Agent 47 may have a barcode tattooed on his bonce, but Io has firmly established the silent assassin as one of the most popular gaming icons of this generation. Already onto his fourth adventure, publisher Eidos is currently cranking the PR machine into life ahead of E3, fleshing out the details of the game, along with new screenshots.
In this exclusive interview with the game's producer Adam Lay, he talks about how Blood Money is still very much a game of choice for the player, but how that choice will now result in Agent 47's increased notoriety, and how performing cleaner kills will earn you extra money - dosh you can then go on spend on customising your weapons.
And with the latest Glacier engine tech behind it, Io is promising the game will look the part too - and has even hinted a PSP version of the game could be on the way, with next-gen seemingly a formality. Stay tuned for the latest news on the Hitman series as we look forward to getting a hands-on at next week's E3 where the game is expected to make its public debut...
Eurogamer: Many Eurogamer readers have campaigned for a return to the original vision of the Hitman series, while the masses seem to love what you've done with it recently. Is it fair to say, though, that far from being the deadly silent assassin of old, you're more of a killing machine now? Does Blood Money continue the gameplay style of Contracts, or are you hoping to refine the vision that many PC gamers loved in the series' first release?
Adam Lay: Agent 47 is professional killer, a contracted Hitman who is paid to kill specific persons. Who the player chooses to kill, and with what instrument has never been dictated to the player. They take on the role of the assassin, they perform the hit and most importantly, they make the decisions. Throughout the course of the Hitman series, additional features and gameplay mechanics have been gradually introduced, but the concept of being the world deadliest assassin has never lost focus. The number of choices the player has as a Hitman however has increased. With the introduction of Silent Assassin to PS2 and Xbox, Hitman reached a larger market and a wider range of gamers, and certain issues (such as the lack of an in-game save feature) from the first game were addressed for the console versions.
Actively throughout the development of the Hitman series, and particularly with Blood Money, we have listened to our hardcore fan base and incorporated the feedback posted on various gaming forums, and collated via consumer research. This in turn has had an influence on decisions regarding mission locations and overall games design. Blood Money will feature locations geared towards less military-inspired scenarios, and more towards those a where a genuine Hitman would be most effective.
The latest instalment of the series, Hitman: Blood Money, continues to introduce new gameplay features such as Notoriety, whilst also reintroducing some features that have been missed by gamers of the first PC game. For example, payment is now awarded at the end of each mission, which is directly related to how professionally the player undertakes each mission. This forms the basis of an in-game economy system, where the player can choose to spend there earnings: fully customisable precision weapons and specialist equipment can be purchased, along with additional information on the targets and location at hand, to aid a successful and professional hit.
Eurogamer: Would you say Blood Money is more of a stealth game or an action game? We found in Contracts that it was easier to play it like an action game running around killing everything in sight without worrying too much about alerting guards to your presence. Is there the same freedom to play it how you want this time, or are you asking gamers to be more skilful and act like a proper Hitman would?
Adam Lay: Hitman: Blood Money is about player choice. Defining Blood Money (or any other of the previous games in the series for that matter) as either a stealth or an action shooter would be misleading. Blood Money is a Hitman game first and foremost. How and who you kill is entirely up to you, providing the contracted targets are included in those you hit. Every one of the varied missions featured in Blood Money has been carefully designed, to ensure successful completion is always possible using stealth alone. In fact it's possible to complete all of the missions killing just the specified targets, without anyone ever suspecting your presence. Again, how the player wants to achieve this is entirely their decision; silenced firearms, close and long range weapons, household items, poisons, the infamous Fiber wire, and this time even arranging unfortunate "accidents" are all at the player's disposal.
One of the new features we have introduced within Blood Money is Notoriety. A Hitman's identity is without doubt his most valuable asset. Walking into the foyer of an Opera house and opening up with an automatic shotgun may guarantee a payment for the hit initially, but it will make your profession that much harder when you attempt to perform your next hit. A blood bath won't go unnoticed in the eyes of the law and the media. How the player approaches each mission will affect their individual experience throughout the course of the game. Leaving a witness to a murder or being caught upon surveillance camera will all increase 47's notoriety, making him a recognisable face rather than just a man with just a number for a name. How the in-game characters react to 47's presence throughout later missions will all depend upon this, guards will hold that stare a little longer, follow you further and generally be more suspicious of your activities. Civilians will run and flee to the nearest member of security when the penny drops that the man in the expensive Italian suit walking towards them, is in fact the man whose face is in the photo fit in the paper. Many of the locations and scenarios in Blood Money take place within public areas; if your face is front-page news, expect performing the hit to be more of a challenge. The professional Hitman is always rewarded, in more ways than one.
