Hitman: Absolution Contracts – hands on with 47′s user-created online mode

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Hitman: Absolution unveiled it’s online efforts at Gamescom, and I was there to get hands on with the new mode. What is it? How does it work? Does it work? Calm down and let me explain.

Hitman: Absolution’s online challenge

Don’t be multiplayer. Please, definitely don’t be multiplayer. As IO Interactive unveil the final piece of the Hitman: Absolution jigsaw, the collective wishes of the entire Hitman fanbase are so strong you can almost taste them (wishes taste like raspberry pavlova, in case you were wondering). We needn’t have worried though, for what’s actually served up is about the smartest, most well-conceived addition to the core Hitman experience as anyone could have hoped for.

It’s called Contracts mode, and it stars – drumroll – you. Well, you, your twisted imagination, and the creative prowess of every player who gets on board with Absolution’s brand of stealthy stabbing. Because, like a really murder-y LittleBigPlanet, this is all about user generated content. Which, in one form or other, Hitman fans have been producing for years.

In a game where every person you see is a potential target, challenges between friends have been popping up since the very first game was released: “I bet you can’t kill that chef using a rocket launcher, while wearing a chicken outfit, without being caught.” Well now the whole world will be able to take on your inspired, wacky, and (unlike that implausible example) actually achievable quests.

They have to be achievable because of how create them: you make by playing. So, say I want to devise a Contract in which the player has to kill two police officers in a particular order, dressed in 47’s default outfit, without being seen and while hiding both bodies. Then, in the creation mode, I have to kill two police officers in a particular order, dressed in 47’s default outfit, without being seen and while hiding both bodies. Play a level, get to the exit, and my Contract has been created – however I went about things will be how the challenger should go about them in order to receive the maximum reward.

hitman_contracts_4It’s ingenious for a number of reasons. Firstly, unlike using a level editor, IO knows that no-one will be able to create impossible challenges or glitch the system or, as gamers are wont to do, find some nefarious way to load the dice in their favour. No matter how pad-smashingly, teeth-grindingly, floor-headbuttingly (just me?) frustrating you might find a Contract, it has to be possible because the creator was able to do it in the first place.

Secondly, it makes use of the game’s fantastic AI. Every NPC in the game is able to react to an event in the full range of ways – it’s not the case that only certain character types have access to certain reactions. That means that not only is everyone a potential target, but everyone is also a potential witness, so depending on where and how you complete your assassinations the situation will unfold in a different manner. Finally, it allows for a huge range of difficulty levels. Depending on the targets you choose and the conditions you set, you’re able to pitch your Contracts at anyone from a baby holding an inflatable hammer to Leon: The Professional.

For instance, during my hands-on time in Chinatown, the two Contracts I attempted varied wildly in difficulty just thanks to one slight tweak. In the easy version I had to bump off a police officer, who handily went for a solo stroll down a back alley – where somehow his neck snapped and his corpse fell into a nearby dumpster – and the now infamous drug-dealing King (distract the guard, blam him in the face with a silenced pistol).

In the hard version, one extra police target was introduced. However this officer was stood right in the middle of the town square, surrounded by dozens of pairs of eyes and some heavily-armed colleagues. Rather unfortunately – not to mention cack-handedly – his killing therefore snowballed into murdering basically everyone else in the entire level with an assault rifle. Sorry guys.

hitman_contracts_2Those small changes can alter a Contract drastically, and there’s no doubt that what I’ve played will end up being a nursery slope once the game’s out in the wild. Thankfully, no matter how ungainly you are as you complete each challenge, you’ll be financially rewarded with cash to spend on new weapons, outfits and upgrades. However you get significantly more dough if you follow the creator’s rules in terms of time limits/outfits/stealth/whatever it may be. Each Contract can only contain three targets, so things can’t get too complex, but by mixing and matching these other criteria the possibilities are practically endless.

It also means that Absolution itself is now practically endless. This is no level creator, so the Contracts you create will be limited to the pre-existing locations and NPCs, but those combinations are not going to run out any time soon. Also, this is a fanbase who will most definitely make the most of these tools: Hitman has always had a hardcore following, and one that no doubt contains more than a couple of the “I could do it better” brigade. Well here’s your chance. And if you really can, chances are you’ll be chosen as one of the five weekly featured Contracts, on which competitions and leaderboards will be based.

IO says that Contracts will add replayability to Hitman, while also engendering a better sense of community. The developer also wants to “find the world’s ultimate assassins.” Well the hunt for those won’t start until the game’s release on November 20th, but Contracts are adding to Absolution’s claim that we needn’t look any further in order to find the world’s ultimate assassin game.