Hitman: Absolution Q&A: IO Interactive Goes for the Throat

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Hitman: Absolution Q&A: IO Interactive Goes for the Throat

Hitman: Absolution for PS3

By valuing stealth, careful observation, and meticulous planning over the run-and-gun bulletstorms of its contemporaries, the Hitman series has earned a sizable fan base over its long and celebrated career. As coldblooded antihero Agent 47, the player quietly stalks his prey through a Kafka-esque maze of guards and security measures, donning disguises, blending in with the crowd, and evading or subduing threats in order to efficiently fulfill his latest contract kill. The key phrase here is blending in; in Hitman, to stand out is to be detected, and to be detected is to die in a hail of gunfire.

This tense, analytical formula has served Hitman well over many successful sequels. But the steep learning curve and unforgiving stealth segments have also proven polarizing, preventing some newcomers from embracing what is by all accounts a uniquely rewarding stealth-action title. Taking a cue from 2011’s successful launch of Deus Ex: Human Revolution — another stealth game that sought to broaden its appeal without betraying its roots — Hitman: Absolution seeks to have its bloody cake and eat it, too.

Hitman: Absolution for PS3

To put it bluntly, Agent 47 no longer sucks in combat. In previous games, Agent 47 was a ghost, not a fighter. He stiffly plodded through the environments like an avenging automaton, poisoning donuts, setting up nasty “accidents,” always preferring to do his dirty deeds behind closed doors. In Hitman: Absolution, he’s capable of killing openly and gracefully, swapping lead with military precision and managing cover like a pro. But the classic stealth approach is fully supported, too. For the first time in Hitman history, you have a choice between two radically different but equally engaging interpretations of Hitman.

To prove this point, I sat in on a recent demo of the game running on PS3 — and looking mighty fine, may I add. A producer at developer IO Interactive played through a lengthy sequence using Agent 47’s time-tested skillset of distraction and deception. The result was a succession of nailbiting sequences in which Agent 47 narrowly avoided detection, weaving and rolling between cover, setting off small distractions in the environment to lure away and separate roaming guards, and donning disguises to penetrate deeper into the compound. Then the producer replayed the same scenario using Hitman: Absolution’s overhauled action gameplay. Instead of misdirecting his foes to avoid combat, Agent 47 brutally dispatched every poor sap he came across, hurling fire axes into craniums, bashing brains in with giant crucifixes, and double-tapping enemies at close range using a recovered pistol. The climax was a shootout against a mob of thugs using a room-clearing shotgun, cover-based shooting tactics, and a slow-mo burst of firepower called “Point Shooting.” And you know what? It looked like a helluva lot of fun.

Stealth or shooting: In Hitman: Absolution, the choice will be yours. To discuss the nitty gritty of this 2012 stealth-action title, I armed myself with questions submitted by @PlayStation followers and caught up with Lead Producer Hakan Abrak for an in-depth interview. If you have questions, leave them in the comments!

PlayStation.Blog: Is Hitman: Absolution a direct follow-up to Blood Money? (asked by @KnightAttack09 and @APakwashee)
Hakan Abrak, lead producer, Hitman: Absolution: It’s not set in a specific Hitman timeline. The setting is a bit different and we’re taking the story somewhere else — you start the game by killing Diana, the only truly human connection Agent 47 has ever had. And that changes the stakes immensely. In earlier games, Diana’s contracts set the tone and direction of the story. This time, Agent 47 is on his own. He must choose his next steps on his own.

PSB: Why does Agent 47 kill Diana?
HA: I don’t want to go into too many details, but something’s happening at the agency. Agent 47 suddenly receives a contract to kill Diana, and…well, he’s very professional! He kills her. Diana has been Agent 47’s connection for a long, long time, so when she makes a dying wish for him to seek out a girl named Victoria, he takes it on as a personal mission. There’s a strong connection to the the title of the game, Absolution. He’s seeking absolution for…something.

PSB: Is Hitman: Absolution a re-envisioning or reboot of the Hitman premise?
HA: I don’t know that I’d go that far, but we are exploring different aspects of Agent 47. The story is darker, more personal. You get to experience Agent 47 being placed in an unusual situation. He’s not just taking on contracts; he’s being hunted and he’s hunting for personal reasons. If you’re a longtime series fan, you know that’s very unusual for the cold, calculating Agent 47.

Hitman: Absolution for PS3

PSB: What was your primary goal from a gameplay perspective?
HA: We’ve been developing this game for a long time, and it’s very much linked to the technology, especially creating more complex, more believable artificial intelligence. Early on, we knew we couldn’t achieve our ambitions with the older Glacier 1 engine, so we decided to create Glacier 2. It’s a huge challenge to create new game technology, but it brought a lot of benefits.

