From Absolution to World of Assassination, IO transformed Hitman 2023

When Hitman 3 changed its name to Hitman World of Assassination, I was unaware of the significance of the event. Hitman 3 would now be recognized by this name and would feature levels from Hitman 2 and 3 – the entire trilogy would be contained in one location. At IO Interactive, though, much more was occurring.

World of Assassination is the result of a scheme that was ten years in the works and withstood massive business turmoil. It survived a management takeover during which Hitman’s future was uncertain. Yet the vision was always there, a vision of what Hitman might be, and World of Assassination is the realization of that vision.

IO transformed Hitman

The plot begins in 2012 with the release and reception of Hitman Absolution. Consider that this was the first Hitman game in a number of years, and that anticipation was strong. But, it was hardly the hoped-for return to form, and the 2006 series high point Hitman: Blood Money loomed vast and distant. Tom Bramwell stated in our Hitman Absolution review, “Absolution is hardly its greatest hour.”

Christian Elverdam informs me, “This game was not well welcomed by our audience.” He is IO Interactive’s chief creative officer and co-owner. Several Hitman aficionados said, “That’s not a Hitman game!” Alternatively, “We had a fanbase that said, ‘Can you even make Hitman anymore?'”

The journey from Absolution to World of Assassination

Elverdam gets it. The years of obscurity that followed Hitman: Blood Money had a profound effect on IO’s fanbase. These years were dominated by Kane & Lynch, the bombastic new IP from the studio that was all guns blazing ultraviolence and no nuance. Critic Kristan Reed stated at the time that the first Kane & Lynch game, Dead Men, was a “massive squandered opportunity” due to its short campaign. The 2011 sequel, Kane & Lynch: Dog Days, was far worse. The family-friendly and fairly mediocre action game Tiny Ninjas, which IO released in between, did little to improve the studio’s financial situation.

IO was experiencing trouble behind the scenes as a result. It was bought by Eidos in 2004, followed by Square Enix’s takeover of Eidos in 2009. Both purchases resulted in changes in leadership, direction, and restructuring. During those years, IO’s original founders began to depart, bringing with them additional IO employees. Microsoft canceled an unidentified game that IO had been developing for it. Hence, layoffs are major and emotionally demanding.

This is the context around the publication of Absolution and the reason why its seeming failure wounded so deeply. A great deal was at risk. Christian Elverdam, for what it’s worth, maintains that Absolution “is basically a pretty strong stealth-action game” and that much of what the development team learnt while creating that game can be observed in World of Assassination. Yet, he and IO realized that a big shift was required.