Under The Wire - Hitman Blood Money
Neil Kewn (Murxidon) - OnRPG Journalist
A couple of years ago a new video game trend began to emerge. Genres that previously had no business in the role-playing playground became obsessed with offering some sort of character progression in their titles. Take Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which went out of its way to offer a range of upgradable skills and abilities to players that just wanted to drive cars and shoot the elderly. These action shooter RPG hybrids aren't strictly role-playing games, but it did offer an interesting view into what blockbuster first person shooters and intense driving games would be like as RPGs. One title that managed to gather inspiration from the genre and didn't end up with a tacked on levelling mechanic was 2006's Hitman Blood Money. The fourth title in IO Interactive's famed assassin simulator, Agent 47's next-gen debut was a thrilling adventure of violent espionage that still surprises to this day.
For those who haven't played a Hitman title, you take the role of a bald headed cloned assassin known as Agent 47. Working as a contractor for the underground organization, The Agency, you're tasked with carrying out assignments in a variety of locations around the world. The Agency specializes in "problem solving", offering a clean and professional service to clients who need someone removed from the world on an indefinite basis. 47 is cold, quick and a businessman at heart, showing no emotion and no remorse for the people who he is assigned to "remove". If it pays well, 47 is interested.
Blood Money's premise is a simple one. Diana (an employee of The Agency) offers you a new contract, complete with detailed information and photographs of the targets. Once you have got the intel, it is time to gear up and head on out. Contracts usually involve infiltrating an area, taking out the target and escaping undetected, but clients may request that they are "erased" in a certain manner or that an item is collected on their behalf. Like other games in the series, there is an underlying story that ensures all this killing has a purpose.
Similar to the previous game, Blood Money is presented as a series of flashbacks both before and after the events of Hitman Contracts. You won't need to play the game to follow the narrative, but it is a narrative worth following. The Agency is under attack from a rival organization known as The Franchise, with Agency members disappearing left and right. The illusive 47 quickly becomes a primary target as a result of this feud.
One of the best things about Blood Money, and the Hitman series in general, is that you are given the freedom to approach any assignment from any angle. From stealthy assassin to psychotic terrorist, the amount of violence is entirely up to you. The stealthy approach is well catered for - 47 is able to don the clothing of his victims to gain access to new areas, and his famed fibre wire is back to silently remove any garbage man/psych patient/children's entertainer who happens to get in his way. Staying hidden throughout the entirety of a level is challenging but highly rewarding, even if the game's AI doesn't hold up its end of the bargain 100% of the time.
Throughout the course of the campaign you can purchase new items and weapon upgrades with the cash obtained from successfully fulfilling contracts. At the beginning weapons are underpowered, loud and inaccurate, but by the end of the hugely intriguing story a lowly Silverballer pistol can be a scoped high velocity death machine. There are a good number of attachments and enhancements available, but it is the less obvious upgrades that become invaluable in the later stages. From extra pocket mines to painkillers and faster lock picking, Agent 47 grows into a super fast, super silent and super deadly hitman.
Despite being heavily proficient in staying silent, things won't always go perfectly. Thankfully when 47's cover is blown he is more than capable of handling himself. Hand to hand combat can quickly take down an unruly guard, and human shields are always an option when surrounded by gun-toting private contractors. Thanks to a large repertoire of weaponry, ranging from pistols and submachine guns to assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles, there is a tool for each situation in Blood Money. In addition, ordinary household objects that are littered throughout levels can be put to good use - kitchen knives, hedge cutters and nail-guns are gruesomely effective ways of causing collateral and keeping fleeing witnesses quiet.
At the end of each contract you are rated on how quiet and violent you were. Bonus cash is assigned to remaining undetected and leaving no witnesses, whilst an overall rating informs you how well that last assignment went. Notoriety is particularly important, as witnesses left behind after each mission inform the authorities of your actions and in turn, increase the likelihood of you being recognized down the line. Having large notoriety can adversely affect difficulty when completing a mission, as disguises will be less effective and guards will be more suspicious. The game may give you a huge arsenal to play with, but it's still a stealth game at its core.
Blood Money is still a very attractive title. The game has great lighting and impressive texture work even by today's standards, especially when it comes to character models. The musical score is also stellar, with a beautiful, strangely complimentary rendition of Ava Maria playing over an ever-changing main menu. In-game music is intense, especially during instances when your cover is blown or when you're fleeing from a sticky situation.
Fans of the series fortunately won't have to wait long for the fifth iteration in the Hitman franchise. Hitman 5, rumoured to be titled Hitman: Absolution, is in development and should hit shelves sometime next year. Six years is certainly a long time between entries, but Blood Money's high replay value means even I find myself reinstalling the game on a regular basis. There is plenty to see and limitless ways to approach each contract. Roll on 2012.