Hitman Blood Money
Death is a part of life and sadly one day it comes to us all, whether it’s quietly in our sleep, unexpectedly while crossing the road or suffocating under the weight of Carmen Electra’s heaving bosom – sure, it’s a long shot but it’s the way we’d like to go. Our point is that people die every day and the world keeps on turning, it’s only when something unusual happens that we sit up and take notice. Pianos falling on peoples’ heads, bodies stuffed into freezers, clowns murdering drug lords – each of these scenarios might sound a tad peculiar to us, but it’s all in a day’s work for first-class clone Agent 47. And, as long as there are degenerates who need killing, this type of thing will keep happening. So, with the red stuff earning him plenty of the green stuff, the silent assassin once again pulls on the sharp suit and provides a new selection of hilariously horrifying ways to see off his targets, bamboozle the authorities and still walk away without a hair out of place, figuratively speaking of course.
On hearing this you might be a little concerned that Hitman: Blood Money offers only more of the same and that you’ve seen it all before, but you’d only be half right. Yes, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, this is still Hitman, but you certainly haven’t seen it as well executed as this (no pun intended). Those who’ve played the previous iterations of the famous franchise will be aware that climbing to the ranks of professional ‘cleaner’ is a true baptism of fire and we’re not going to lie, if you haven’t played Hitman before, you’re in for a laboured but ultimately rewarding experience. Though everything you could ever want from an action game is to be found in Blood Money: the violent explosions, the tantalising kills and the engaging story, you’ll have to work hard and put in a serious amount of hours in order to see them, because if nothing else, Blood Money is an exercise in patience. You’re average third-person running and gunning has no place here – you’re required to be much more calculated and methodical, pushing your powers of observation and cunning to the limit.
The aim of the game is the same: to execute a perfect hit, stroll in, eliminate your target and escape without a trace and perhaps, more importantly, without a single witness or unnecessary casualty – easy. On the contrary, as anyone who has adopted the bald-headed and barcoded wonder before will know, there’s much more to it and it certainly doesn’t happen like that every time. But the crowning glory of Blood Money is that it doesn’t have to – the perfect hit is the goal, but how you carry it out is left completely up to you and it is this feature of the game that distinguishes it from anything that has gone before. The unbridled levels of choice and new layers of complexity are astounding and though at first it might seem all too much, perseverance is paramount. You explore each one of the 13 intimidating environments eavesdropping on conversations, stalking potential targets and being alert to the icons in the top right of your screen that indicate people and places to interact with. You must know these levels inside out and be in complete control of your environment; you must know who’s in the kitchen supping from a brandy bottle; you must know what time a CIA agent leaves his post to go on patrol; and you must know whether or not your target’s wife is partial to a game of hide the sausage with the pool boy. Why? Because it might make the difference between a successful hit and a violent blood bath.
Sound challenging? Well, yes it is challenging, but it’s also equally frustrating at times, as you wonder around aimlessly looking for the one aspect you might have overlooked or test a theory that fails to pan out. This is without doubt a more cerebral experience than your average stealth shooter, but as they say ‘it’s easy when you know how’. Every mission should be viewed as a puzzle and only when you have deciphered each piece can you put the whole thing together. It’s a lengthy process and a steep learning curve, but that’s the nature of the beast – just take comfort in the fact that from time to time the game will take pity on you and throw you a bone. These clues appear via a real-time window that pops up and shows you action taking place elsewhere and often feature the mission’s main players. For instance, the window will show you where a recovering alcoholic stashes his drink or where a corrupt senator will be watching an opera rehearsal. These clues show the end and all you have to do is figure out the means. Whether that means poisoning the booze or sniping the senator from the balcony, it’s entirely up to you.
