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Hitman 5 out Xmas 2011 "at the earliest"

IO hard at work, sources tell us.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Danish developer IO Interactive is hard at work on the next game in the popular Hitman series, Eurogamer has learned.

The PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 title will be released "at the very earliest Christmas next year", one source told us.

The claim was backed up by retail sources, who have indicated to Eurogamer that a release later in 2011 "will be most likely".

Rumour of a fifth game in the stealth-em-up series has been rife since the release of the last Hitman game, 2006's Blood Money.

In June last year Variety reported that a new Hitman film was in the works and contained story elements from Hitman 5, due to be released in late 2010. We know that the reported release date is incorrect.

In June 2009 an IO community manager said: "I can tell you that there is no way we will be basing a storyline for a new Hitman game on the story in a licensed movie. That's just not how we work so you shouldn't be concerned about that."

Earlier this week Hitman 5 posters popped up on the internet, setting fans' tongues wagging.

IO Interactive said the artwork "does not represent any new Hitman game", but we’ve been told they "likely" relate to the game.

The posters have since been removed.

Backing up our source's information is online retailer, which says Hitman 5 will be released on 28th November 2011.

Play had not responded to Eurogamer at the time of publishing.

In the four years since the release of Hitman 4, IO has put out third-person action game Kane & Lynch and cutesy third-person action game Mini Ninjas. Sequel Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is due out on 20th August in the UK.

Now the studio is working full throttle on bringing everyone's favourite bald-headed assassin back.

News of a new Hitman game should come as no surprise. The series has sold over seven million copies to date.

Indeed, in 2007 Eidos' then parent company Sci Entertainment said in its annual report: "We have invested significantly in the pipeline of products for 2008 and beyond and we are looking forward with much anticipation to the sequels to Just Cause and Battlestations: Midway, which are already in development, and new versions of world-leading franchises Tomb Raider and Hitman."

And then in 2008 SCi again mentioned the game, saying IO is "already working on a brand-new franchise along with the fifth Hitman game and a sequel to Kane & Lynch".

Square Enix told Eurogamer: "It's flattering to see so many fans are eager for another Hitman game. Unfortunately we have nothing to announce at this time."

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