mission – a good one – is a clockwork dollhouse of interacting elements. Guards walk their patrols on one timer, a short one, and it’s easy to learn and predict them. Workers have more elaborate routines: the dustman comes to collect the trash, the courier delivers the diamonds, the janitor uses the bathroom. And the centrepieces, the targets, all move differently. One performs a whole opera rehearsal before retiring to his dressing room. One takes a long soak in a glass bottomed jacuzzi. One performs a pyrotechnics show.
You can weave between these moving parts to put the tiniest spanner in the works, and watch it all fall apart. Replace a prop pistol with a real one. Crack the glass jacuzzi with a silent shot. Rig a flamethrower to catch the performer mid-act. Each orchestrated accident is the solution to an elaborate puzzle, whose clues are everywhere if you look hard enough.
But minimal intervention is just one extremity of a huge possibility space, one that includes a world of other stylistic philosophies to kill by.
I’ve tried killing everyone with a kitchen knife. I’ve tried never changing out of my suit. I’ve tried using only an unconcealable shotgun. And I've tried the Silent Assassin code: no witnesses, no evidence, and no kills except your target.
My current favourite is similar, but stricter still: every target has to be shot with my custom sniper rifle. It’s a long range and silent weapon, but because it’s so big I have to unpack it from a briefcase and assemble it before each shot. On missions with three targets, that means unpacking and repacking the weapon three times, in line of sight of each target, without being spotted. It’s hard, which is why I’m doing it. But it’s possible, which is crazy.
Every time I think it can't be done, Blood Money’s mission design surprises me again. There’s no way to get an angle on Manuel Delgado while he’s out in the open, but it turns out there’s a row of barrels in his wine cellar that can hide my set-up and pack-away rituals. There’s no way to assemble my gun in a gang boss’s office before he turns around, but it turns out there’s a drainpipe across the street I can climb for a perfect angle on his balcony. And there’s no way to take my briefcase with me into a rehab clinic, but I can toss it over the wall, wait for the guards to confiscate it, then steal it back from their security office once I’m inside.
In fact, if you’ve ever wondered what’s so special about Blood Money’s level of simulation, throw a briefcase into it and watch what happens. You’ll find them on most missions – full of money, diamonds, DNA samples, or just hotel guests’ luggage – and they open up an extraordinary set of deceptive schemes.
Luggage is not suspicious when you’re carrying it, which means you can sneak bombs or guns into it to get past a full body search. But unattended luggage is odd, and will be picked up by the nearest guard. If there’s a bomb in it, you’ve just given yourself a way to remotely and instantly kill everyone in the security office at any time. If there’s a gun in it, as in my sniper rifle example, you can steal it back once you’re past security yourself.
But Blood Money lets you be trickier still. What if there’s nothing in the briefcase? It’s still an odd thing to find lying around, and a guard will still pick it up and take it away. But now the endgame is not what you’re interested in – it doesn't matter where the briefcase ends up, but it matters that one of the guards has to take it there. Particularly when there are only two patrolling the objective.
As one walks off with the briefcase, his partner can be silently strangled, his uniform taken, and his body hidden before anyone else even knows you’re there. And when the other guard gets to the security office, he sets down the empty case and turns to see a colleague he doesn’t recognise. The colleague’s gun has a silencer on it. And that’s the last line of code that passes through his digital brain.
Hitman is a murder simulator, and that might be a terrible thing. I don’t know. But if you’re going to make one, make it as beautiful as Blood Money. Make it a dark and complex work of interactive art, a working model of the mathematics of lies. Six years later, people like me will still be too enthralled with playing it to care.
This article originally appeared in issue 249 of PC Gamer UK.
Remember that 2007 Hitman movie that copped a lashing from critics, but people went out in droves to see anyway? (to the tune of $100 million?!) Well, Hollywood is preparing for another Hitman inning in the form of Agent 47 - a new film set in the Hitman universe. Fox International Productions is behind the reboot, and Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker is confirmed to play the lead role in Timothy Olyphant's place.
According to a report on Deadline, the film will be directed by Aleksander Bach, and written by Michael Finch and Skip Woods. You may remember Woods' name from the last Hitman filmic effort, as he also wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film. Filming will commence in Berlin and Singapore this Summer (Winter in the Southern Hemisphere).
