Kotaku UK covered the more 'traditional' side of Hitman 2 earlier this week, but IO's incoming shank-em-up also introduces a new 1-vs-1 take on competitive multiplayer: ghost mode. This puts both players in control of Agent 47, visible to each other but otherwise unable to interact (there's one exception, which we'll come to), gunning for the same randomly located targets in separate game worlds. The first player to execute five successful assassinations wins.
There are caveats of course, rules to keep you playing as a Hitman and not as a run-and-gun man. For a kill to count, the body must remain undetected for 10 seconds. After the target has been killed in one world, the other player has 20 seconds to kill their target before they forfeit that point and a new victim is assigned.
This countdown timer forces you to make quick decisions: gamble and rush the kill to keep the score even, fully aware that you're not in the best position? If you're spotted then this kill is a bust but you've also compromised your disguise and made the next kill even harder. Decisions made in haste can have a domino effect, and this pressure adds a new dynamic to Hitman. If things go wrong and Agent 47 is killed, you'll respawn nearby after a short delay, with the guards still alert. While the death itself isn't overly punishing, trying to get an unnoticed kill with everyone alert is not easy.
At all times you are able to see your adversary, what disguise they are wearing, and what weapons they have equipped: but the real twist is that you are able to interact with their world in a slight way. The build I played does this through the unique 'ghost coin' item.
The ghost coin functions as a regular coin: throw it to draw the attention of nearby NPC’s. However the ghost coin also makes a noise in your opponent's world, which means you can basically troll them. When they break cover, toss the coin and make nearby guards swivel around. It's simply delicious.
This single touch gives ghost mode huge potential. While you cannot actively harm one another the framework is clearly there for future updates and items to allow more competitive actions against one another. Think of all the things that could go wrong in the single player mode, all the things that have caught you out: now they have the potential to become tools in your multiplayer arsenal. Hitman is a game about creativity in killing. This multiplayer mode stays true to this ethos while simultaneously doing the exact opposite: prevent an identical 47 from making their kill.
Ghost mode is all about improvisation and speed, with a little bit of luck thrown in too. You start every match undisguised and unarmed, the only item in your inventory the ghost coin. There are boxes scattered around the levels, however, each containing random items. These can be disguises, weapons, gadgets etc. Securing these before your ghost does is crucial.
The boxes contain three items, but you are only able to take away a single item per box. So choose wisely. You can get screwed over like I did and be left with nothing but a brick and a wrench, or you can get lucky like my competitor did and walk away with a high-powered sniper rifle. If you want an idea of how everything plays out, I did a quick edit of my gameplay footage from the hands-on.
There was a lot to cover at the session and Travis Barbour, community manager at IO, answered a few of my questions about where ghost mode is going.
Will there be any other items that can affect both the player’s worlds? A ghost bomb or gun etc as well as the ghost coin?
Balancing the interaction between players is a key part of ghost mode and we do have some ideas about other items that could work very well too. For now though, we only have the ghost coin to show off.
Is ghost mode strictly 1-v-1? Any chance that future matches may involve more players?
At launch, ghost mode will be 1v1. In the future, there’s a lot of potential expansion for ghost mode and multiple players could be an option for us. We’ll see how the mode lands with players and what sort of feedback we get there.
Will ghost mode be playable on the previous (remastered) Hitman levels?
We absolutely want to bring ghost mode to the legacy locations such as Paris, Sapienza, etc. It won’t be there for launch but we have it in our plans and we’re looking forward to it!
From what I played ghost mode is multiplayer that makes sense for Hitman, concentrating on why the series appeals in the first place and how a competitive element can work. Although I wouldn't recommend playing a new map for the first time in a competitive multiplayer setting, as I did, because I’ve never felt so out of control in a Hitman game.
I played for a few hours without getting bored and it’s clear there's a lot of potential for how this mode could expand. The 2016 Hitman's elusive targets were a nice extra feature, but there wasn't much else to keep me playing after I had mastered its levels, even though I did enjoy bashing in Santa’s head with a poker for Christmas. Ghost mode is a different experience to anything the series has offered before and, in a multiplayer scene packed with genre pieces, is a breath of fresh air.
There's no official word on this, but I can't help but see the framework for a possible cooperative mode here. The other player effectively is in your world, just incorporeal. That may just be wishful thinking, especially when only the Miami location will be playable in ghost mode at launch, with other levels to follow shortly afterwards. Either way, this new take on quickfire assassinations tests your Hitman skills in new ways, and the possible directions IO could take it are exciting to think about.