Agent 47 is back in Hitman: Blood Money, the 4th game in the Hitman series. I am no sissy when it comes to ruthless violence is games, but I particularly enjoyed the fact that most of the contracts fulfilled by Agent 47 are on really bad people, and typically you can get through a mission without a substantial number of collateral kills. In fact if you are really good, only your target or targets will die and no one will even realize that you were there. Well except of the guys you knock out or drugged and stole their clothing.
Admittedly I am new to the Hitman series, but John my editor talked so much about the Mardi Gras level of the demo he saw at E3 that when GiN got both a Xbox 360 and a PC version of the game in for review I leaped at the chance to play. And so far I have not been disappointed at all. I am going to focus most of my comments about the game on the first mission, which is the tutorial level of the game, because I don’t want to give away the plot or any details about the other missions.
I love learning how to play a game while actually playing the game and the first mission in Hitman is exactly that. After a short cut scene where you see a Ferris wheel at a theme park break down, killing many of the riders, and then cutting to a bunch of news clippings about how the owner was negligent but was not convicted of the crime and then you pull back to see a distraught father looking at the news clippings and a picture of his son. Then you see him making a phone call, and Agent 47 arrives on the docks in front of a closed down amusement park that has now been taken over by a drug gang.
Your mission is to sneak in and show the owner of the property the picture of the father’s dead boy and then kill the guy. From then on you are given instructions about how to move around, how to interact with others and how to distract guards so that you can sneak by them. Later you learn how to kill people by sneaking up behind them and using your fiber wire to garrote them. Then you switch clothing to confuse their comrades, but remember to dispose of the body you left behind inside a meat locker, a storage box, the back of a trash truck or a convenient ledge overlooking a river, cliff or elevator shaft. Through out the tutorial you learn how to do a death from above (strangling them from the roof of an elevator), how to use someone as a human shield to keep people away, how to use the sniper rifle and many more tricks of the trade.
At the start of each mission you are assigned a target or targets and sometimes given a bit of advice about how to proceed. Next you select the weapons that you would like to bring with you. Your choices range from a pistol, shotgun, SMG, assault rifle, or sniper rifle. You are also allowed to upgrade your weapons and addition gear such as explosives, lock picks, and binoculars at this time. Naturally as you progress through the game more upgrade options become available and you also have to have earned enough money to purchase them. Perhaps you want to trick out your pistol with a silencer (highly recommended) and a laser sight or do you want the ultimate room-sweeping shotgun? The choices are only limited by your funds and component availability. From there you begin the mission.
Depending on the difficulty level you select you are allowed to save the game during each mission an unlimited number to times down to not being able to save at all during the mission. Also if you leave the mission or quit the game, all progress and saved games are lost.
At the start of the mission no one takes notice of you in your black suit, and you can explore without to much difficulty. When you try to enter a restricted area however, you will generally be politely asked to leave. If you persist in trying to enter, you will be shot. So you need to figure out how to get in most times. Perhaps you want to kill or incapacitate a guard and takeover their identity? Or perhaps you can pick a lock and get inside unguarded? Or perhaps there is a unique way inside that you can find if you look around enough.
There are four difficulty levels. The easiest level "Rookie" lets you save an unlimited number of times, the guards are not particularly alert and notoriety is turned off. The next three levels allow seven, three and no saves, the guards become increasingly more alert and notoriety is turned on. Now what is notoriety?
Well it is basically your fame rating. If you complete a mission and no one sees you or gets a picture of you then your notoriety level remains low. If however you are spotted or a picture was taken of you then your next mission is going to become more difficult. Naturally you get a score at the end of each mission, but the real telling picture comes when you get to see the papers the next day. If you screwed up then you might just see your smiling face on the front page! And guards do read the papers, so it’s not a good feeling when you are trying to get into a building past a guard and your picture is sitting on the desk beside him. However, if you behaved like a ghost then only the briefest of descriptions will appear along with news of the crime. Then you are pretty safe the next time around.
You can reduce your notoriety during a mission by killing witnesses (or not killing around a witness) and stealing CCTV tapes, or afterwards by spending some of your cash (blood money) on various bribes.
