Hitman: Absolution is the first Hitman game to be built from the ground up for current consoles, since 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money on Xbox 360 was a port. The stealth gameplay will be familiar to fans, though improvements have been made to the way the player uses disguises and blends in with the environment. Now you are encouraged to stay out of sight even when in disguise, lest the enemy figures out you are an impostor.
We had a chance to talk to IO Interactive art director, Roberto Marchesi, about the return of the renowned assassin.
What is the theme of Hitman: Absolution?
IO Interactive art director, Roberto Marchesi (RM): I would say a personal journey would be the main theme. Agent 47 will be put through a challenging journey, and the player will be put in situations where they will discover more about him and about his personality.
How is this different compared to past games?
RM: By being a more personal journey, it translates into a more intense story. The previous games were more about “a thin red line,” where you travelled the world and went from contract to contract. In Hitman: Absolution, Agent 47 is taken out of his element, where he would normally be in control and the ultimate assassin. He is cast out after the traumatic events at the beginning of the game where he takes out his handler. He then has to find the truth about the girl he has to protect. This throws Agent 47 into situations he is not used to, where he has to take charge in unfamiliar circumstances.
How have you expanded the way Agent 47 interacts?
RM: What I find the most satisfying the way is how we use disguises for gameplay and the blend-in mode. One of the pillars of the series, gameplay wise at least, has been the disguises and how to use them to fool enemies. What we’ve done this time round is change the rules. In the previous instalments, if you gained the cop disguise all of the cops thought you were their friend. This made sense from a gameplay point of view, but from a fantasy point of view it was a bit lacking. So what we’ve done in Hitman: Absolution works better in my opinion.
Why do you feel it works better?
RM: It makes sense if I take a cop disguise, everyone who is not a cop think I am a cop. However, other cops are likely to get suspicious of me because I don’t look like their comrade. I can fool them for a short period of time, but I would still be more wary of them.
What about the blend-in mode?
RM: I can also fool them by using the blend-in mode, which is intrinsically part of Agent 47’s instinct vision that has been added to Hitman: Absolution this time around. The player can’t use this feature all the time, as they only have a limited amount of instinct to use on fooling the obstacles. The mechanic itself is very rewarding, especially when you master it, are able to make use of it when you are in a tight spot, and want to get past some people that are inexplicably in your way. I feel it is one of the standout “social stealth” elements within the game.
Anything interesting come out of internal testing?
RM: Testers are an intrinsic part of making a game, especially in Hitman: Absolution where it is all about freedom of choice and creativity. We try to give players as many options and tools that we can, but it’s up to them to use however they want. In the Chinatown level, you have a target and we devised eight ways to take him out. But apparently there are many more, because once we had the game tested by our QA team, they start to poke and push at the game in ways we never thought of. It’s really interesting to see them come up with solutions we never thought of. Our challenges provide them with a smart AI in a level robust enough for their poking and shoving.
How about from external testing?
RM: The Sniper Challenge, the pre-order incentive that we released for Hitman: Absolution, is another example. You can start playing it straight away, as it’s a sniping experience where you, as Agent 47, have to take out targets. When we released it, we thought the maximum score would be around three million, but after a few weeks, the people that had preordered the game had reached five million. So that completely blew out our estimate of high the scoring could be.
Were you surprised the score in Sniper Challenge was surpassed?
RM: We were happy, because it proved that the game was scalable enough and it hopefully be able to withstand anything players throw at it. Quite as important for us is when you give a level to someone to test and they don’t understand, they don’t understand what is possible, what their options are, and how they get stuck. That is what it really takes to really listen and understand why they don’t get it, as well as what we are doing wrong. We just want to understand and make the game more accessible.
Is it difficult supporting both Hitman and Kane and Lynch?
RM: It’s not just the franchises themselves. They are fun to work with, and no matter which one we chose to work on, it’s going to be very satisfying. It’s more of a question of how interesting the next generation of consoles and PC are going to be, and what possibilities they will open up for Hitman and Kane and Lynch.
What did you think of the 2007 Hitman film?
RM: I thought it was good. To me, the movie itself is a testament to the strength of the Hitman franchise. The fact that Hollywood took interest in a video game character and was willing to make a movie out of it is a good sign. Agent 47 is an iconic character and I would hope he gets more screen time.
Did you get to visit the movie set or meet actor Timothy Olyphant?
RM: I wish. [Laughs]
Any news of a new Hitman film?
RM: I’ve been buried under the work of Hitman: Absolution, so I haven’t heard anything.
Anything you can share about Kane and Lynch 3?
RM: Not at this moment, no. We’ll see what the future will bring.
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