The Hitman series does some really cool things from time to time, but often the frustration experienced while trying to reach those cool things can be maddening. With some polish, this series could really shine, but the latest installment — Blood Money — is not without its rough edges.
Camera control/consistency is one of the biggest problems I had with the game. Switching from first- to third-person perspective sometimes randomly points the camera in some direction other than where you were looking.
The crosshairs aren’t absolute, either, meaning that if you’re aiming right at something in one view, switching to the other will point your weapon somewhere else entirely. Irritating.
One thing all the games in this series have in common are those really cool moments you will often unearth by accident along the way through a mission. Figuring out which outfits will grant you access to necessary parts of each level is a challenge itself, but sometimes you score a random one that seems like a skeleton key. For instance, in one level you can snag a Santa suit at a Christmas party that lets you wander into almost any area of the house.
Changing costumes also modifies how average people in the game react to you. In the black three-piece, the girls at the party flirt with Agent 47, proving yet again that the ladies do go crazy for a sharp-dressed man. In the same suit, the bartender will slip you some needed aphrodisiacs for one of your objectives. If you swap to the Santa outfit, he’ll berate you for staggering around like a lush and point you to the spare port in the kitchen, based off how the actual drunken Santa was behaving just moments earlier. Little touches like that bring the world to life.
The orchestral score is wonderful, another series tradition. Music ramps up when your tension meter starts to fill, and quells to a peep when the action dies down. The fanfare between levels is nice, too.
The objectives are pretty typical for a game named Hitman. Get in, kill someone(s), and get out unnoticed. Leave as little evidence as possible, don’t be seen, and cover your tracks. It’s not as rigidly bound to an over-arching plot or linear level progression like you might find in the Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid games. There are several ways to accomplish your objectives, from going all stealthy to kicking in doors with guns blazing. Do whatever you like, but be prepared to deal with the consequences.
Now 47 has to contend with the Notoriety meter. The more people who spot him doing bad deeds who get away alive and the more evidence he leaves behind, the more alert guards will be in subsequent levels. You can spend money and pay people to forget they ever saw you, but then you might not be able to afford that nice scope or silencer for your favorite weapons.
Speaking of, the upgrade system seems a bit tacked on, as many of the upgrades are redundant and won’t be used again once you buy the better version of the same thing. Also, many of the weapons available will never be used unless you’re going to play it more like Rambo, which in turn raises your Notoriety, lowers your pay, etc. Using anything but the silenced Silverballers and the silenced MP5 is just asking for trouble.
The PS2 visuals are starting to show their age, for sure. This game looks light-years better on the PC and Xbox, not to mention the Xbox 360. This version looks okay some of the time, but a few shortcuts clearly had to be made to get some of the levels to fit. Just don’t look at anything too closely and you probably won’t mind too much.
Also new to this iteration of the series is the ability to rig “accidental” deaths for your targets. You can throw some extra lighter fluid on a barbeque, drop a chandelier or light rigging, or rig a wedding present with a bomb, all of which will go off while you’re at a comfortable distance establishing an alibi. There are enough of these sorts of things in each level that you should almost never have to resort to confronting your targets directly.
However, this also reveals one of the game’s biggest problems. You have to play most levels like a madman the first few times, just to figure out where all the things are to complete your objectives. You’ll get spotted, shot at, and likely end up laying waste to hundreds of people in the process of just finding the one hotspot you needed all along.
Trial and error gameplay is not fun. It’s almost as bad as escort missions. The layered map doesn’t help a lot either since the floors don’t always align or display in the same scale. The map does show where everyone in the level is, though, which is critical to knowing where and how to approach your objectives.
The game’s story is told through present-day cut scenes between flashback gameplay segments, all leading up to the supposed demise of Agent 47. The levels take you from South American villas to suburban birthday parties to infiltrating a rehab clinic to get at some mobsters to the crowded streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Things come to a head as all the other agents (whom you never see or interact with) are apparently being professionally killed off and 47′s life comes into jeopardy. There are some twists towards the end, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Just make sure to wiggle the left analog stick when the credits first start to roll in the chapel and see what happens.
A few other minor quibbles I had were with the antiquated inventory system, tedious death animations, some unskippable cut scenes, and 47′s likeability this time around. The inventory is cumbersome to use, but at least it freezes gameplay while you’re accessing it.
Death animations run on forever sometimes, and you can’t skip them or pause them (you can’t pause or access the map during ANY kinds of animations). Some of the other cut scenes can’t be skipped either, making it worth your time to save the game after each one, just so you don’t have to sit through it again.
All of those issues could be polished up pretty neatly, but one of the things I missed the most from earlier games in the series was 47′s personality. He was repentant for his prior sins, and had assumed a quiet life of a gardener. He hid his weapons in a tool shed inside a monastery and went to confession every day. He was a likeable guy.
Now in Blood Money he’s just a tool of the trade. He speaks little, has no friends, and hides out in a slum. There’s not much to like about him anymore.
The game isn’t without its annoyances, but if you give it enough time and patience, it starts to feel worth the effort, and the feeling of satisfaction you get from being labeled a ghost of a killer in the entertaining media coverage of your exploits is pretty hefty. Give it a shot, pun intended.
Hitman: Blood Money is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: PC, Xbox, Xbox 360.