HolidayBuyer's Guide

How Hitman's new AI outsmarted me

A more active world and endless emergent possibilities might make the next Hitman the toughest yet.

I didn't realize I had made a mistake until the cops were on top of me.

I had left my gun on the floor. Total rookie move.

The cruise ship was packed, and I severely underestimated the perceptiveness of the NPCs around me; elegantly dressed young women gossiped in corners, while hired help disguised in all white manned bars and food stations, as rowdier guests flailed wildly on the dance floor. I had snuck into the kitchen, knocked out the chef, and taken his clothes--white pants and a white shirt--and dumped his body in a corner, hoping no one would notice him behind a prep table. I had used this disguise to walk past the guards on the stairs to the upper floor, and after catching one alone, I knocked him out and took his clothing too. He had a gun--much better than mine, and with more ammo--so I swapped mine out for his.

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Photo by Square Enix

But I left my gun on the floor next to his naked body. In hindsight, I think it was the unmoving body in nothing but underwear that gave me away.

As I rounded a corner, two cops ran past me. They saw the naked man. "Did you have anything to do with this?" they asked angrily. I kept slowly walking away. They didn't buy it. They saw my gun and immediately put two and two together.

I ran across the upper deck and down the stairs, trying to keep my head down. If any of the guards saw my face, they'd know I was not one of them--they knew their own, and the stolen uniform could only hide my identity until they got a good look at me. I kept running, eventually returning to the other side of the floor and hiding in an abandoned room as I waited for the commotion to die down. As I was waiting, I saw the guard I had looted run by -- now conscious, but still in his underwear.

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Photo by Square Enix

When things had quieted down, I found a low window looking into the captain's quarters. Inside was my target, bedecked in an ascot and expensive-looking coat, next to a man in sunglasses and a cowboy hat in all white. I vaulted over the windowsill -- someone in the shadows behind me shouted at my back, "You're a weird guy, buddy" -- and took out the man in white. My target noticed, but before he could react, I choked him out and dragged his body into a closet. For good measure, I took sunglasses' outfit too.

Now dressed as a wealthy guest on this luxury yacht, I calmly walked down the stairs to the gangplank. My HUD alerted me that someone would surely see through my disguise; I was wearing the clothes of one of the party's more distinguished guests, and they would know I wasn't him. I shrugged it off -- maybe if I walked fast, nothing would happen.

I was wrong. The cops were on me again, shouting, and panic washed over the crowd as someone, somewhere found the body of the chef I'd left in the kitchen. Like a wave, partygoers flooded off the yacht, screaming, while the cops tackled me to the ground. I had failed this round.

This was just one of the ways I could have solved -- albeit unsuccessfully -- the puzzle laid out for me by IO Interactive's upcoming Hitman game. With each hit comes a new challenge, a new situation to navigate, and a ton of tools at your disposal for carrying out the deed. You can pry open gates with wrenches and crowbars and steal clothes and weapons from the unconscious -- although if they are only unconscious and not dead, they will eventually wake up, locate new clothes, and resume the hunt for you.

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Photo by Square Enix

What makes this new Hitman so challenging is the revamped AI. I actually feel like I'm in a crowd of people, who behave realistically and react with horror if I'm casually walking around with a gun. They can see through your disguises if you're not careful -- impersonating a member of law enforcement is tricky because they can recognize you're not one of them close-up -- and will be even more suspicious if you're moving around too fast or jumping through windows. It's more difficult to blend in, and it's something you have to master first before you can even think about moving toward your target. It's much easier to be found out, but with so many different ways to tackle every situation, even the most calamitous performances are redeemable.

It's that emergent gameplay that sets Hitman apart from its predecessors. You're doing the same thing -- hunting targets for cash and experience -- but the world around you has evolved into something that seems more alive. When you leave a gun on the ground, a civilian could see it and run to find guards. If the guard sees it, he'll pick it up and carry it somewhere, and your access to it is severed. You can fling coins into dark corners to trick people into coming closer to you, then knock them out or kill them and take their stuff. If anyone sees you, or also hears that coin, then there's a good chance they will also come sniffing around. And if you don't kill them, they can go and alert more guards. If you do kill them, someone will eventually come back for them with a body bag. None of that is scripted; it's all dependent on how you behave.

Hitman will launch as an episodic game throughout 2016, with the first three missions dropping on March 11.

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