IO Interactive have penned an open letter to fans of the Hitman series, acknowledging that they're building a new AAA Hitman game for PC and next-gen consoles, and laying out a roadmap for the new title that will *hopefully* see a return to the glorious days of non-linearity for everyone's favourite bald assassin.
Encouragingly, IO appear to have doubled back on themselves in terms of narrative, situating Codename 47 in the prime of his career, and not continuing the omnishambles of a plot that Absolution presented.
In the next game you will experience a globetrotting Agent 47 at the prime of his career – the apex predator stalking his prey across the world, with the support of his long-term handler Diana Burnwood and the whole of the ICA.
This means a return to the Hitman of old, and IO detailed how they're taking the things that they learned with Absolution (which we're taking to mean the large amounts of fan backlash that plagued that game's development and release) and applying them to the building blocks that made the likes of Blood Money unmissable games.
The game concentrates on the core Hitman fantasy of using a wide range of tools to take out a diverse group of targets across expansive, exotic locations around the world. We are building this game on the backbone of the Glacier 2 engine, using the best parts and what we have learnt through Hitman: Absolution and drawing inspiration from past titles like Contracts and Blood Money to fulfil the core Hitman fantasy. That means we’re packing in an extreme level of detail on the largest levels we have ever built for a Hitman game. We’ve adopted an open, non-linear level design approach to the game, ensuring the game will play out across huge, checkpoint-free, sandbox levels. Our aim is to create living, breathing and believable levels which will allow gamers to play around with the AI to create those unique moments every fan of the Hitman franchise loves.
Checkpoint-free, systemic, non-linear sandboxes? Yes please!
That, to me, is the very essence of a Hitman game, and it's not what we got with Absolution. For so much of that title, what we had was a tightly-controlled, with smaller maps and fewer options than ever before.
One good thing is returning, however, and that's Contracts mode. "You will be able to create and build challenges by experimenting with the large levels and possibilities within them," wrote IO. "And of course, you can share them with the world and challenge your friends or foes to complete your hits. Your rules, your Contracts." Agent 47's TARDIS-esque pockets, however, will not be returning.
That all sounds lovely, but this poorly disguised press release is laden with buzzwords and vague propositions. It's all positive, it all sounds good, but Absolution has made us cynical and suspicious. It wasn't a bad game as such, but it was a fairly poor Hitman title when lined up against the rest of Codename 47's previous works.
It's good to see IO aiming high and gunning for the new consoles and PC with this new title, though. The restriction we've seen on some games from trying to bridge the generation gap won't be a concern if that's the case. I couldn't really give a monkeys when it comes to graphics for this next game, but scale will be deeply important. Large levels, yes, but also large NPC numbers, plenty of emergent opportunities, and detailed AI. New tech means so much more than shinier visuals.
That awful X-ray, eagle vision, game-ruining magic sight needs to go, as does any sort of hyper-gritty attempt at grindhouse bollocks. But that doesn't mean all story has to be jettisoned. More often than not there were narrative strands running through previous titles, they just didn't impinge on the game's central mechanics, and they never had you pinned down by PVC-clad murder nuns with only one exit.
This first announcement is a start; IO are saying all of the right things. But it'll take more than words to convince us -- after all, they tried to tell us that Absolution would be freeform and just like the good old days. Such claims seem laughable now. Still, the world could use a new, proper Hitman title. Give us larger sandboxes with multiple ways to take out our targets, a disguise system that actually works, improved AI that present moments for plans to go awry as well as for emergent opportunities of which to take advantage and we'll be happy.