The next installment in the Hitman series is being developed by a new studio at Square Enix Montreal. It's a trade-off that Absolution director Tore Blystad likens to the one between Call of Duty's major studios. “It’s like with Treyarch and Infinity Ward,” Blystad told OPM. “You have an IP that has been developed. They will feed off each other, as well as somethings that stand out. I think with these big franchises it takes a long time to develop just one game. If you can, work a little bit in parallel at least and help each other out”.
Blystad implies that there's a trick to allowing a new studio to bring their own flavour to a series, without mangling its signature mechanics. "We’ve been talking about these similarities to some of the big movie franchise like Aliens, where everyone’s doing it their own way," he explained. "Every time someone gets their hands on a franchise they do something different. So rather than doing the same thing again you get another take on the character from a fresh perspective.
“There’s a lot of these problems you encounter with these sort of productions, some of them are really fundamental problems, or they have a big effect on the game – like how you do a mechanic for instance. If you change a mechanic too much then the whole gameplay will be modified”.
IO are staying in touch with Square Enix Montreal to stop the series going too far astray. “There are talks between us and of course it has to be somewhat in sync but it’s the first time you could say Hitman has gone out of the house,” Blystad added. “Luckily it’s with someone we know. Some of the key developers came from IO and have been working on previous games so it’s not like it’s in completely new hands."
It could be said that Hitman has already gone astray with introduction of Absolution, which takes a step away from the big sandbox missions that made the series great. Find out how in our Hitman: Absolution review.
Nov 18, 2012
A note from Tom: At the time I reviewed it for the print edition of PC Gamer, the PC version of Hitman: Absolution suffered from serious performance problems. These have since been fixed, and I've had the chance to verify that on our own machines. Since it's still not out, there doesn't seem much point in dinging it for a problem you won't have. So in this online version, I've amended the bit that was no longer accurate.
To give you an idea, on a 2.8 GHz quad core with a Radeon HD 4800, it now runs at about 30-40 FPS on medium settings. It used to be 15 even on minimum.
The previously awful performance contributed to it feeling like a shonky PC port to me, and I took it into account in the score. Now that it runs decently, the game feels approximately 4% less shonky, and I've adjusted the score accordingly. This is about as scientific as the initial scoring process.
If you’re ever sad about how many games these days are sequels, go back and play Hitman: Blood Money again. The assassin-sim series struggled for three games to understand its own strengths, and Blood Money found them all.
Almost every mission was an absurdly rich playground of deadly possibilities. You were usually free to roam them undisguised, watching patrol routes, tracking targets, studying the environment, and planning the perfect murder. The plot was sidelined in order to avoid interfering with the business of killing, the levels were large, and your tools were versatile and intricately customisable. The fans adored it, and it’s one of my favourite games of all time.
Hitman: Absolution goes... in a different direction.
‘Disaster’ is a strong word, which is good because we need one. Absolution is a disaster. It’s almost the polar opposite of Blood Money: instead of sidelining the story to focus on big, open-ended assassination missions, it sidelines assassination to focus on telling a long, linear, and embarrassingly bad story. In game terms, that means most of its levels task you with reaching and opening a particular door. If it was called Doorman: Absolution, it would be much less disappointing.
There's an old hitman saying: wear a samurai suit and stare at their groin.
That’s not even its biggest problem. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t have a save function, so every screw-up or glitch of game logic costs you a galling amount of pointless repetition. Very rarely there are mid-mission checkpoints, but even if you can find them, they don’t save vital aspects of your progress. Guards that you’ve killed respawn. Bodies vanish. Disguises and items you’ve left disappear. It’s suspiciously as if the developers just never figured out how to store all the relevant information.
The reason this hurts the game so deeply is that two of Hitman’s core appeals are experimentation and perfectionism. It’s still a game with a lot of items and systems to play around with, but doing so is madness when 15 minutes of perfectly stealthy progress are at stake. And when your ghost-like performance is blown at the last minute by the unpredictable rules of the guard’s detection logic, it’s hard to muster the will to repeat the whole level in the hope that it won’t happen again. Particularly when the stealthy approach involves waiting for achingly long conversations to finish before guards go their separate ways.