With almost every crucial decision left up to you, you then have to account for the consequences of those decisions. Whilst the almost endless level of choice might at first seem like a good thing, developer IO Interactive is simply giving you enough rope to hang yourself with – strangle the wrong person, go through the wrong door or don the wrong uniform and all your efforts will have been in vain. The phrase ‘trial and error’ doesn’t quite cover it, as even when you think you’ve got every angle covered and you’re on path to victory, that’s just when you’ll see someone discover the body you forgot to dispose of earlier and since you’re still wearing his clothes, guess who’s suspect number one? Half of the things you do in each and every mission will lead to dead ends. Follow a guard or hide in a closet and you might hear a conversation that is intrinsic to the plot, but you never know for sure, you could just be a baldy twat squatting in an empty wardrobe. This is a learning experience and you’ll certainly learn how to take a bullet or fifty as your mistakes will end in you being riddled with so many bullets you often feel like you’re watching Peter Weller in the opening scene of Robocop. Failing to clean up your mess, being too late with the fibre wire or bothering someone who doesn’t take kindly to your attentions will all lead to your tension bar being raised through the roof effectively making it game over. In fact, for the most part your finger will be sore from stabbing the restart button (to skip the lengthy and highly unnecessary death sequence) and be faced with more loading screen than a PSP game.
Nevertheless, Blood Money isn’t all a tale of failure and woe; as a matter of fact most of the game’s pleasure is derived from the times you think you’re getting nowhere and then discover an item that will grant you access to the medical wing you needed to infiltrate or a drug needed to spike someone’s drink – not that we condone that sort of thing – just say ‘no’ kids. The moment when a piece of the puzzle slides into place releases an endorphin injection into the brain that we’re not sure you should be getting from a videogame and you realise you’re not as stupid as you (and the rest of the office) first thought. These moments are the things that make you soldier on, like a junkie after just one more fix.
So we go from the sublime to the ridiculous, as while the try-die-restart (and hopefully learn) process may be all part of the game, the save system isn’t the most intuitive we’ve ever experienced, as you’re only permitted seven saves per mission and these must be performed manually. In a game when it’s so vital to save what little progress you make, seven saves just isn’t enough and will cause you to repeat more than you should, especially if you forget to save after a kill and when mid-game saves can’t be used if the console is turned off. While Hitman may be back to its best on the gameplay front, the same can’t be said for the presentation, with this being Agent 47’s debut on the Xbox 360 we were hoping for something spectacular. However, due to its development alongside the Xbox version, certain aspects make it feel decidedly last gen. Graphical glitches see body parts pass through each other and the suspect physics aren’t nearly as solid as they should be. Like Tomb Raider, we would’ve liked to see a version designed exclusively for the 360 where these elements were given the attention they deserve. These points of contention also extend to the AI, which is a little too trigger-happy at times and open fire without real reason. Small quibbles indeed, but it’s these small parts that make the whole and if they were a little more polished we could’ve been in for a near-perfect game.
Despite there being aspects we aren’t completely convinced by, some new gameplay additions do work well. One such element is the new Notoriety system that takes into account almost every move made throughout a mission and at the end assesses just how effective you’ve been. Whether you’ve killed for business or pleasure will begin to affect your progress in the later stages of the game, as if you get caught on camera or spotted by several witnesses in one location, your notoriety level will rise and those lingering stares will turn into glares as you become more recognisable – not good if you’re trying to keep a low profile, we’re sure you’ll agree. At the end of each mission your performance is rated and you’re awarded cash accordingly to spend on weapons upgrades, ammo and industrial strength head polish. It’s a nice touch but in reality you won’t really need any of these things, as everything you need to complete your objectives is contained in each level, as you know guns court attention and that’s not what you want. On several of the missions, guards come packing metal detectors and if you turn up with a briefcase full of cold steel you’re asking for trouble. If discovered and you need to discharge a few rounds, it’s just as easy to disarm one of the goons and use their hand cannons against them. The only real use for the cash is to buy additional Intel that might provide the clues you’re looking for as to the whereabouts and habits of the mark.
When it comes down to it, clues and cunning are all that’s required to be successful in Blood Money and though it does get a few things wrong, the majority of this game is oh so right. From the wealth of killing methods to the well-crafted storyline, this is a game that demands your full attention. While the softly softly catchy monkey nature of the game may not be for every one, those who do put in the hours will see their efforts generously rewarded. The art of the kill is one that draws you in and refuses to let go until you’ve cracked the code and are walking away into the night leaving the world short of a no-good Perp or three. We love the fact that there are no half measures here – you either play by the rules, or rather your own version of the rules, or you won’t succeed. Each and every level has its own personality and flavour reinforced by an atmospheric orchestral score that adds a much needed sense of tension and forebodding to proceedings. All this twinned with a level of choice and complexity that is almost unsurpassed is enough to ensure Hitman: Blood Money is at the top of the X360 hit list.