Hitman: Contracts

Slumped on the floor of his Paris apartment, a white-hot bullet grating against his ribs, 47 finds himself with little to do but think. And as time spins out before him, he finds himself reviewing a life spent in the game of death. It's a mucky old game, this hitman lark. And 47 has been so very, very busy.

That's how Hitman: Contracts opens, setting a wholly retrospective scene. The game isn't a new chapter in the Hitman tale: it puts you through some of the most grisly and shocking missions from 47's past. Of course, they're all new to you, so don't be concerned that you're getting re-hashed content from the previous games.

IO are promising a grisly death-fest, with Hitman's trademark stealth-based approach. In matters technical, the 'Glacier' game engine has undergone heavy tweakage, and is reported to run five times faster than it did in Hitman 2. Of course, this won't make the game itself play faster, but it means that environments can be more heavily populated, and display a much higher level of detail. All of which means it's going to look pretty fruity.

Players of Hitman and Hitman 2 will already be familiar with 47's talents in the gruesome offings department, and this is where the new game should really shine. Alongside a much larger range of both noisy and stealthy weapons, 47 boasts some nasty new strangulation animations. And there's a growing incentive to whip out the garrotte and get choking, because as you strangle more enemies, new and more explicit animations are unlocked.

That's assuming you can get close enough to your foes, however, as IO Interactive are claiming a far more advanced level of AI than before. Teams of goons will now gather together in bunches and sweep areas, rather than simply walking standard patrol routes. Plus, they communicate information to each other - such as your last known location. That should keep us on the hoof.

Given the upgrades Hitman 2 received over the original, it's clear that IO listen to community criticism, and attempt to remedy features that people find problematic. And a major criticism of the second game was the fiddlyness of the controls. Hitman: Contracts sets out to provide a slicker experience using instant-access stealth commands, a streamlined inventory system and a generally more intuitive control system. In addition, IO have eliminated the 'wall hacking' problem that meant you could accidentally target enemies through the corners of walls and other solid objects. 'Accidentally'. Yeah, right.

Contracts looks a lot more moody and atmospheric than its predecessors, thanks to the use of warm and cold lighting, so expect a game pregnant with dark ambience - and even more tension. We're looking forward to having more choice, particularly when it comes to silent take-downs. The Hitman games have traditionally made it difficult to get stuck in with full automatics; you'd simply attract a rapidly expanding herd of goons, and when bullets hurt you so very much, engendering such an engagement was tantamount to suicide. However, in limited circumstances, a bit of AK action worked just fine; whether IO will let us loose with a grander arsenal is as yet unclear, but we're also hoping to see some blazing shootouts, as a kind of occasional release valve from the lengthy sessions of high-tension sneakery that the game will doubtless demand.

We'll revisit Contracts when we get our hands on some working code but, in the meantime, check out the latest trailer below.

Hitman: Contracts is released on 30 April for PS2, Xbox and PC