By Nicholas Simonovski
GAME NAME: Hitman: Absolution
DEVELOPER(S): IO Interactive
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Stealth Shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): 20 November 2012
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Roberto Marchesi, Art Director at IO Interactive behind the upcoming Hitman Absolution. Discussing new features, game modes and what makes this game the best Hitman title to date, fellow assassins, let’s jump right in!
Stevivor: Are there any new features in Absolution that we can expect to see in this game?
Roberto Marchesi: There certainly is! I think one of the main changes that we have in this game compared to the previous instalments is the introduction of ‘Instinct’. Instinct is a very powerful tool that allows us as developers to show the player how it is to perceive the world through Agent 47’s eyes. Its shows enemy paths, enemy locations, weapons, props and everything else that has relevance to the contract/mission. Instinct also has other functions such as the ability to ‘blend in’ when you are wearing a disguise to fool those around you for longer and also ‘point-shooting’, which is a very offensive manoeuvre that you can use to take out multiple opponents in a short amount of time. Those are the main changes in this game (from a gameplay point of view) but we really didn’t want to tamper with the fundamentals of the Hitman franchise and its gameplay. It’s all about fantasy, about the disguises and that freedom of choice in playing however you want.
Stevivor: Could you tell us a little more about the ‘Contracts’ feature of Hitman Absolution and is that the only online mode in the game?
Marchesi: Yes, it is. Contracts is our way to add an online multiplayer mode to the Hitman franchise. We wanted to have something which had social value, that could work well and that would fit into the fantasy of the game. Normal multiplayer as we usually see it -- such as capture the flag -- just doesn’t work or fit-in with Hitman so we wanted to have something which made more sense and the community which have been playing the Hitman games so far basically came up with the answer for us. Contracts has been inspired by how fans have been playing Blood Money and getting more mileage out of it. The premise of this mode is simply, “what if anyone could be a target – not just those people we stipulated from the beginning”. It really shows how a level can turn on you and how the perception of the level can turn on you as it goes from being a simple A-B mission, to having a set of targets and completing a set of problems that you’ll have to solve before you can get out.
Stevivor: What did the team have in mind when they came up with the look of the game and the level design? Was there a particular setting or feeling that you tried to focus on?
Marchesi: We wanted to have a hyper-realistic feel to the game, graphically. We wanted it to feel like a very intense journey that Agent 47 was going through throughout this game. We wanted to have a personal story this time around, build upon him and give him some more facets but still allow the player to impersonate themselves into 47. At the same time we wanted to make him stronger. That was the main focus of the game.
Stevivor: The ‘Attack of the Saints’ trailer made fans wonder if the game was moving away from its heavy stealth and tactical roots. Has the gameplay changed much since Blood Money or is it still very much a stealth-based game?
Marchesi: I think that’s an interesting question – personally I don’t feel the game has moved away at all from its roots. The game is more rounded this time around, it’s very much a challenging game and it’s still a true Hitman title. You still have targets, you have levels and you have different ways to take them out. You also still have your 'Silent Assassin' rating which is extremely hard to attain – you cannot be seen by anyone, you’ll need to collect evidence before you take out your target. It’s very much a different set of challenges and that is a super-condensed hardcore experience, if that’s what you’re looking for. The levels have a much more ‘loose’ approach in how you tackle them but we’ve really always had that, so it’s interesting to see how different people perceive the franchise and what you can do.
From a gameplay point of view, some people only play for silent assassin and they refuse anything less, some will prefer to shoot anything that moves. For some, the first time they play through a level they’ll do so the best way they can, the second time they’ll try to be stealthy and on the third and fourth time they’ll try and go for Silent Assassin. When they revisit the game they might shoot anything they can and this perception also links to their fantasy of the world – some will prefer to be extremely high-class and serious -- being a true assassin -- but some might be into the more crazy stuff. It’s a very scalable game and that’s one of its strengths.
Stevivor: Something I really liked about Blood Money was using the different environmental objects to eliminate your targets. In which ways has this been improved or implemented again in Absolution?