PSB: Such as? What does Glacier 2 enable you to do that you couldn’t do before?
HA: We wanted to bring more fidelity to everything, to expand this concept of a living, breathing world. The characters are less binary and react in a lot of new ways. But we also wanted to enhance Agent 47’s skills and abilities, so we’ve introduced this concept of Instinct — an umbrella feature that conveys his keen senses. Agent 47 was genetically engineered to be the ultimate assassin, and in the past we’ve had a hard time communicating that through game mechanics. But with Absolution, I think we’ve succeeded in integrating his keen senses into the moment-to-moment gameplay. The way he can sense others around him, see through walls, shoot multiple targets almost instantly with Point Shooting…

PSB: Hitman is much loved for its stealth gameplay. What have you done to enhance it?
HA: When you’re making a stealth game, it’s important to find new ways to build tension. We built a lot of prototypes for Hitman: Absolution, and we learned that creating a “Giger counter” effect was a very effective way to communicate that the player is about to get spotted — you’d better move! In earlier games, it could be frustrating because you didn’t know when an enemy was about to spot you. And that “Giger counter” effect has the bonus effect of making you squirm when you play, it builds more tension. I find myself saying “ooh! ooh! ooh!” when I’m sneaking around.

Hitman: Absolution for PS3

PSB: Are you expanding on Agent 47’s use of disguises?
HA: Disguises are another area where we’ve added a lot more fidelity. If I’m wearing a guard outfit, guard characters will have an easy time seeing through my disguise…but other characters will be less likely to notice. Disguises have different ratings, too, and also different armour ratings: a SWAT disguise will give you far more protection than a doctor’s outfit.

When he’s disguised, Agent 47 can also act his way out of trouble when he has to walk near an enemy: he can scratch his head, pretend to speak into a radio to briefly deflect attention.

PSB: Is it fair to say that stealth and aggression are equally valid strategies in Hitman: Absolution?
HA: There are many more options for different emotional states and approaches to the gameplay. Some players do prefer a more violent approach; in earlier Hitman games, you were punished for that. If you screwed up, the entire level would come down on your head. But now, action is a more compelling option. But to our veteran fans, rest assured, the stealth is fully intact and better than ever!

Voyeurism has always been a key storytelling focus in Hitman, and we still have a lot of these small stories peppered throughout the game. It’s where a lot of the replayability comes in, actually. If you go into the game guns blazing, you’ll get a unique experience…but if you’re stealthy and explore more thoroughly, you’ll learn a lot more about the world and characters by overhearing conversations and the like.

PSB: Finally, do you think multiplayer is an important feature for a Hitman game? (asked by @yasemann)
HA: Agent 47 works alone.

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13 Author Replies

  • cool stuff

  • Looks awesome. Seriously.

    Is this for PC too? I’ve recently been getting into PC gaming quite a bit. If it’s not, ill get it for PS3 though lol. >.>

    • It is. I will say that the PS3 version looked spectacular: the lighting, particles, and animation were jaw-dropping. One of the prettiest PS3 titles I’ve seen without a doubt.

  • “Agent 47 works alone.”

    Well said. Ubisoft doesn’t know that. They made Assassins’ Creed a multiplayer and milked game. I’m not interested in that game anymore. It seems Ubisoft didn’t know a master assassin doesn’t need a partner.

  • I can’t wait for this one.

  • It looks very good, its out in may right?

  • As someone who’s 2011 GOTY was Human Revolution, I’m happy to see that the stealth genre is making a comeback. It’s about damn time if you ask me! Also the game looks great and I keep hearing positive things about it. Doesn’t hurt that the PS3 is the lead platform for the game either.

    Consider me intrigued.

  • This game needs a collector’s edition. The best saga! The best character! I will play the 4 games until absolution comes out.

  • Glad to finally see one of my favorite series make its PS3 debut. Definitely in my top 3 most anticipated of 2012

  • You can’t please everyone with a single game.

    The only thing IO Interactive is doing is crapping on what made Hitman good. Splitting the focus and changing how the game is played.

    This stupid trend of trying to appeal to a “broader audience” has ruined so many games already it’s getting silly.

    I will not support actions like this anymore, so this is a no-buy for me.

    • Fair enough, and I agree that it’s a tough line to walk. At the same time, I feel like it adds a lot of replay value, too.

  • I always thought hitman games were fun, this looks fun also. I will probably buy when I have the money too.

    Sidenote: But I really need someone(Like you PS blog guys) to ask IO if they ever plan to release Freedom Fighters 2. The first is among my fav. 3 games all time.

  • Poor Diana :( glad there’s no multiplayer though, phew!

  • Wow, no Diana and no 47 and now rampant violence, this really isn’t going to be a Hitman game.

    Bring back Bateson! They’ve changed 47’s appearance to avoid Bateson’s appearance like previous games and of course his voice is different. They’ve decided to kill their own creation and we’re supposed to keep with it? This is as obvious a money grab as anything I’ve seen in recent years.


  • When i was at game stop i asked about a release date for hitman. They told me not till 2013!, I hope that it is sooner then that tho.