I am playing on an Xbox 360 and I found the controls to be fairly user friendly. You have the option of playing in both First and third person view with the tap of the right control stick. Movement is done with the left control stick, with a light press in the direction you wish to go being walk and a hard push being run. The ease of running can be a bit bad when you are trying to avoid the notice of the guards. I found at those times, I would switch to 3rd person so I could better see how fast I was moving. Climbing through windows, up and down drainpipes and along ledges is done by just moving in that direction.
Using items in the world such as opening doors, turning off the lights, dragging bodies and throwing them into trashcans or off of high ledges is all done with the A button. Picking locks, placing bombs and doing other nifty things like sabotage, are also done with the A button, but you have to be in just the right spot for the option to show up. Your inventory is accessed through the B button. Basically your inventory is a huge ring and you can move around the ring to select what you need. Often though, what you need is a single tap of the B button away, as the game ties to anticipate your needs. You also use the B button to pick up items on the ground as well a switching clothing with the guy you just Knocked Out so that you can now sneak past the guards. Sneaking is done with the left trigger and a map is available from the left button.
On the PC the control are simplified down to three buttons for various inventory options and of course your control keys. For the PC version of the game, you will probably play the entire time in third person, which is not only simple with mouse looking, but gives you a wide field of view all around Agent 47.
The map is great because it shows you in real time exactly where all of the guards and other people are, as well as which direction they are facing. It also shows your targets, guards, and others in different colors, as well as stairs, elevators and items of possible interest. Finally you are able to flip from level to level by using the d-pad.
If you are unarmed, you can punch your target with a tap of the right trigger. Some other cool maneuvers are the wonderful human shield and death from above. If you are armed with the fiber wire or either the poison or sedative syringe, a tap will inject your victim or strangle them. You can also load up a coin and toss it to distract a guard. If the mission calls for firearms, or if the mission goes bad and you have to draw a weapon then you also get a cross hair on the screen to help you aim. Drawing a pistol is very quick and the pistol also has the added bonus of being concealed. The other concealable weapon is the SMG. If you want to bring something larger on a mission, often times it will be concealed on the premises for you. The other exception is the sniper rifle with comes prepackaged in suitcase for you. The only problem with that is that it takes valuable time to assemble.
As I mentioned before I am playing Hitman on an Xbox 360 and while I thought the graphics looked good and some of the effects, and especially the attention to detail when designing the levels is wonderful, I do have to say that this game does not come any where close to what I would hope to see on Xbox 360, PS3, or "cringe" Wii titles.
On the PC the graphics do look really great however. Rolling down the river in a paddlewheel boat looked awesome, with campfires and other darkened landmarks rolling by in the distance. Plus, the river is a perfect place to dump bodies where nobody on the ship is going to find them.
The voice acting is right on and often fits smoothly into what I was thinking I would say at that moment. Though I do have to admit, repeatedly being told "no admittances" gets a bit old. When I noticed the background music, I found it to be right on. Generally this was when I was about to enter the danger zone and it pepped me up and added to the moment perfectly. Before I stated playing I could not imagine why they would put out a soundtrack for this game and now I am thinking that I should go to amazon.com and place my order for it!
I am still having a blast playing Hitman: Blood Money. Each one of the 11 levels is a completely new challenge and so far it has taken me anywhere from two to four hours to complete a level. Admittedly I am taking my time and really getting in and thoroughly learning and exploring all the possibilities before I settle on a plan of attack and execute my mission. Admittedly, the replay value is not infinite, but I am already looking back at past missions and wondering if I could do it another way and still succeed.
And I know I said I would not give away any spoilers, but some of the locations you visit are simply amazing. They include a Las Vegas casino, an underground rave party that is simply breathtaking as club environment, a South American winery where grapes are not the only thing they manufacture and even a Christmas party in snowy Colorado at the mansion of a famous pornographer (looks like the Playboy mansion actually, complete with grotto for "special moments" with the girls.) And the final mission? I won’t give it away but will tell you where you will be: inside the White House! If you can do that one, you have earned the title as the world’s greatest assassin. Blood Money earns 4.5 GiN Gems, and is sure to be a big hit.
Agent 47 had a grand time in Vegas it seems. If you want to try your hand at a little bit of gaming playing online blackjack, slots or poker, there’s a way to do it that doesn’t require tons of guns.
Developers: IO Interactive
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360