I think you think I care about that guy a lot more than I do.
When I first started playing, three different tutorial tips advised me to press the left mouse button ‘gently’ to aim more accurately, or chided me for ‘squeezing’ it too hard. Those have been corrected in a patch, but aiming is still a needlessly clumsy emulation of a console controller’s analogue input: you have to hold two different aim buttons to be accurate.
It also appears to have been rendered through a Vaseline lens, causing anything as bright as a flesh tone to burn with the bloom of a thousand suns. When it catches the light, your bald head glints so dazzlingly that beams of pink lens flare erupt from it in four directions.
It’s a shame, because beneath that some of the locations are beautiful. They’re just a bit small. Each mission is split into a series of short levels, connected by a single door that you can’t go back through. And you can’t open these doors if any guards on the level are alert. When the objective of some levels is to escape captivity or attackers, being locked in until your opponents stop looking for you starts to feel a little perverse.
You can win a shooting contest to get your guns back. Or: this.
Three-quarters of these levels are purely about traversal: you’re just trying to get from A to B to move the story forwards, and if you’re given anyone to kill at all, it happens in a cutscene or scripted slow-mo event. The other quarter do give you a target to kill, and a choice of how to do so, but that segmentation means you’re operating in a space that isn’t as rich or complex as a typical Hitman: Blood Money mission.
The other thing that really hurts Absolution’s few actual assassinations is the new equipment system. There isn’t one. You give away all of your trademark kit at the start of the game, and start most missions with one bad, loud pistol. You never get to buy or choose your weapons in the campaign, so you’re stuck with whatever you find lying around. The ones you pick up will carry over to the next segment of the mission, but are lost again when you complete it.
Can you snipe this target from afar? Depends if the level designer left a sniper rifle somewhere. If they did, they probably put it in the ideal sniping spot to save you the mental effort of choosing one for yourself. Can you set explosives and detonate them when your target walks by? Depends if the level designer left any inexplicably strewn around, and if you find their illogical location. Even then, you can no longer throw them, put them inside containers, or stick them to surfaces.
Jesus, close your mouth when you're... you.
So much that used to be universal, versatile systems is now left to the level designer’s whim. Hitman’s greatest pleasure was coming up with your own solutions, but even at its best, Absolution makes it feel like you’re choosing between the ones the designers provided for you.
Its most promising addition is a new way of handling disguises. As in real life, you can dress up in the clothes of almost anyone you kill or subdue. And as in previous Hitman games, wearing the right clothes makes it easier to walk into restricted areas undetected. The twist this time is that people wearing the same clothes you’ve dressed up in will find you suspicious, whereas everyone else will leave you alone.
It makes sense – cops might be suspicious of a cop they don’t recognise, but not a janitor. And it could be the basis for an extra layer of strategy: dress as a janitor to get past the police, then take out a cop and put on his uniform to get in everywhere else. But it’s undermined by two things.
The first is, yet again, the level design. You spend the vast, vast majority of every mission trying to get past the same type of guard, and they almost never permit a disguise other than their own. Gangsters shooting up an orphanage full of nuns – an actual thing that happens in this videogame – will open fire on anyone but their gangmates. Cops at a crime scene are similarly strict. So you spend almost all of your time dressed as the people you’re avoiding.
Who's the psycho now? Still... still both of us.
That leads you into the other problem: suspicion is viciously over-reactive, and to all the wrong things. Guards rumble you in a split second if you stray close to them, and in pretty short order even at extremely long range. That changes it from a disguise game to a stealth game: your only challenge is to break line of sight, so you stick to sneak mode, hug cover, and do commando rolls between anything that blocks their vision. This – unlike walking normally – they have absolutely no problem with.
On lower difficulties, you can hold down a key to allay their suspicions by putting your hand over your face. I can’t think of a way to mock this that would make it sound any more absurd than that, so I won’t try. It’s a crutch to mitigate the stifling effect of a bad mechanic. And the fact that it’s useful is actually a bad thing: it uses a resource called Instinct, which you can recharge by killing guards. So there’s now a material reward for the gratuitous murder the series has always tried to gently discourage.
