Six years after committing a complex series of global assassinations - and offing a church full of mourners at his own funeral - Agent 47 is back.
With slicker stealth and far more agile, brutal melee attacks, the sociopathic slaphead is deadlier than ever. We caught up with IO Interactive's Christian Elverdam, gameplay director on Absolution, and talked evolution.
Agent 47 has been away for six years, missing this entire PlayStation hardware generation so far. What took you so long?
Christian Elverdam: Well, as you know, we've been building brand new technology. We call it the Glacier 2 engine. We actually got to build that from scratch, so we had a chance to look at all of the previous titles and basically ask ourselves what the important areas to Hitman were, and how we could improve them.
Yet, during that time you managed to make two Kane & Lynch titles and Mini Ninjas. You also released Hitman: Blood Money, which we consider one of the first truly next-gen games of this console cycle... on Xbox 360, anyway. It never came to PS3. Why the gap?
We really knew we needed to build this new technology. If you look at the E3 presentation, the AI is now way more advanced than it ever was. It has far more nuanced behaviour. To give you an example, in the demo we have this hippy apartment and 47 comes in dressed as a police officer. Because these hippies don't really care about the police, his disguise isn't very effective.
Their reaction to him as an officer isn't to jump him; it's to tell him to get out of the apartment, which is a new behaviour system. Now, if you come to the apartment dressed in the default suit, these hippies will be friendly to you.
Conversely, if you are confronted by a police officer, they won't necessarily draw their gun and try to shoot you immediately, especially if they haven't seen any killings going on.
Encounters with police can escalate into full-blown combat, though. If they call for backup, you'll be faced with a more direct combat situation. This is the kind of stuff we really wanted to go full circle on. We wanted to go from the more black and white AI of the earlier games to something that's more shades of grey.
Do you think Blood Money got the kind of admiration it deserved? After all, it could be argued its huge crowds inspired Assassin's Creed.
I think cross-pollination is what happens in the industry. If you look at the number of fans we have from back in the old days of Hitman, who are still talking to us now, I don't think we got too little credit for Blood Money. I think actually a lot of people really love it.
Have you ever investigated doing an open-world version of Hitman?
We're focusing more on what we call microcosms. For instance, if you take our library area from the demo, we really look at that area and ask ourselves how we can make every inch of that environment actually tell you something special.
Take the way improvised weapons can dress a scene, like when 47 finds the statue that he can use as a weapon or when he picks up a bong in the apartment. We're way more focused on making every little space tell a story.
What are the key areas you've had to address to make Hitman Absolution a quality action game for 2011, for when the stealthy approach goes wrong?
Well, I've talked about the AI, which is already more engaging than previous games. We also knew we'd have to be busy working on the feel of the aiming and shooting, and that's very much a part of the new game.