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Hitman: Absolution preview: taking a Contract

by Steve Watts, shacknews.com, Sep 6, 2012 11:00AM PDT

Hitman: Absolution has no intention of dying quietly. Developer IO Interactive intends on having players continue their killing careers with a new asynchronous multiplayer mode called "Contracts." I had a chance to play this mode at PAX, whilst picking game director Tore Blystad's brain about the upcoming title.

Not surprisingly, the Contracts mode was born out of business concerns. Games need a multiplayer mode nowadays, but a standard multiplayer angle wouldn't work. "We were tasked to do multiplayer for Hitman, and we were really struggling to come up with a concept," Blystad said. "It's a very solitary experience in Hitman, in the way that you are against the AI. Everything you do is something you decide and the game will react to. So within the realm of Absolution, we couldn't come up with something that fit."

Then, a moment of inspiration came from the community itself. The team found that some of the most devoted fans were still plumbing the depths of old games, and challenging themselves to go after new targets. "Because the A.I. in Hitman games is versatile, that was completely possible. It was very interesting for us seeing what happens to the game when you select a different target than the designated one. It fundamentally changes the way you think about the game without changing the rules."

And so Contracts was born. Blystad said the team considered how to make a mission editor fun to play, and settled on an active approach. In a live demo, he created a Contracts mission by playing through an actual mission from the campaign. In the Contracts creation mode, the player can mark targets as they go, and set the perimeters of the kill by performing it themselves. Do you want your mission to result in zero non-marked casualties? You have to do it first. This assures the creation itself is challenging, and keeps players from setting goals that are impossible to perform. If a Contract shows up, you know that someone, somewhere, has pulled it off. IO plans to highlight particularly clever or interesting hits to boot.

I then played through a Contracts mission of my own, and almost immediately saw the results of learning how all the pieces of a stage work together. I took three runs through the noisy Chinatown streets, bustling with witnesses--or potential victims. Each time, my knowledge of the stage helped me perform a little better.

My first time through the stage, I was spotted for suspicious activity embarrassingly quickly. I had to shoot my way out, and the perhaps overgenerous auto-targeting system helped me make it out without incident. In my second trip, I took out two of the three targets quietly, but couldn't get the third away from the crowd. I resorted to a public shooting, and again had to fight my way to safety. By my third foray into hired murder, I was more creative. After removing the two easy targets, I dropped a remote explosive next to my third and detonated it as I walked away. It resulted in civilian casualties, of course, and it wasn't anything even close to a graceful kill--but no one realized it was me. Progress.

I searched for some source of an accidental death, but came up short. Blystad assured me that they exist, pointing out one example of a metal fence sitting perilously close to a generator. "'Accidents' is a big topic for us, creating puzzle pieces within the game world that are accidents waiting to happen," he said. "That's of course the most elegant way, as a hitman, to perform your kills."

As you might imagine, the Contracts mode seems to lend itself to post-release content. While Blystad declined to comment on any plans for DLC, he did acknowledge that the idea is a good fit for the mode. "It's made for it, basically," he said. If a steady stream of Contracts keeps coming, Hitman: Absolution might just live to a ripe old age.

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