Both suspicion and regular stealth glitch out regularly: I’ve been spotted through two solid walls on several occasions, and at other times supposedly silent actions brought guards running. Irritating in any game, disastrous in one with no save function.
On second thoughts, maybe I don't want this chef's outfit now.
With or without Instinct, the new disguise system removes the single best thing Blood Money brought to the series: the ability to walk freely around almost every level, planning your approach without having to conceal your presence. It reduces Absolution to a more ordinary stealth game – and for me, Hitman was always better than that.
I keep coming back to the failings of the level design, and most of them stem from its determination to tell a story. It’s a tedious farce of pantomime villains, voiced by Hollywood actors utterly wasted on this adolescent, exploitative trash. And I'm fine with that. Every Hitman game has had a terrible story, but until now it has rarely mattered.
The problem with Absolution is that they actually decided to focus on it this time. In an attempt to paint you as some kind of misunderstood hero, Absolution has you quitting your job to protect a teenage girl. This story frequently requires you to get from A to B, but rarely involves a legitimate reason for you to kill. And when it does, you don’t always get to do it.
Several of the actual kills happen in cutscenes, and sometimes all your hard stealth work in getting to the target is rewarded with a cinematic of your character screwing it up. It’s kind of mindboggling to imagine how anyone could stray so far from the point of a series whose entire concept is right there in the title.
Playing music causes the police to dance and smoke weed. This is a puzzle solution.
I guess the new Contracts mode is meant to be the antidote to this, and it is a nice idea. You can load up any level from the main game, choose your weapons (at last!) and mark up to three people as targets. The way you choose to kill them, and how stealthily you do so, become the objectives of a contract. Other players can then take on your contract and try to kill the same people, with the same weapons, just as stealthily. They get a score for all those things, and a bonus if they do it faster than you.
Creating these contracts is a little aimless: civilians and guards are pretty much interchangeable, so I don’t have any burning desire to pick out three particular targets who need to die. But playing other people’s contracts is fun: some are very straightforward, but already people are adding entertaining twists. The last one I played insisted that I run into a town dressed in full samurai armour and kill a particular cop with a sledgehammer. Players will probably come up with sillier contract concepts once the game is out.
It’s no substitute for the kind of freedom Hitman used to give you, though. When creating a contract, you have too much – it doesn’t matter who you kill, so who cares? And when playing one, you have too little: the contract specifies what to wear and which weapon to use, so you’re basically just following orders.
And guess what? DRM! Despite the fact that the contracts themselves must be tiny amounts of data, you can’t play any of them – even your own – offline. You have to be connected and logged in, and if their servers are down, you’re shut out. They've really done an impressive job of racking up all the different ways you can irritate PC gamers.
These are all the reasons I found Absolution crushingly disappointing. These are the reasons it’s a terrible Hitman game, and it’s worth saying that in the strongest possible terms, because Hitman is an important and brilliant series of games. But despite all of that, it isn’t a terrible game, and it doesn’t deserve a terrible score.
It's like, that man is the Hitman series, 47 is videogames, and the ocean symbolises misapplied metaphors.
Called something else (I’m still rooting for Doorman: Absolution), it’d be a decent sneak-em-up with some welcome Hitman influences. Creeping past people is inherently fun, even if you’re gaming some weird suspicion mechanic while you do it. So is knife-throwing. I will never be able to forgive the shitty checkpointing, but it’s certainly less of a problem once you get good. And on the rare occasion that you find a disguise that lets you roam freely, some of the levels have lots of different routes to try.
There’s one mission, right near the end, that’s genuinely very good. There’s one target, a decent sized area, a particular disguise that lets you roam anywhere, and three different ways to make the death look accidental. It’s still smaller and less interesting than any of Blood Money’s main missions, but it’s one I actually wanted to replay. Any game that can capture part of that thrill is worth playing.
Currently, though, Absolution is not worth buying. If they can somehow patch in a save function, and if players do interesting things with Contracts, it will be. Until then, I’d wait for a preposterous Steam sale.
