Posts Tagged ‘IO’

Hitman Absolution – review – Console news

PC, PS3, Xbox 360; £29.99; 18+; IO Interactive

The Hitman series has always been aimed at the resolutely hardcore. And it’s not just that the game’s starring Agent 47, the most stylishly dressed killer in gaming, boasted finicky controls and punishing difficulty levels.

These titles demanded players give themselves over to its open-ended gaming structure where a combination of stoical patience and creative puzzle-solving were rewarded. Sure, you could blast your way through levels with twin-ballers if you played the games on the easiest difficulty settings. But unless you surrendered to the series’ signature stealth gameplay, the Hitman games would prove an ultimately hollow experience.

This rule of thumb has been almost completely done away with in Absolution, IO’s first Hitman game since 2006. Hints of it remain in the design of a couple of levels and the eye-watering challenge that’s presented by the highest difficulty setting. But IO have made a number of design choices aimed at broadening Absolution’s appeal beyond the core Hitman fanbase, and while there’s still plenty to admire here, unfortunately not all of the changes work in the game’s favour.

Absolution starts off with Agent 47 being sent to kill his former handler Diane Burnwood, who has betrayed the pair’s shadowy employers, The Agency. After a mission that serves as the game’s tutorial, Diane lies in a pool of blood and shower-door glass, begging 47 to protect a child named Victoria she has in her charge. He agrees, stashes Victoria in an orphanage in Chicago, and then sets out to find out why The Agency has put such a premium on acquiring her. Naturally, this investigation presents 47 with a ton of targets upon which to apply his death-dealing talents.

This rather decent plot setup unfortunately descends into a farcical mess rather quickly. Granted, the stories running through all the Hitman games are uniformly rubbish, but Absolution is silly by even their low standards. The main problem is that the game’s outlandish plot developments jar horribly with the way it’s presented as a darkly atmospheric thriller. It can’t decide whether it wants to be Grindhouse or Noir and its attempts at straddling both camps fail miserably.

This is a story about a contract killer caring for a defenceless girl at the behest of the only person he ever formed a human connection with. It’s also a story in which the protagonist fights a man the size of a brick outhouse while wearing spandex and a Lucha Libre mask in a barn that just happens to be a short walk from a top-secret subterranean science lab. As Agent 47 marches towards his final quarry, the player encounters a stream of increasingly outlandish characters, each one more depraved than the next.

In the past, the main belief players needed to suspend was that no one could see the barcode tattoo on 47’s head when he wandered into their midst in disguise. Now, one of their lesser hurdles is to accept that 47 would rely on information given to him by an ornithological fetishist covered in feathers and bird poo.

Still, as awful as the plot is, it would be acceptable if it could be ignored completely, but unfortunately, the game’s campaign contains several levels that are designed around pushing the narrative forward. This is probably Absolution’s greatest misstep because these levels also strip out the series’ traditional open-ended gameplay.

In these missions, players do have the freedom to subdue victims, swap clothes and engineer entertaining ways to dispatch NPCs. But the levels themselves are wide, linear corridors and to secure the highest rating here, the player’s goal is to make their way to an exit point without being detected. At first, these levels are rather uninteresting, but as Absolution’s checkpoint saves become more erratic, some of them become downright frustrating. At the highest difficulty, where no mid-mission checkpoints exist at all, they can transform into tedious wars of attrition.

This isn’t the rule throughout, however, as Absolution contains a few missions in the traditional vein of the series. You know, where you’re plonked down into a map filled with lethal items, accidents waiting to happen and a target (or some targets) that require Agent 47’s lethal expertise.

A mission early on in the game set in a bustling market in Chinatown is probably the campaign’s high point. Here, players are presented with an odious crime lord and a ton of ways to take him out; the range of options extends from poisoning the target’s food at his favourite noodle bar, to something as simple as pushing him down a manhole.

It’s in missions such as this, where tailing a target, learning their routes and then pulling off an intricately plotted execution is as satisfying as a kill initiated by spur-of-the-moment creativity.

In the instances in the campaign where players are encouraged to observe, plan and execute, Absolution shines brightest. They’re also the most heartbreaking aspects of the game, because they provide hints of what Absolution could have been if IO had just stuck to what made their series great in the first place.

The chocolate box of lethal delights that the open-ended missions present is enticing enough on its own, but coupled to the game’s swoon-worthy score and gorgeous visuals, it provides glimpses of a game that would have been utterly mind-blowing.

