Hitmanny and Bernard

Hitman: Blood Money was developed by IO Interactive and released on PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox and Xbox 360 in the summer of 2006. The most recent title in the stealth-based Hitman series, it places players in the iconic role of ruthless ice-cool assassin Agent 47. The immaculately dressed clone is placed in a series of open-ended levels, with simple objectives that can be completed in a number of ways. Players are encouraged to take out their marks as cleanly and quietly as possible, but they are also free to set their bald-headed avatar upon each environment with guns blazing, like an enraged Patrick Stewart at a chubby award-show presenter conference.

I'll ask again. Has anyone seen James Corden around here?
I'll ask again. Has anyone seen James Corden around here?

The reason I bring it up is because I only recently got around to playing through it on Xbox 360, and I was highly impressed with it. Even when placed alongside far more recent games on the shelf it can stand proud as a rewarding and richly challenging title.

The key strength is the assured craft that has clearly gone into the level design. The game has 11 proper missions, each with a distinct location and mostly offering interesting back-stories and briefings. Crucially, the developer has the confidence to make these levels small. Quality over quantity is the prevailing sense. Hitman: Blood Money provides consistently fresh backdrops to gameplay, where experimentation is properly rewarded and taken at little risk. Environments and objectives blend to essentially form logical puzzles and so, refreshingly, problem solving skills are called upon far more often than pure reactions.

A standout level is disarmingly simple in plain account. Tasked with the assasination of a federal witness the player is placed in a suburban cul-de-sac, right next to the witness’ house, and given the freedom to investigate, to pick and prod at the environment until viable solutions begin to present themselves. The edges of the abstraction become apparent soon enough, but, in this level more than any other perhaps, the developers exhibit a reassuring faith in the depth and appeal below the surface of what is an ostensibly short mission. Once you know the route to perfect success you can fly through this entire mission in under five minutes, but the real game lies in working out that route.

Killing a guard in the toilets is usually a good base for success. Sort of like the square blocks of four in Tetris.

Over the years many stealth titles have left players with little recourse beyond frustrating trial and improvement gameplay based around the baiting and exploration of enemy vision cones and awareness. The core difference with Hitman: Blood Money is that it is relatively easy to see most of a given level just by wandering around, frequently in full view of guards and targets. Very rarely are you harshly punished for straying into a hitherto unseen guard’s patrol route. General common sense is usually sufficient to build a picture of the sequence of actions required to achieve mission objectives, in conjunction with the implicit and explicit clues provided. According to the difficulty setting, players are afforded a limited number of saves which they are free to utilize at any point throughout a mission. This removes much of the frustrating risk associated with the trial and improvement endeavours still necessary in ascertaining the path of least resistance through a mission. Again, it’s clear that the developer is confident that in providing a 10 minute mission, they actually provide hours of gameplay to players with the drive to fully understand and master proceedings. Player performance is rated following each mission, and a coveted “Silent Assassin” rating is awarded only for meticulous plans flawless in their execution. The sense of achievement at achieving such a rating is immensely gratifying. You eventually slice through complex missions you’d previously agonised over for hours in a matter of minutes, making you feel dangerous and cool. Like The Fonz if he were a ninja.

Maybe he IS The Fonz. Never seen them together in the same place.

Stock third person combat is provided, along with an extensive arsenal of firearms. However, thankfully on only one or two occasions throughout the entire game is such combat forced on the player. There are several options for stealth takedowns, including setting traps that give the impression of accidental death. In these, the main skill demanded of the player is timing. Nerves of steel also come in useful on higher difficulties. Often solutions hinge on safely acquiring appropriate disguises. A sense of power is delicately balanced with a sense of vulnerability, which is vitally important in this genre.

While the aesthetics are clearly of a different generation, to me the core stealth gameplay is stronger than in recent heavy hitters Assassin’s Creed II and Splinter Cell: Conviction, and so I strongly recommend this title to anyone who wants to sneak about on a budget.

Imagination is a fine thing to both exhibit and reward. Hitman: Blood Money encourages lateral thinking from the player, whilst continually showcasing admirable creativity in design and execution.

Roll on the sequel.







3 responses to “Hitmanny and Bernard”

  1. James avatar

    Agreed. Hitman: Blood Money smothers Splinter Cell: Conviction with a cushion while it sleeps, stuffs the corpse in a cupboard, then walks unchallenged out of the front door dressed as a kissogram.

  2. Jonny/IV DemonJ avatar
    Jonny/IV DemonJ

    This is why so many were frustrated at the announcement of Kane & Lynch 2. IO have made 4 fantastic Hitman games each one meticulously trying to outwit the other through missions spanning across slaughter house discos to Mardi Gras chicken suited piano droppers. The need to “get my stealth on” is growing evermore with each passing day. IO Interactive, do us a favour and drop another Hitman for me please.

  3. Simon avatar

    Damn straight. More of the same. That’s all we ask.

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