That’s something I never thought I’d have to say about a Hitman game. I desperately hope the reaction to it is strong enough to convince the developers to change direction, because I couldn’t stand to watch the series die like this.
This article originally appeared in issue 246 of PC Gamer UK.
Hitman Absolution is a tease. Its first level guides the player through a well-defended compound toward Agent 47’s assigned target, his ex-handler Diana. I snuck past guards, bundled others into convenient bins after applying pressure to their unsuspecting throats. I edged along ledges over jagged cliffs. I hid when I was meant to hide, moved when I was meant to move. And then, as I opened the door to my victim, the game took over, lurching me into a cutscene that ended the level.
It’s a trick Absolution pulls a few times in its opening chapter. 47’s next job takes him to the Terminus Hotel, and a target holed up in Room 899 on the eighth floor. Creeping through an air vent at the end of the level, I overheard my potential victim, his Texas drawl muffled through the metal. I crawled towards the sound, wiggling 47’s suit-clad body around in the vent and planning my murder method. Halfway along, my screen faded to black and I was forced through another cutscene that not only saw my target escape, conspicuously un-murdered, but suffered 47 getting bonked on the head without any opportunity for player-led retaliation.
The five levels I’ve played are huge – much bigger than any of Hitman: Blood Money’s lethal playgrounds. But where Blood Money plopped the player at a doorway, gave them a target, and let them have the run of the area, Absolution breaks its levels up into distinct stages. In making my way up to Room 899 in the Terminus Hotel, I had to sneak past a set of guards sat in the lobby by knocking out one of their outlying number and nabbing his threads. The elevator that carried me up to the target’s floor marked the end of the section I was playing, with no way to descend back to the floor I’d just been creeping around on. After being framed for an innocent’s murder and left in a burning building, I had to sneak my way across three wide-open rooms, avoiding a roving police squad. Once navigated successfully, the game gave me a check-up on my score – awarded for silent takedowns, hiding bodies, and clothes-napping, among other things – and locked the door behind me, pushing me into the next vignette.
This makes Hitman Absolution feel smaller in scope than Blood Money. It’s also more manageable. There’s no danger of being paralysed by choice when your only aim is to reach an anointed door, or escape a patrolling death squad. It also means mistakes you’ve made twenty minutes ago will be less likely to haunt you.
I took the direct route in the Terminus Hotel. Scoping out the edifice from the damp street the game deposits Agent 47 on, I spotted an entrance to the basement. I decided against using it, preferring to waltz in the front door – it’s a hotel, right? They must be expecting guests. Apparently not. Through the door, I was treated to a triggered animation, a goon in a stetson telling one of the hotel’s paying guests he wasn’t allowed upstairs. More goons sat on the sofas in the lobby, scanning their eyes around the room. Yet more goons stood on the stairs, flanking the lift that the game had helpfully picked out.
The abundance of goonery made getting to my intended exit difficult, but Absolution has upgraded Agent 47, turning him from Blood Money’s hulking, clumsy marionette man to a lithe assassin. Pressing Space flipped 47 into cover, his back to a cleaning trolley as one of the goons peeled off. Pressing Ctrl behind my hiding spot, I turned on 47’s Instinct mode. Instinct turns the world black and grey, highlighting interesting areas – weapons to pocket, radios to turn on, light fittings to drop on unsuspecting heads – and potentially dangerous people. Activate Instinct while wearing a disguise, and 47 will cover his face surreptitiously as people wearing the same costume try to work out if they know you. Activate it as a goon walks past as I did and you’ll be able to see their patrol path, picked out in a line of flame along the floor.
This goon was going to the bathroom. Disengaging myself from the trolley by pressing Space again, I followed him in, ducked in a crouch that kept me out of the vision of his empty-bladdered pals. A quick arm around the throat, while tapping A to apply pressure to his windpipe, and he was unconscious. Another tap, and I was wearing his clothes. One more tap and a quick drag, and his now underwear-clad body was jammed into a laundry bin in the bathroom. This process is quick in Absolution, quicker than it was in Blood Money. 47’s new sleeper-hold ability knocks targets out, and unlike Blood Money’s sedative syringe, can be used as many times as you fancy in a level.