Now, before I stand accused of denigrating Absolution for not being Blood Money 2.0, allow me to point out that I think several of its new features improve on 2006’s game significantly. I do not, for example, find Instinct – the much-touted mechanic that allows 47 to see enemies through walls and NPC route paths – to be the bone of contention a lot of purists do.

Indeed, it’s a fantastic new feature offering newcomers the best gateway into the series to date – the mark and kill mechanic even offers newbies an ace in the hole if their best efforts aren’t realised mid-mission. Similarly, the scoring system and unlockables are strokes of sheer genius; with leaderboard bragging rights, new abilities and new weapons up for grabs, each mission positively cries out to be replayed every which way is possible.

Furthermore, Contracts Mode is a great addition to the Hitman package. In it, players are able to create hits based on the campaign levels and then challenge the online community with their creations. It’s true that this is something the Hitman community was doing via internet forums already and it’s slightly tarred with the less-than-brilliant design of some of the levels, but it provide players with opportunities to both create and enjoy levels where puzzle solving and a sense of fun work arm-in-arm with 47’s business of killing. In short, it feels like Hitman in its purest sense.

And that’s ultimately what’s missing from most of Absolution. The game may look better and play better than any Hitman game before it, but one can only marvel at how IO managed to lose sight of their IP’s most appealing aspects so often.

The best thing one can say about Absolution is that it’s impossible to feel ambivalent about it; players will love and loathe aspects of this game in equal measure. In Absolution, terrible ideas rub up against great ones almost on a moment-to-moment basis, and the end result is a title which is impossible to consider with the same clinical detachment that it’s protagonist is known for.

Rating: 3/5


Shoot ‘em ups






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Posted on December 8th, 2012 by  |  No Comments »

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days – First Look Preview – Console news

A life of crime might get you decades in the slammer but, if the plot behind IO Interactive’s Kane & Lynch series is anything to go by, then at least there’s the opportunity for some travelling when you’re on the outside. The Danish developer’s 2007 original, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, had the pair flip-flopping between Los Angeles and Tokyo in the first half of the game – before they moved on to Havana and Venezuela during the latter stages – while this incoming sequel takes place in the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, China. It’s the city’s population density that’s precisely the reason why IO has chosen Shanghai as Kane & Lynch 2’s setting (not because it has the smallest  range of recorded temperatures of any densely populated area in the world, between 19.4 degrees Celsius at its coldest and 35.8 degrees Celsius at its hottest).

Interesting factoids aside, TVG isn’t a travel website (despite rumours to the contrary), so here’s a lowdown on Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days’ back-story to explain this location: while the first game placed Kane in the starring role as he attempted to track down the whereabouts of his daughter and escape The7, this sequel focuses on Lynch. During our first look, IO was keen to point out the different character traits that Lynch offers. As was clear from the first game, Lynch is a medicated psychopath (something that troublingly formed a minor gameplay dynamic in Dead Men), which is why IO describes him as a man who improvises under pressure, with little or no military planning; a criminal who’s often irrational and, above all else, is just trying to survive (aren’t we all).

Lynch has been hiding out in Shanghai to lay low from the feds and this is where the city’s population density comes in, as it’s harder for the authorities to track him down there. While taking up residence in the city, Lynch does some work for a British gangster called Glazer. Nonetheless, Kane manages to reunite with Lynch in what IO is describing as “a simple job gone wrong”, and the two of them manage to get wanted by the police. As with the first game, the dynamic duo of Kane and Lynch turns out to be more of an inadvisable mixing of nitrogen and glycerol to form a dynamite partnership that could explode at any moment. The result in Kane & Lynch 2 is a frantic chase that goes on for two days and two nights.

So that’s the back-story. The game itself looks unique, which is a word that’s far too overused in the game industry when, ironically, there are very few games that can be described in that way. In this case however, we can honestly say that we’ve never seen a game that uses a YouTube-style visual filter. As the initial teaser trailers for Kane & Lynch 2 hinted, IO Interactive is going for a kind of CCTV style depiction of the action in this sequel. On top of different forms of camera direction, such as an over-pronounced shaky cam effect that makes Gears of War’s sprint cam look like a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch flick, IO has adopted a grainy filter on top of the visuals to make the gamer feel like an impartial observer of the action. By the developer’s own admittance, it has been looking at YouTube videos to replicate the kind of blocky artefacting that’s synonymous with the website’s content, and applying this style directly to the game.

