Hitman: Absolution Contracts Mode: Yes, It’s Great
Infamous 2 is not a particularly great game. Fun, yes, but extremely convoluted and that convolution breaks the game. However, it did have one incredible feature, a mission-creation mode similar to quest creation in games like Neverwinter Nights, only very easy to use. You simply used the easy to understand tools to create objectives in and around the city of New Marais, and after a few minutes you have a mission completed. You can then enable it to be played by anyone, so that when they started a game the optional quests would appear on the map like regular in-game missions. It was one of the features that saved the game for me after I reached the end that I hated so much, and I have no idea why more developers haven’t released similar tools for their games.
Suddenly, like the answer to my most vicious, murderous prayers comes Hitman: Absolution’s Contracts Mode. Contracts mode is a welcome breather in a gaming world increasingly overstuffed with stupid PvP multiplayer, promising not only the chance to express (limited) creative chops, but plenty of value beyond the single player campaign. The night before PAX Prime 2012 began in earnest, I was invited to a hands on. Yeah, I ate too much, and yeah, I might have had a few drinks from the open bar, and but I had a blast killing my way through the playable demo and for the first time since that wretched trailer last May, I’m actually excited about Hitman: Absolution.
Hitman: Absolution (Contracts Mode)
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (demo)
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Novemebr 20, 2012 (on PC)
MSRP (assumed): $59.99
Contracts Mode is simple: after you complete a mission in the single player campaign, you have the option of either moving on, or creating (or playing) a contract. To create a contract, you’ll be dumped back into the mission you just finished, only this time, every single NPC is now a potential target. Simply select which of them – and you can, as I was told, choose anywhere between 1 and all of them – you want to kill (via a reticule appearing above when you focus on an NPC) and they’re added to the hitlist. Next, simply take them out. As you play, the tactics you use – time spent on the hit, method of execution, donning of disguises, use of cover, and so on – will be added as optional parameters. Victory just depends on killing the target and escaping alive, however you can get extra points (and in-game money) by killing the target exactly as the creator of the contract did.
Players will have full access to whatever assets are already contained in the single player level. Accessible hiding places, costumes, the full range of NPCs and so on will be available for exploitation, ensuring that you won’t feel like you’re getting a bargain basement version of the main game. If you can do it in the main game, you can do it in Contracts Mode. And yes, this includes subduing NPCs and stealing their clothes for ad hoc disguises. One cool feature revealed in the demo that will carry into the single player campaign is the idea that your disguises won’t work on everyone. Police would logically know the officers on the scene, so if you’re disguised as a cop they’ll realize you’re a fake rather quickly. On the other hand, rando passerbys won’t think of individual cops as anything other than anonymous law enforcement. This means you’ll have to sneak past the police even when dressed as one of them; the same holds true for merchants and other profession-based NPCs as well.
The demo was limited to one mission (though the presentation beforehand showed several.) Unfortunately, only console versions were playable onsite, but I was told that the PC version will be identical. The difficulties were available; easy, with one target, medium with two targets, hard with three. The setting, a chinatown marketplace in an unspecified locale, was full of NPC citizens, police officers, merchants and so on, (suggesting that Hitman: Absolution is going to feel very much alive in single player), making for some challenging hits. Being extremely green, I played easy and tried simply walking up and capping the mark. Huge mistake, because I immediately attracted the attention of every cop in the area. Quickly dispatched, my second playthrough I snuck around, hid in a trash bin, and then accidentally smacked a pedestrian, which caused onlookers to panic and run away from me, once again drawing All The Cops. Who killed me.
(I eventually made it through by luring cops away, taking them out silently. Which caused a pile of bodies you have to hide. I then ran up on the mark, shot him in the face, and fled the scene. It wasn’t pretty, and I didn’t meet any of the optional parameters, but so what. I won, bitches, hitman of the year!)
As Hitman: Absolution is still two months out, the final form of the mode isn’t quite finished; as a result, the details here may change. However, I was told that once you’re done, the contract can either be shared specifically with friends, or uploaded to IO Interactive servers to be shared with anyone who wants to try it out. (The list of available contracts will pop up when you choose Contracts Mode.) Publicly available contracts can be rated by players, which means creators have an incentive to choose difficult targets, with varied and complex parameters for maximum challenge.
One last thing: IO Interactive has an ambitious plan to provide as much value from the mode as possible. Every month, the IO Interactive development team will be creating a new contract, which will be distributed totally free of charge. They’ll also be poring through fan-created Contracts and highlighting the top 5 creations per month. This essentially turns Contracts Mode into a steady stream of free DLC, which is goddamned refreshing after being nickeled and dimed by developers as if they’re lovable orphaned pickpockets rather than game makers.
I still don’t know if the final game is going to be good or not, but I’m pretty certain I’ll be playing Contracts Mode to death, if only to reward them for the effort. Between this and Rise of the Triad, it’s looking like the next few months are putting the idea of not ripping off players to the test. Here’s hoping it succeeds.
Game Front was on-site at PAX Prime all weekend (Aug 31-Sep 2), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!