  • While they work on getting this fabulous game out .. they need to release a collection of the first hitman games on ps3.. kinda like what was done with god of war.. so all of the hitman fans can get back into it without having to hook up our old platforms. .. just sayin

  • I do have to admit I am a huge fan of the recent trend of releasing classic games in HD collections. So seeing the Hitman games get their own HD collection would be awesome.

  • Awesome, finally the king of stealth games is returning (sorry Metal Gear but it’s the truth). I’ve been waiting forever for Hitman to return and this is by far my most anticipated game of the console generation. Funny, I thought the Hitman games worked pretty well as either blood baths or stealth games with the games actually being easier with guns ablaze. So I’m a little concerned that improving the combat controls may make it too easy and compelling to just start a massacre every time, especially if it isn’t punished. Now a few questions.

    1. Any chance we, the masses, will get a playable demo any time soon?

    2. Any chance of Hitman 2, Contracts, and/or Blood Money will get HD overhauls or (better yet) PS2 Classic releases (better yet since I could play them on Vita).

  • Game looks and sounds awesome! One Q tho, so my big thing i use to do in all the hitmans was try and find a different way to do the job every time, i mean i still do this to this ob the the previous titles, but are they still going to be that in dept to where there’s seriously a ton of ways to complete the job? like i hoping the game play never changed except only to get better with even more ways!

    • Based on what i saw, yes, there will be multiple ways to proceed. Which disguises to choose, which decoys to set off, which traps to set, where to hide the bodies — it’s very much like the older games in that way.

  • Unfortunately I see, and have heard, nothing but bad things for this game. You guys a
    have taken Hitman, a franchise I’ve loved from the very start, and turn it into Splinter Hitman Cell: Modern Warfare 5: Electric Bogaloo, to appeal to the masses.
    Hitman: Blood Money confirmed for last Hitman game. :(

    I really hope Playstation could get Blood Money in the PS2 classics section. Unless they cant do that either! =/ OOOOOOOR you guys can do an HD collection of Silent Assassin, Contracts, and Blood Money. :D Im waiting for that!

    • Thanks for the feedback! I think a dose of healthy skepticism is warranted, but I encourage you to keep an open mind. Deus Ex was a crappy shooter, and I loved how DX: HR brought in decent combat (and still played it just like i played the original DX).

  • yea, good interview and i cannot wait for this… damn even the renders look crazy!

    • Thanks! I can confirm that the graphics are excellent, extremely detailed with nutso lighting, particles, and shadows. Really striking game.

  • Awesome. Awesome interview. I honestly had wondered why 47 killed Diana in the trailer. And to those who think the Absolution is no longer Hitman, I politely ask that you keep an open mind. Change can be good at times.

    Can’t wait for this game!

  • cant wait for this game, you guys should release hitman blood money as a ps2 classics

  • Glad to see that combat is finally a viable option for the series. I’m on board.

  • Going down this path is the same thing that ruined Splinter Cell. You’ve got a niche, you should probably cater to it rather than making an action game that’ll lose your niche but not be mass market enough to win over the larger audience you’re aiming for.

    • Good observation — it’s a tricky balance, to be sure. That said, you can play this game pure stealth all the way. Silent Assassin is back, too.

  • can’t wait, it’s been a while since there has been a decent Hitman game

  • Playing Hitman with those amazing graphics will be epic!

  • Hit man vita!! Sid be truthful the vita I play with at the social vita event in NYC yeastday wasnt the final form was it? I was dispointed by how low the sound was . I tried the sound shape demo that was the best demo you guys had uncharted was good just wish I had more time to get use to controls

    • Thanks for coming! It was pretty loud in there, so not the best place to demo the sound volume (which is comparable to iPhone 4 from my experiences). Did Sound Shapes not have headphones?

  • Coooool, another game where we can be an assassin.

  • SID!!!!!!! WHAT’S UP!!!! Saw you at the Vita Hill!!!

  • it’s been 6 years……………………. IO Interactive don’t think to walk away with just 1 release or we’ll hire true Hitman’s Wonder if

  • Hitman will beat billion dolars in 6 days mark and thats good that Hitman does not have MP it’s a old school game with very dadicated community the big one with long shadows

  • “you start the game by killing Diana, the only truly human connection Agent 47 has ever had”

    Looks like someone didn’t play or work on Silent Assassin!! Father Vittorio is the only truly human connection 47 has ever had!! Diana to him, is just a voice that gives him information/contracts etc.

    “don’t want to go into too many details, but something’s happening at the agency. Agent 47 suddenly receives a contract to kill Diana”

    47 left the agency that Diana worked for, so unless he comes back to that agency, or does he means a new agency that 47 is now working for?

    So far the game looks like it will be fun. They need to release a demo before it is released so us veterans can see how good…or bad it is!!

    I remember playing a demo of the first Hitman game, Codename 47, which was a lot of fun and resulted in me buying the game and becoming a fan.

    I’m disappointed that Jesper Kyd isn’t doing the score and that David Bateson isn’t doing the voice of 47!! Also a little disappointed Vivienne McKee isn’t doing Diana, but hopefully the game will be great!!

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