This results in something considerably less gimmicky and markedly more immersive than initially expected. On top of this comes other strong improvements to the series in areas such as sound and AI, which make for a lightning fast pace to Kane & Lynch 2 that was lacking in the original. Quite simply, we’ve never heard a silenced weapon sound quite as exquisite as the effects made possible in our first look at K&L 2, while the AI seems much more aggresive than it was in Dead Men with noticeable flanking that applies pressure to move between cover quickly. Similarly, improved destructible environments from the first game (where the destruction was little more than cosmetic) also help to up the ante, ensuring that even if the AI isn’t flanking, then at least it’s quickly destroying any cover that Lynch is cowering behind.

This appears to complement IO’s decision to apply a traditional button-operated cover system for K&L 2, which replaces the Dead Men system that automatically stuck Kane up against nearby walls. Although developers have experimented with these ‘sticky’ cover systems with some success on current-gen systems, we’ve got to say that the standard button pressing dynamic is still the most solid and reassuring option for our money. Additionally, promises of a ‘Down not Dead’ feature for K&L 2 should help to make an already frantic looking game even more raucous by allowing players to continue fighting even when they’re crippled on the ground. This, coupled with the adrenaline shot revival system from the first game, guarantees that the game will at least boast some basic co-op features, although we’re hoping for a few more in the final build.

One thing that IO Interactive got more right in Kane & Lynch: Dead Men than any developer has managed since is the inspired Fragile Alliance multiplayer mode. This was one of the most original multiplayer modes to grace any shooter of the last decade, with superbly balanced gameplay and an ingenious risk/reward system to boot. One thing’s for sure, it put the endlessly repeated offerings of capture the flag, king of the hill, and deathmatches to shame. Gamers will be pleased to hear, then, that Fragile Alliance will make a return as an 8 player co-op heist mode (we use the term co-op loosely here) in Kane & Lynch 2 when the series returns later this year. A more genuine co-op experience will also be applied to the main campaign (as it was with the first game), allowing a second gamer to play as Kane alongside Lynch, either on or offline this time around. At this stage in development, Kane & Lynch 2 appears to be shoring up the gameplay elements that were left adrift with the first game. Third-person shooter fundamentals such as cover, AI, and environment appear to have been approached head-on by the developer in an attempt to cast aside the faults of the 2007 original. Although the most significant innovations appear to come from the game’s visuals, it’s reassuring to know that IO is focusing on nailing down the game’s foundations before it goes for the big money, back-of-the-box features.

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Posted on January 18th, 2010 by  |  No Comments »

IO: Feedback From Kane & Lynch “Hurt” News – Console news

The latest games news:

Danish developer, IO Interactive has admitted to TVG that it was “hurt” by some of the feedback it received from the original Kane & Lynch, although the studio appears to be coming out fighting in the series sequel, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.

During a recent first look at the sequel (read our impressions through here), we were impressed by a marked improvement in the destructible environments and gunplay in Kane & Lynch 2, which is a point that we put to the game’s Producer, Mads Prahm.

“We got a lot of comments on that in the first Kane & Lynch game and that was really a blow to the studio; it was a blow to our self-esteem,” he said.

“Things like the cover system and the gunplay are things that we were criticised for in the first game. That’s something we’ve worked a lot with,” Prahm continued. “We’ve tried to make the weapons very different but also work with what people expect from the accuracy of a weapon, camera shake, recoil, and all of those things. It’s a lot of different factors that play together to give you a good feeling of a weapon and that’s something we’ve spent a lot of time on.”

We also asked Prahm about the AI, which was a touch lacklustre in the 2007 original but appears to have come a long way in Dog Days:

“That was one of the things that got criticised in the first game and I think that we at IO feel that we’re actually quite good at doing AI, so again that hurt our self-esteem quite a bit, so we really wanted to get back at this and do aggressive, combat AI. Not the Hitman, smart, stealth AI but aggressive flanking AI and I think we’ve really achieved that.”

If our initial impressions are anything to go by, then we think they might just be right. Stay tuned for our full Q&A with Mads Prahm, which is scheduled to go live on TVG early next week.

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Posted on January 17th, 2010 by  |  No Comments »