As a fan of the Hitman franchise I’ve been biding my time since the release of Hitman: Absolution, looking for any news about the next iteration in the series. So when I came across Hitman: Sniper, a free-to-play tablet based version of the game being developed by Square Enix Montreal, I had to look into it more. So I had the opportunity to watch a demonstration of it with Ollie Sykes, the Game Director at Square Enix Montreal, and get my own hands-on preview of it, and asked the developer a few questions. The objective of Hitman: Sniper, of course, is to eliminate your target but instead of navigating an area controlling Agent 47, your location is fixed as a sniper far from the fray so you never have to worry about your location being discovered. You do however have to worry about your target and others being alerted to the fact there’s a sniper and fleeing, which would result in a failed mission. And as any good hitman knows, at least in the video game series, it’s not just about eliminating your target but the manner in which you accomplish this task so you can acquire more points. And this was the starting point of the demonstration as I would be shown the leaderboards and how it encourages this, or as Ollie put it, it shows “how much of a perfect assassin you can be.” So there will be tournaments, seasons, and the leaderboards will be reset every few weeks. This will only matter if the game is fun to play and so the mission would begin in order to show the gameplay.
The first thing I noticed was how great everything looked from the sniper’s vantage point. The mission location was at an expensive condo where your target, Marcus Krug, was hosting a party for criminal masterminds known as the Conclave. Despite the beautiful Montenegro location there were ugly dealings behind the scenes, and Marcus was more than just a host but a human trafficker and this was part of the reason he’s on your list. Ollie explained to me that Marcus could be taken out at any time and it’s demonstrated to me by zooming in on him but once the primary target is eliminated the mission ends and you can’t earn additional points. Ollie said,
“I can take him out now if I wanted to but that’s not how I’m gonna get a high score. I’m gonna get a high score by seeing how far I can push it by taking out his guards, taking out all the private security on the site. And then killing him. Killing him banks all my points, completes the contract and seals the deal. But the longer I leave him, the more I risk him getting spooked. If a guard sees a body he’ll radio it in and (Marcus) will flee to safety.”
So the key to conceal your presence is to use environmental kills, eliminate single targets and hide their bodies or kill those attempting to alert security. As you can see in the image above, there are many glass balconies and you can shoot them while a person is leaning on them and have him fall to his death as an environmental kill. Ollie also showed how you can kill someone and shoot their dead body again to have it fall into a pool or off another balcony, effectively hiding it. You can deliberately alert people or clear out rooms so you can isolate targets and then take them out. If someone is alerted before you can conceal a body, you’re still given the opportunity to take that person down before they can alert others and blow your cover. Characters are constantly moving in the level with a few security guards that are completely randomized in the paths they take. And once you rack up enough points you can take out the primary target and complete the mission. Eliminating additional targets results in more than just rising the ranks of the leaderboards. You also collect parts of weapons, which you use to unlock or upgrade weapons in the Armory. This is one of the free-to-play elements so even though you can purchase different weapons you can also unlock them by replaying missions and collecting weapons parts. This was a very interesting feature because it didn’t consist of random parts that you apply to any weapon, you’re actually shown all the weapons as a 3D representation and the parts you need are transparent. So it feels as if you’re actually constructing your weapons, and can be an engrossing game play element.
After watching all of this I was excited to get my hands on it, and the controls to survey the area felt good. You drag your finger across the screen to move the gun in any direction you want so you can even look at an adjacent building (where sometimes a rival CPU sniper could be hiding). To zoom in you tap on the screen once, and you can still drag your finger to examine anything you want. You can adjust the level of zoom by pinching or expanding your fingers. And when you want to shoot you just tap again while you’re zoomed in. So you can control everything on the screen with one hand. The sensitivity of the controls are fairly accurate so it might take a moment to become accustomed to lining up your target and then tapping for a clean kill. It’s not difficult but the first time I shot a car to set off the alarm to distract a guard and then shoot a glass balcony above to have a security guard fall to his death and land on the one investigating the car alarm for a double kill, I missed the first shot. So it’s a good thing that there are additional mechanics to aid you in your missions. When you zoom in the HUD changes, and the bottom left shows the number of bullets in your clip, and the bottom right is an icon of your lungs, which slows down everything temporarily when activated. Inside the scope are one time boosts you can purchase using currency you’ve earned during your career. When you zoom in on different people they’re automatically identified and the different colored markers above their heads helps you keep track of everyone. I took out another security guard at the top of the condo, and in order to hide the body I shot out the glass behind him, and then shot his body to knock it off the roof. Since I wasted a lot of bullets with my missed shots I had to reload a couple of times, and the reload mechanic was fully interactive requiring a number of swipes, and it was pretty sweet so I didn’t mind missing too much.
I completed this mission a few times and was able to test out various scenarios, some intentional and some due to the simple learning curve. The graphical details when zooming in did degrade slightly but overall still looked great to look at. The character animations were smooth although shooting bodies off rooftops took a moment to get accustomed to seeing. The responsiveness of the AI was solid where if you missed a shot they wouldn’t just carry on like nothing happened. They would investigate with different levels of alertness. And even if the primary target becomes aware there’s a sniper you still have about a minute to take him or her out depending on the location. I was having a lot of fun playing, and since it’s being developed for Android and iOS devices, I can definitely see myself playing this on the go. I was told that this is the only level so far, and even though the replayability is very high considering the additional targets and weapons to unlock, it’ll only be a matter of time before the entire level and every single environmental kill is done. Resetting leaderboards and having tournaments will help with this. When I asked Ollie if players will be able to create scenarios similar to contracts in Hitman: Absolution he stated that it’s definitely on their radar. There will be additional levels eventually, and Ollie said around the 8th play through of the first level (to complete all the tasks) the second one will unlock. I’m really looking forward to playing the full game once it’s released in the App store.