Eurogamer: Are you building on the storyline more in Blood Money, and do we get to find out more about Agent 47 this time?
Adam Lay: The story that unfolds during Hitman: Blood Money is a killer. Literally! We don't want to give too much away right now, but fans of the series won't be disappointed. Its going to answer some of the questions previously raised in Codename: 47, Silent Assassin and Contracts, and may also introduce some new ones as well. The story delves deeper into the workings of the ICA (also known as the 'The Agency', 47's employer) and will reveal more of the underlying story that has been suggested and referred to throughout the series.
A lot of what you have previously learnt about 47 is from (in one way or another) the characters he has become involved with. Blood Money will introduce several new key characters into the Hitman world, along with the re-appearance of certain individuals and even organisations, which have been involved in 47's past for a long time...
Eurogamer: What have you improved this time around in both the graphical sense and the gameplay? Any new gameplay or technical features you want to shout about?
Adam Lay: Graphically, Hitman: Blood Money is the first game to be powered by Io Interactive's latest implementation of the powerful Glacier engine. This features a new render engine supporting up to shader model 3.x, allowing realistic refraction-based environment effects. Both the Xbox and PC versions will feature dynamic soft shadows, and a new character rendering system consisting of a highly realistic rendering system, utilising normal mapping, self shadowing and rim lighting.
The engine and scripts that power the game's AI have been completely re-written. Expect NPC's to react accordingly to the environment and the people around them, they will follow blood trails and investigate suspicious items and behaviour, leading to some interesting distraction type gameplay. Additionally a new pathfinder engine provides further improved tracking and movement, resulting in realistic NPC behaviour and interaction.
As previously mentioned, Blood Money will feature an in-game economy system. Payment is received after each successful mission. How much the player earns is ultimately dependant on how professionally they approach the mission. The fees received from 47's employer are fixed however. Providing the targets are killed, you will get paid the contracted price for the hit. However being a Hitman is obviously a dangerous business, so you may consider using your money to reduce some of the risks of your profession. Post-mission, the player has the option to use their money, and the additional services of the ICA. For a fee, the ICA can ensure that a dead body left at the scene, or a potential witness will either be silenced or never found. This helps reduce information regarding 47's identity reaching the news media portrayed in game, and in turn helps prevent 47's notoriety increasing.
Pre-mission, 47 can also use his money to purchase custom built weapon upgrades and specialised equipment via an underworld contact. There are currently over 50 various types of upgrades that can be applied to 47's custom build weapons, with a great number of different possible configurations. Weapon configuration options will be determined by the player's style of play. Whether it's a weight reduced bolt-action sniper rifle, with enhanced scope and low velocity ammo, or an assault rifle equipped with armour piercing ammo and increased clip capacity, the choice is up to the player.
Eurogamer: Just how much of a challenge is it producing Hitman games every year? Do you wish you had more time?
Adam Lay: Hitman: Blood Money has actually been in development for several years now, a lot of the pre-production and some of the new technology in use was established before Contracts had hit the shelves.
Realistically anyone would wish for more time. However with the number of different situations, and the wide range of choice offered within Blood Money we could continue to add additional features and scenarios indefinitely. But if we did that then none of you guys would ever get to play it, so we won't [smiles].
Eurogamer: Is this the last current gen Hitman game? When can we expect it to hit next generation machines? Any plans for a PSP version?
Adam Lay: The Hitman series has always valued itself in pushing the boundaries of both the gameplay experience and the technology behind it. We are looking forward to expanding the Hitman series still further, taking full advantage of the power and scope offered by the upcoming next generation of machines.
A PSP incarnation of the Hitman series has never been ruled out, however we want to continue to ensure the Hitman experience takes full advantage of the technology and features offered by each system in question.