Up until recently, we knew IO Interactive’s Hitman: Absolution as a strictly singleplayer stealth-action game that took great inspiration from the series’ roots while making wide ranging improvements to the third-person gameplay and story, with all of the choice and freedom you’ve come to expect still well intact.
Last month during gamescom 2012, however, Square Enix announced a mode new to the Hitman franchise that will allow players to create and share their own Hitman: Absolution missions to keep fans playing well after they’re done with IO’s crafted singleplayer experience.
Called ‘Contracts,’ and revealed at a special event (read Lisa’s report), this addition to Hitman: Absolution is an asynchronous online mode where players are able to set the parameters and rules of their own mission, based in a level from the game of their choosing, and simply by playing through a mission you’ll be able to set a best time for others to beat, while the game will keep track of your gameplay style. What happens next is magic… or, great technology.
By playing through that mission in Contracts mode, you are creating a new Contract challenge for your friends, and the world, to try out. By recording your actions and saving the rules, level and settings you used for your mission, a new Contract is saved, too, and other players will have to match and better your time while sticking as closely to your play style as possible to earn in-game cash (or Contract Dollars) to buy upgrades and equipment.
While I wasn’t able to try out the creation of a Contract challenge in Hitman: Absolution – Contracts during my time with the new game mode at gamescom 2012, I was able to play through two missions that had already been created, under an ‘Easy’ and ‘Hard’ difficulty, both with very different stipulations for success and wildly differing results.
After heading into the ‘Compete’ section of the menu, I was able to choose between that Easy or Hard Contract, one of which was created by IO Interactive and the other by another user. Both missions were set in a level called Chinatown and showed the current highest score on the leaderboard across category filters including National, Global, Country and Friends. The menu also showed how many people had ‘Liked’ a particular mission (similar to Facebook, YouTube and other sites’ user-based ranking system).
Starting off with the Easy Contract, I was able to head into a few different gear selection screens, but seeing as how I didn’t have enough cash to buy anything, I simply went with the default settings of a Silverballer handgun as my weapon and a basic Agent 47 suit as my disguise.
It will be important in future Contract missions to choose the right weapon and disguise for the job, though, in order to stick to that challenge’s rules. You might need to use the ‘Market Vendor’ disguise while packing a shotgun, for example, or perhaps the mission that you’re playing requires you to wear a Chicago Police Officer uniform with a sniper rifle at your side. It all depends on how the person who played and created that mission set up the challenge.
Weapons are upgradeable, too, so again, if you have the cash (which is stored away in an offshore account and added to by completing missions) you can buy modifiers like a Red Dot Sight, the ability to Duel Wield, add Weighted Barrels, extra and extended clips, a Silencer and a Speed Shoot option, amongst others.
As you add and remove these attachments and abilities, weapon statistics including accuracy, damage, fire rate and range are all affected real-time, allowing you to cater and customise your guns for a given mission. Eventually, you’re able to unlock a Safe House in mission-specific levels, where you can store additional weapons, disguises and techniques.
The Easy Contract didn’t have any restrictions set, but in other missions you might need to adhere to stipulations like the fact that you must only kill your targets, while not missing any shots and not being spotted. To make things even more difficult, some missions might require that you don’t use any disguise changes, that you need to hide all of the bodies of the people you kill, and that you need to kill your targets in order, from ‘1’ upwards.
My chosen Contract took place in Chinatown, market area with an expected Asian theme to the visuals. The area was very detailed with Chinese lanterns and decorations scattered around, with flair in every corner of the environment including carved doors and wall patterns, bright banners and bursts of colour bleeding through the gloom.
What’s very impressive about this area is the amount of people crowding around the environment, all of whom are walking and moving in some way, either strolling from place to place, standing in one spot talking on a cellphone or hawking their wares at a stand. The amount of sheer movement and life in a single scene of this portion of Hitman: Absolution is astounding and in congested areas, Agent 47 literally has to push through the dense mass of people to continue forward.
Also hidden in the crowd are Agent 47’s targets and in this specific Contract, there were three people I had been tasked with taking down, 1, 2 and 3, all of whom are revealed with on-screen indicators. If restrictions had been set, I would have needed to kill the ‘1’ first, before proceeding to ‘2’ and ‘3,’ but seeing as how ‘2’ was the closest I made my way to him first.
In Hitman: Absolution, you’re able to perform basic third-person actions like running (or in Agent 47’s case, simply striding forward faster) and crouching, while hiding your weapons at the appropriate time is done with a face button press. Accessing your inventory items is done with the D-pad, which is where you swap between weapons, garrotte wire and other items you’ve picked up.
My first chosen target was quite mobile, walking from within the safety of the crowd and down a flight of stairs into a secluded area – the perfect opportunity for ‘a hit’ (assassin parlance for ‘turning a living person into a corpse’). Following him down the stairs and further into the murk, I very quickly put him down with a quick silenced pistol shot which takes split-seconds to perform. Pop-pop, catch the falling body and drag through the filth of the floor and into a corner.
