Hitman Absolution adds asynchronous multiplayer: make an “impossible” kill, and see who can keep up
“What if everybody can be a target?” Sven Liebold, Global Brand PR for IO Interactive and Hitman: Absolution, asked me. It's a valid question, and one of particular importance for Absolution, a game Liebold said that IO Interactive recognized was giving off a negative vibe. “A lot of fans worried that it will be a much more linear experience and not much of a Hitman game,” he explained. Liebold hopes the new Contracts mode, demoed at PAX 2012, will help prove this is a “real” Hitman game. Contracts is IO Interactive's way of introducing multiplayer to the Hitman franchise, and it fit within the framework of the game, which was a pleasant surprise. Instead of multiple hitmen or assassins competing in deathmatch or directly competing against one another, Contracts gives players an asynchronous multiplayer experience by blending time trial and high score modes, and filtering those through Hitman game play. Game director Tore Blystad demoed the mode by starting up a level which took place in an abandoned library, called “Run For Your Life.” Agent 47's only objective is to escape. However, when Blystad pulled up the pause menu, the option to take on a contract was available. This contract's goal was to kill the police sergeant leading the squad. Blystad selected the contract and the game reverted to the checkpoint he had just passed, and the new objective marker popped on the screen. This changed the dynamic of the level from a quiet escape to a stealth assassination.
Contracts is a mode that comes from the fans
Every level of Hitman: Absolution will have a featured contract, but the real draw is that Contracts will allow for players to create their own challenges. Liebold said the mode was inspired by fans doing the unexpected in previous Hitman games. I asked Liebold for an example, and he told me about a particular mission in Hitman: Blood Money. “There was a certain disguise you could take as a clown, and in order to take this disguise you had to take out this clown. There was a couple guys who made this crazy video called '100 ways to kill a clown,' and there were a hundred ways to kill this clown, which was insane,” Liebold said. When a player creates a contract, they won't be able to watch the level play out from afar. In order to make a contract, you have to be able to execute it yourself. Liebold said that condition helps balance the custom challenges. “I think it's pretty cool leverage between the person who makes the contract and who plays the contract, because in order to beat a contract, you have to actually put in some skill to create a contract as well,” Liebold said. “I think that's interesting because the more you know a level, the more you know the game, the more sophisticated your contract gets, and the more you challenge your friends.”In other words, the difficulty of your contract is the line you draw in the sand, and the bar by which you can show off your skill. IO Interactive doesn't seem to want people to be cocky without them proving themselves first. “Let's say one of your friends beats your contract,” Liebold told me. “You'll get a notification saying, 'Hey, you suck! One of your friends just beat your own contract.'” As much as Liebold hopes to see competition, he said the Contracts mode could foster connection amongst the Hitman community as well. “We already had this community, but they were sort of drifting apart a little. Every member had their own way of creating a contract and putting it on display, like maybe YouTube videos or whatnot,” Liebold told the Penny Arcade Report. “Contracts provide a platform for everybody to compete against each other, and that's going to be really exciting.”
Why did the chicken cross the road? To kill
IO Interactive plans to choose five player-created contracts a week as the top challenges for other players to complete. The money earned by completing these contracts can be used to buy disguises, weapons, and upgrades. Playing through story mode will help too. “You can put all that into play in any contract,” Liebold said. “So I can run around in say, the library level in a chicken outfit.” It sounds absurd – and it is – but part of the fun of contracts is setting additional conditions. Wear a chicken outfit and the challenger only gets every possible point on your contract by likewise wearing the chicken outfit. The same principles apply to killing a target with a specific weapon, never being spotted, killing only your targets… the list goes on. The speed in which you set a contract will also determine the time completion bonus for challengers. As I played and replayed the contract IO Interactive had set up at demo stations, I tried multiple routes, weapons, and tactics. The map felt as open and non-linear as in previous Hitman games, with many options for the player. I even purposefully went against the grain as much as I could to stress test the system, and found myself in some funny situations. When a cop spotted me dragging the body of a target upstairs, I quickly entered an upper floor room, dumped the body out the window into a crowded street, and hid in the closet. The cop never found me, but I certainly hadn't made things easy on myself. Liebold told me the team “got rid of everything” in order to build Absolution from the ground up, but if Contracts mode is any indication, it feels like they put the puzzle back together correctly.