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.
Just as it should be.
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 the seminal 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 / $60, 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.”