Marchesi: We really wanted to stay true to the franchise and what it stands for – the disguises, the accidents – they are pillars of this game. We wanted to built upon it in Absolution to make them like one-two steps, where some of the accidents are quite genius and where others are a little more straight-forward (such as the crate falling on-top of a guy’s head) but later on in the game you’ll see some great puzzles that you’ll be able to play around with. These are all a great way of getting rid of people you don’t like!
Stevivor: The pre-order Sniper Challenge was different in that all of the work had to be done at a distance from your target(s). Can we expect to see more of this in the final game?
Marchesi: Umm, no. In full-game -- and I’m not saying “no” in a bad way -- you do have control of Agent 47, you can move around but you do still have access to his sniper rifle which gives you a very strong tactical advantage when compared to other weapons in the game, but you do need to come to the level in one shape or form – you are mobile. The Sniper Challenge was very interesting in the way that it allowed us to develop the physics of the sniper-rifle and we were using it internally as a test-bench to see how the sniper rifle should be working. Then we realised that it was such a fun thing and people were competing just on a grey-box level, so we wanted to share it with the fans who had been waiting for so long for Absolution.
Stevivor: Are there any features of the game aimed at increasing replayability or longevity of the game? For example, a scoring system?
Marchesi: We tried to showcase to the player as much as possible that there are stealth-aspects but it’s very much an exploration game where when you finish a level you get shown all the stuff you haven’t discovered in the game or things you’ve left behind. You’ll see the icon with a big fire-poker that you didn’t pick up and you’ll say, “yeah, I’ll need to go back and pick that up and see it.” The scoring system is good on a competitive level to say that you are the best assassin amongst your friends – you’re going to prove it, the score doesn’t lie - but it’s also a powerful tool to communicate to players what is perceived as the ‘correct’ assassin methods and what is considered as ‘unprofessional’. Telling the players the rules of the game is a great way to help them understand it, so they can be more creative the next time they enter a level.
Stevivor: What sort of features does the game have to make it accessible to newcomers of the franchise, but to also make it rewarding to the hardcore fans?
Marchesi: When we use the word ‘accessible’ I think it’s really dangerous because it can be misunderstood as the game being easy – but the game isn’t easy. As I said, if players want to go for the Silent Assassin rating then it will be there, it will be a challenge and gamers need to up it up. Newcomers on the other-hand will require information whereas hardcore players are already thinking like assassins – they are trained, they are professionals. Newcomers don’t do that so we wanted to tell them that there are accidents in the world waiting to happen – every fan of the series will know this – it’s a dangerous world! It’s their choice whether they want to be given this information or not. There are a lot of hints with Instinct but they can also be turned off.
Stevivor: Are there any aspects of the game that you feel journalists and gamers haven’t picked up on that you’d like to talk about?
Marchesi: No, I think we’ve pretty much covered it. *laughs* Since we showcased the game for the first time at E3 2011 we went through a very interesting process where first of all, showing everyone that we were back with the E3 demo. We’ve had fairly systematic approach from then - from that day we knew what the game was about, we knew what we wanted to showcase but we had a timetable to follow. The next time code dropped was to showcase the tools at your disposal and how the game could change according to how you play. After that we tried to showed the targets and how the gameplay opened up in that way. So we kind of showed all the steps of the game and we had to showcase all the tools. For example, when we showed off what would happen when we shot someone in the head, we didn’t do it because we wanted to shoot someone, but to show what would happen if you had that weapon.
Now that we are introducing Contracts, this is the final step in showing off the complete package. I don’t want to brag but we know that the fans of the series know that this is a true Hitman game and is true to the franchise. We hope that over the past two years that we’ve also convinced newcomers that THIS is the game to pick up and its really worth it. I’d pick it up when it comes out and I’ve been working on it! *laughs*
Stevivor: Finally, having been involved in the development of the game, which feature or aspect of Absolution are you most excited about?
Marchesi: It’s more of a general thing, but I personally love the characters. Visually I think they are really funny and interesting but also the way they talk, the way they move, the way they give life to the levels. To me they are really what makes this game stand out. The environments are beautiful, the gameplay is smooth but the characters, for me, they are the icing on the cake!
Many thanks to Roberto, IO Interactive and Square Enix for giving us the chance to learn more about what is pegged to be the most anticipated stealth-action game of the year!