Target ‘1’ was next, and proved a bit more tricky. In Hitman: Absolution, there are loads of little environment objects that you’re able to interact with in order to cause distractions, diversions and chaos – once your trap is set, it’s time to strike! I found an electricity box that I was able to tamper with, which immediately turned off the lights in the alleyway where my target was located.
The alleyway opened right out into the market, so it was a bit risky to ‘off’ the guy (more assassin parlance) as he turned his back and investigated the box, but a quick stranglehold and neck snap took care of it. For less hostile people in the world, you’re able to simply choke a person to sleep when you’ve got them in a headlock, but a target is a target – I had to do it!
Target ‘3’ gave me some trouble. There was no real discernable pattern to his movements and the clock was ticking. When you start a Contract, the maximum amount of cash that you’ll earn is shown in the upper-left corner of the screen, and you’re able to walk around the environment spotting your targets, surveying the scene and planning your actions. The second you kill your first target, however, that cash value starts to tick down, meaning the net total reward is whittled away with every wasted second.
I panicked and shot him in the head in plain sight. With two police officers right there. Like, right there. The enormous crowd of people surrounding us panicked and scattered. I ran.
There were a few tense moments where I was sure I was about to die as the officers, and their bounteous back-up, hurled seemingly endless amounts of rifle and handgun rounds at me, doing their best to kill me absolutely dead. I put Hitman: Absolution’s third-person shooting mechanics to the test, however, and using a combination of the cover system, solid over-the-shoulder shooting and the safety of a dumpster or two (you can hide in certain objects and peek out), I managed to carve my way through the crowd and reach the mission’s (user-set) exit point – an inconspicuous door.
What surprised me was that, even though the police were still chasing me, I was able to exit the mission successfully and earn my reward (down to $30 000 if I remember correctly). The Hard Contract would only get more hairy, though.
Hitman: Absolution’s developer, IO Interactive, prides itself on the fact that you can approach missions (in singleplayer and in Contracts) in almost any way you wish, using stealth, taking advantage of the environment or by going all out with guns blazing. Two of these options are less difficult but more time consuming than the other. I had given stealth a good try in the previous Contract, but this time I wanted to try a more… direct approach.
I suited up again in the menus (going with a police officer disguise this time, and with dual pistols at hand) and entered the Contract, once again in Chinatown with a new set of three targets to kill. This time, there were conditions to be met to earn bonus cash, but I had decided long before to forego them.
The conditions are very tempting to follow, though, as the cash rewards can be quite generous. Killing targets in order will force players to take a much more methodical route through the mission and make use of the game’s various environmental affordances (like that electricity box), while taking note of your target’s patterns and nearby threats.
Handily, cone-shaped on-screen indicators will tell you how near those threats are, and how alert they are to your presence, and you’ll also be warned if you’ve been seen or if you’re trespassing – all very valuable information when attempting a ‘liquidation’ (just trying to educate you).
Right from the get-go, I pulled out my pistols and shot down my first target, which immediately sent the market browsers into a state of shear terror, and also sent the police after me. I ran again. Finding an isolated area I hopped into a dumpster and peered out from within my metal hiding space (or coffin) as police scurried about. After a while, I jumped out again and went straight for the second target. Rinse, repeat.
I took quite a few hits this time and death was near, but Hitman: Absolution’s shooting mechanics are very reliable indeed and helped me escape the scrape. Once you kill an enemy, the body drops to the floor in a horrifyingly believable way, but the effect is somewhat ruined as the physics engine tries to settle the ragdoll down while the body jiggles and pops about. A bit too severe for death twitches, but that’s how I explained it away in my mind.
The death of target number three resulted in the biggest shootout yet, and because my exit point was on the other side of the level, it took some doing to outfox my pursuers, running in-between pillars, ducking behind walls, hiding in dark corners and getting intimate with stinky garbage (again) to lose their attention. Once again, I leaned into the action gameplay and it came out trumps, with just enough of a loose feel to add an extra layer of anxiety.
I made it to the exit point and completed the mission, with gunfire ringing around me, in a time of three minutes and nineteen seconds, with enough of a cash injection to place me at the top of the global leaderboards (on an Xbox 360 that I don’t think was online…). I didn’t meet any of the conditions (like ‘only kill the target’ and ‘don’t miss shots’), so my reward wasn’t quite as big as it could have been, but I definitely liked this method of completing the Contract, and luckily enough, you’re able to show what you think of a mission by either selecting ‘Like’ or ‘Dislike’ once you’re finished.
I selected ‘Like.’
Hitman: Absolution is out on November 20th across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC around the world. Be sure to look over El33tonline’s vast previous coverage of the game for more screenshots, videos and information, and don’t miss Lisa’s report on IO Interactive’s reveal of Contracts mode at the studio’s special event in Germany during gamescom 2012.
Watch the trailer for the game’s Contracts mode below to get even more in-depth information on this unique way to play, create and enjoy the game:
Hitman Absolution Introducing Contracts Trailer