Most weapons can be thrown, forcing enemies in earshot to walk over and investigate the sound. Careful assassins can put entire floors to sleep, clearing a path towards their target. I am not a careful assassin. Coming out of the bathroom, I decided to try out my new threads on the similarly dressed goons blocking the staircase. Evening, gents, I’m your pal who just went for a piss. Yes, I’m now bald. That bathroom changed me.
They immediately saw through my ruse. Suspicion in Absolution is denoted by a circle in the centre of the screen. When someone spots you doing something weird, the circle rises to a peak in their direction. Sauntering through the lobby, my screen showed five distinct spikes: five goons who’d spotted I wasn’t one of their number. Must’ve been the shiny head that gave it away. I should’ve brought a wig.
I activated 47’s Instinct, and he quickly brought his hand to his hat, covering his face. Too late. The goons on the sofa stood up, yelling at me to stop. The goons at the top of the stairs, alerted, swaggered over. If 47 is spotted doing something obviously dodgy – stashing a body, shooting someone between the eyes, downloading a Robbie Williams song, that kind of thing – then guards will immediately flip to a hostile state, emptying their guns in his general direction. But if he’s just being mightily suspicious, as I was, they’ll try to force him to surrender. Press Q and you’ll pretend to give up, affecting a hands-up stance as your accusers come closer. Once they’re within range, the game launches an automatic animation that disarms the closest enemy, takes his gun, and pulls him into a headlock. If you’re off in a secluded spot, this is a great way to dispose of a single enemy. If you’re standing on top of a set of stairs, being watched by more than ten pairs of eyes, it’s less effective.
I tried to activate the lift with my arm around a human shield, his pilfered gun pointing over his shoulder towards his angry friends. They saw my intentions and opened fire as one, killing my shield and turning my vision red with injury. Using a spare second to call the lift, I ducked into cover and waited for it to arrive. Once it did, I hopped in and rode it to a higher floor, the second of the hotel’s stages. Fortunately for me, everyone up there hadn’t been in contact with their partners-in-goonery downstairs, and seemed happy to let me wander around, provided I didn’t stray within intense suspicion range.
Where the Teminus Hotel is broken up into stages, preceding level Chinatown is more open. It consists of a square with a central pagoda, its streets filled with people: crooked cops, drug dealers and innocents. Absolution’s story mode visits the location twice, first asking 47 to murder one target – mob boss the King of Chinatown – then sending him back to kill three others later in the day.
I went back a third time in the game’s Contracts mode. Contracts is Hitman’s take on score attack mode, gifting Agent 47 points for offing targets quickly, in specific ways, using chosen weapons and wearing the proper clothes. Other players create contracts by playing through the game’s levels as normal, marking targets along the way for other players to shoot, stab, or smother. Completing a kill as requested awards points that can be compared against your homicidal friends’ scores. There’s a filter of social integration that sits a bit wonkily with the series, and Hitman’s joy has always been madcap freedom in your murder method rather than the chase of obsessive perfection.
But Contracts isn’t a bungled job: it gives a fresh eye on levels you’ve already played. I chose to play one of the missions set up by developers IO themselves, set again in Chinatown. Instead of the storyline’s mob boss, I found myself gunning for two targets: one a cop, one a flat-cap wearing gangster. The cop was an easy kill. Veering straight off to the left on entering the level, I found him stood next to a sportscar parked in an alley. I locked eyes with him for a second, before he turned on his heels and pottered down the road to inspect some fascinating boxes, conveniently out of sight of the hundred-plus NPCs in the central square. I dropped into a crouch and followed him. En route, I had options to complicate the kill: I could pound on the car’s window, bringing the cop over to peer into the windows and check on the contents. I could pick up some discarded plastic explosives, left by some forgetful bomb-maker, and blow my target up. Or I could take the easy option, ready my garotting wire, and wrap it around his neck at the end of the alley.
First one down, I strolled back through the crowds of people. My next target was visible via 47’s Instinct mode: he was standing up in an office overlooking the level’s central pagoda. I remembered the office as the one I found a stashed sniper rifle in during my first visit to Chinatown. Another crooked cop was guarding the staircase that led up to said office, but I’d distracted him before by fiddling with the contents of a nearby fusebox. I did the same again, luring the copper from his seat and slipping past him as he cursed the busted electronics. Still crouching, I started to climb the staircase, and shuffled face-first into a descending crotch.
