Agent 47 has been around a while via Io Interactive. The gaming world's hitman has done it all and is now returning for a third time. After two games some people may be looking for something new from the series and this is what the game is going to deliver from an early play test. It is more action packed, more tasks to do and to us feels like it will become the best game in the series so far, quite an achievement for the third game in an ongoing series.
The introduction CG sequence to the game is eerie and sets the mood of the game well. We watch as Agent 47 stumbles around after being shot before finally collapsing to the ground, his life flashing before his very eyes and this is where the gameplay aspect steps in. The game will be played retrospectively and missions will be set during various hits that he remembers from his entire life. We played through the entire first mission, plus a bit of the second to get a feel of what this new game is all about.
In the first mission, Agent 47 is tasked with escaping the asylum he was created in. Someone has gone on a killing rampage with blood and bodies strewn all over the place. SWAT is called in and they think you as 47 did it. There is still multiple ways to finish a mission and the game is still open ended to a degree which will offer each player a unique experience depending on how they go about their task. For instance the first missions task is obviously to escape, and you can do it a few ways. Go straight to the bottom floor and try to take the horde of SWAT police on one by one, or move to the second floor, have them disperse around the building and try and escape in a sneaky fashion. Obviously the second option will take more time, but 47 is more likely to remain alive longer as well.
Once the SWAT teams had charged in it is here that the true emphasis of action in the game was shown. 47, pulled out his dual akimbo pistols and mowed down numerous SWAT officers, each displaying rag doll physics as they stumbled to their death. The game hasn't become a kill fest action game, but it is now somewhat possible to play the game like this sometimes should you so desire. 47 can take an absolute beating before succumbing to the gunfire, with the game moving to a film noir, greyscale graphics style indicating his life is over. Once we did manage to get outside, we had a few options. We won't spoil just how we escaped but it was quite impressive to watch.
The second mission felt a lot more like the Hitman of old so the developers haven't completely forgotten the roots of the series. In this mission there was an individual hit target and we did have to use stealth such as dropping all our weapons and walking slowly as to not arouse suspicion before being frisked to get into the party in progress. It is here that we saw the AI of the game displayed for the first time and they offered quite a challenge. Once we alerted them to our presence they called in for backup and in the end we gave up knowing there was only a very slim chance of escape.
There are elements returning from the older games such as the ability to take ones clothes to fit in with the crowd. We did this with the police officer, and didn't alert them to our change until pumping one of them full of lead with a shotgun. After the alert however, they did inform each other and called for backup, showing some advanced AI skills. You will also have to pick locks, although this is an automatic sequence and doesn't require any interaction from the player which may come as a disappointment to some gamers.
Although we only saw two missions, the game will in fact ship with twelve. The first mission was set in a mansion in Romania, decked out to be a work of genetics creating people like 47 whilst the second mission is in a warehouse yard with armed enemies everywhere. Other missions will take you to places such as Siberia and France. The graphics are already looking fairly good and even during some rather intense firefights with the Romanian SWAT officers, the framerate didn't stumble once. You can also destroy environmental objects such as windows etc now as part of the games engine.
Whether the game can live up to the promise of the first two missions, especially the action packed side of things, we'll have to wait and see in the final version but when Hitman Contracts ships in about a months time, many more people may be inclined to try it because of the changes. There is still stealth elements to the game and players can choose the way they wish to play; either stealth or action but it just feels better to play and easier to learn how to play then Hitman 2. Hitman Contracts is currently scheduled to ship on the PS2, Xbox and PC systems in early May 2004.