Io Interactive has now had a single Hitman mission, its new Paris mansion level, appear in public three times - once in a level flythrough at E3, once after E3 when some, er, unauthorised leaks appeared online, and once more today in a scripted playthrough at Gamescom. What’s become clear to me, having now spent actual hours looking at this place, is that the 300+ NPCs attending the lavish fashion party inside are as important as all of the building’s easily tampered-with chandeliers and gas canisters.
They’re a more living bunch than ever, often far from the cannon fodder and set patrol routes you’d expect from a stealth game’s denizens. Walk in front of a cameraman during a news report and he and his presenter will curse you for your blatant photobomb. Unscrupulous assassins can use bystanders as squishy distractions, forcing gruesome industrial accidents and using the collateral damage (and all the screaming) to make an unseen entrance into restricted territory. AI characters can be unwitting weapon mules (just hide a pistol in amongst some food and watch waiters do the dangerous work for you), or just the tried-and-tested moving mannequins for your soon-to-be-stolen future disguise.
More importantly, though, they can now thwart your best-laid plans. New Enforcer enemies - indicated by a big, bright triangle over their heads - will recognise if you’re not one of their own. It’s always been a little odd that a man with a whacking great barcode on his head can put on a big hat and become invisible to every one of the world’s chefs - Enforcers should remedy that glaring issue a little. Wear a costume an Enforcer recognises - in this demo, a bodyguard’s get-up - and they’ll still scrutinise your face and take appropriate action. It’s a neat way to force an extra reaction out of players, take away a layer of safety you could previously rely on.
Both demos have yet to show how those NPCs react when you are discovered, which is the next point of interest - if my experience is anything to go by, being found out, making your escape and recalibrating is as much a part of a Hitman game as making a perfect, ghostly run.
At least we know that the new game should make those situations traditionally exhilerating. The much-maligned Absolution offered players more chances than ever to deal with a dangerous situation, when most Hitman players preferred never to get into them in the first place. That game’s Instinct mode (see also: Eagle Vision, Detective Mode, anything where a normal man suddenly puts on invisible X-ray specs) returns here, but it’s now an optional extra, more of a hint view than a key gameplay mechanic.
And, in classic style, it also looks as though you can make things more difficult for yourself and Agent 47. The demo shows how weapons can be used non-lethally (hilariously, in this case, the demonstration involved a crowbar being thrown at a man’s head from point-blank range) - you can bet your easily snuffed-out life that that means runthroughs which include no kills beyond the necessary hit will be rewarded.
There’s much we still need to see from the new Hitman - not least another level - but this uncharacteristically long look at a single area has at least convinced me that Io is creating a blood-strewn toybox of the sort we hope for from Hitman, rich with opportunity and threat in equal measure. It’s the second part that has me most excited - if they’ve made putting on a disguise more dangerous, what else is safe?