My target had moved, and I wasn’t ready for it. I mashed the keyboard and 47 launched into a quicktime event of a fight, punching with letter keys. The cop, returning from fixing the fusebox, was treated to the sight of me slamming another man’s head into a wall. He immediately drew his gun, just as I put a bullet through my now-unconscious target’s skull, and I sprinted back upstairs and climbed into a cupboard.
It was no good: the cop had a good look at me, and I was stuck without clothes to change into. Languishing in the cupboard was only delaying the inevitable. I cycled through my inventory items, alighting on the remotely detonated plastic explosive I’d picked up earlier. I climbed out of the cupboard and poked my head out of the window, only to be met by a hail of bullets. In return, I lobbed the explosive charge towards the ground and fired a few times to flush backup cops out of cover. I blew the charge as they rearranged themselves, clearing something of a path for myself. Back down the stairs, I aimed a silenced silverballer pistol shot at the fusebox cop, and changed quickly into his clothes. Numbers at the top of the screen were ticking down – I’d lost points for being spotted, the time taken between kills, and the huge amount of people, innocent and otherwise, that I’d eviscerated with my impromptu bombing – but I still had a positive number.
Cops streamed past as I exited the fusebox alley; I covered my face using Instinct and walked purposefully for the exit. It wasn’t pretty, but I came out of the contract with my two targets dead: not enough to trouble a high-score table, but a victory in Absolution’s book. And in mine. Absolution gave me the option to be robotic or reactionary, chase perfection or make the best of a bad situation. It’s a tighter, less freeform experience than Blood Money, but fortunately it still offers the kind of lethal invention that made that game great.
Aug 29, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (John Walker)
And then suddenly Hitman: Blood Money was free to play in a web browser.
Core Online, Square Enix’s foray into the world of online gaming, is a system that lets you play ad-supported HD games in your browser, where you earn gaming time by watching ads. And they’re launching it with one of the more loved Hitman games, Blood Money, along with Mini Ninjas. I have taken a look, and it’s safe to say the system is in something of a mess at the moment. But it remains an interesting idea.
Aug 29, 2012
Square Enix have announced that Hitman: Blood Money will be free to play through their Core Online browser gaming service. You bank free game time by watching adverts, but once that's expired, you'll have to watch more if you want to keep going. Alternatively, you can buy individual levels or the entire game and play free of interruptions. Individual Blood Money levels cost 49c, the entire game costs $4.99.
Core Online is in beta at the moment and only supports Hitman: Blood Money and Mini Ninjas but Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is planned soon. Square Enix have put out a trailer showing how the whole thing works which contains an advert within an advert. If you really hate watching adverts, this might not be the service for you.
I've signed up to try it out, but it's hard to imagine the free to play version of Core Online not being incredibly annoying. Ad breaks are bad enough in TV shows, an interruption as you're sneaking up on a target would be even worse.
Still, perhaps it's possible to queue a few ads up and then make a cup of tea, earning a nice chunk of game time. In that case, this is a good way to check out Blood Money, the highlight of the Hitman series so far.
Shacknews - Steve Watts
Square Enix is launching a new Web-based gaming portal that offers some of the company's back catalog for free. The "CoreOnline" service lets you play Hitman: Blood Money or Mini Ninjas by either watching advertisements between chunks of the games, or paying a fee to bypass them.
The CoreOnline site (via GI.biz) only boasts those two games so far, but promises others on the way like Tomb Raider Underworld and Gyromancer. Save data is also stored on the cloud, so you can pick up from a different computer or browser at any time.
This isn't the first time the publisher has experimented with cloud gaming. During the launch of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the publisher included a free OnLive version of the game with every retail copy, leading to a scuffle with GameStop. It appears Square Enix is now more interested in pursuing its own platform, instead of partnering with the beleaguered streaming company.
"Square Enix is at the forefront of experimentation of new business and services models in the game industry," said Square CEO Yoichi Wada. "Through our CoreOnline technology service, users can access our content easily through the browser."