Torben Ellert and Christian Elverdam from IO Interactive demonstrated the Contracts mode of Hitman Absolution to a rapt audience of murder simulation fans at the Eurogamer Expo this evening - describing the player-created assassination challenges as "a reverse murder mystery".
"Instead of thinking how can I solve a murder, you're thinking how you can commit a murder," Elverdam said.
If IO follows through on its promise to deliver true sandbox contract killing in Absolution's main campaign (and the signs are good), the analogy ought to apply to the game's story mode too - but Contracts casts the player as Agatha Christie as well as Mrs Marple.
The IO pair showed Contracts working in the sleepy, sleazy American burg of Hope from the game's story campaign. They demonstrated how you can create a Contracts challenge for other players using the "play to create" system, where the targets you kill and the manner you kill them - with or without disguises, say - dictates the parameters for other players to try.
Although playing on normal difficulty, they set a fairly elaborate contract that involved two apparently accidental kills out of three, no disguises and no missed shots.
They then showed three variously successful attempts on the same contract - one as a pure sniping mission, one as a messy run with an assault rifle, and one actually beating the original score by taking down the targets in reverse order in a quicker time. "There's always more than one solution, even if the creator has seemed to do something really smart," said Ellert. The fact some NPCs move around the map dynamically and can be involved, for example, in accidental kills that weren't scripted for them in the story mode, only opens things up further.
Contracts must be the cleverest idea I've seen in multiplayer gaming in some time - essentially reusing the levels and core gameplay from single-player Hitman to create flexible, player-designed leaderboard challenges that tap into the current trend for "asynchronous" competition with friends. And the best part is that you can create challenges just by playing the game and without opening a single menu, and based purely on a thorough understanding of the levels from the story mode.
With three leaderboards - for richest assassin (most successful at playing contracts), most skilful and most popular (garnering the most likes for contracts you've created) - it should certainly keep the Hitman community busy for a while.