Who is Agent 47? Over the years, those that have followed the Hitman series have seen him to be a ruthless, ultra-efficient mercenary. But in the latest entry to the series, simply titled Hitman, Agent 47 enters into a 'World of Assassination' and he is the cream of the crop. Square Enix and IO Interactive are bringing Agent 47's world to life in ways never before seen, right down to every individual AI character, and Shacknews recently had the opportunity to go hands-on.
Hitman's tutorial missions look to answer that important opening query. Who is Agent 47? These introductory missions take place during Agent 47's earliest days, as even 47's ICA employers don't quite know what to make of this mysterious assassin. And while that answer doesn't come over the course of these missions, 47's handlers know this much: He's among the best contract killers in the world.
That's evidenced through the introductory mission, which tasks 47 with dispatching a wealthy elite named Kalvin Ritter aboard his luxury yacht. The Hitman stealth and disguise mechanics remain just as they have been in previous series entries. Starting off outside the boat, the first objective is to breach security by disguising 47 as a ship mechanic. The mechanic is found around the outer perimeter, at which point 47 must isolate him and knock him out to take his clothes. After silently walking past the security guards, it's time to begin the search for the target.
That leads to one of Hitman's returning features: Instinct. Using the right bumper, Instinct allows 47 to locate his target. In this case, Ritter is mingling with his guests along the yacht's upper deck. As 47 slowly moves towards the upper deck, the improved AI is noticeable immediately. Every inidividual NPC seemingly has a mind of their own, taking part in their own conversations, going along their own paths, and interacting with one another in their own way. Some react to 47 with different banter, while others don't acknowledge him at all, simply minding their own business. The challenge will intensify once Ritter heads up to his quarters to conduct a deal and it'll be up to players to decide how to dispatch him. Those that participate in the upcoming beta will get their chance to play this mission in full.
The AI improvements are seen to a much greater degree once the campaign starts proper. The game's first official mission sends 47 to the Paris fashion show seen in previous Hitman demos, where the objective is to take out two targets. Unlike the tutorials, the game will not hold the player's hand here, entrusting them to find ways to dispatch their marks in discreet fashion. But while the game won't spell out specific paths, it will offer hints in the form of 'Opportunities.' These are side-objectives that pop up in the middle of the mission, some of which will nudge users closer to their target.
One Opportunity example challenged 47 to follow a male model, one that happened to resemble him in the looks department. The idea was to isolate the model and take him out, don his dapper fashion, and enter the target's private quarters undetected where 47 could then complete his job. Another example saw 47 overhear a pair of workers discussing a cocktail they had never heard of, but noting that it was the target's favorite. That challenged 47 to find a bartender disguise and make the cocktail with a sprinkle of rat poison. The player is challenged to connect the dots, as the locations of key items (like said rat poison) is not spelled out and there's only so much time before the target leaves the bar. In fact, many of these Opportunities are time-based, as the AI individuals all go about their routine and won't pause for the player to catch up. Over my playthroughs, the target eventually left the bar, while the male model I needed to knock out eventually went off to run the catwalk. In addition to that, Opportunities don't always seem to guarantee a kill. This writer was eventually able to poison the target's drink, but the rat poison-infused cocktail only served to give him a bad stomach ache and a ride aboard the porcelain express.
The main game will also see other side objectives pop up, including a few that feed into the community-driven multiplayer. The new Contracts mode will allow users to create their own hits within the world and challenge other players to complete them. Players can use any of hundreds of NPCs as their selected hit. Meanwhile, the main campaign will also feature the debut of Elusive Targets, requiring players to take out a certain high-value target. The catch is, players only have 48 hours to complete that hit and only get one shot at the target. If 47 takes a shot and misses, the target is lost for good. Finally, there's the new Escalation mode, which sees players compete with the environment as much as the NPCs, with IO stating that only expert players should dare attempt these.
As it currently stands, Hitman should feel very familiar to series veterans. Mechanics like disguises and Instinct return intact, while the AI feels notably improved from previous installments. What remains to be seen is what the episodic format will add to the formula, though IO is hinting that new mechanics will be added in subsequent episodes that will make replaying missions from old episodes worth the experience.
It won't be long before players get their first crack at the new Hitman. The game's beta is set to launch on PlayStation 4 this Friday, while Steam will get its beta a week later on February 19. The Prologue and Paris stage will run for $15 alone, but those looking for the full package can pay the standard $60 price tag for the game's full slate of episodes. Hitman is set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on March 11.