Hitman: Blood Money

The Hitman series has always been about violence, stealth, and perhaps more than anything else; frustration. The series trademark trial and error game play has caused gamers the world over to throw down their controllers, but always pick them up again for one last try at making that big hit.

Eidos interactive hopes for similar results with the series newest installment; Hitman: Blood Money. This, the fourth game in the Hitman series (third on consoles) follows the same Hitman formula of walk in, disguise, kill target, walk out, with a much welcomed list of new features that serve to add new depth to an already solid game. These new features are a multitude of small enhancements more than any one big new feature.

Blood Money starts with a training level that holds your hand and walks you through the basics of the game. After that, kiss linear game play goodbye, as your training wheels are off and you’re on your own. There are literally hundreds of ways to go about your objectives, and each one brings its own surprises and problems. In most levels, you are given multiple targets to eliminate along with a few objectives that mostly require you to retrieve or destroy something. How you want to go about this is completely up to you, and can make for some fun and exciting game play moments. Like a chameleon, you can knock out and steal the clothes of someone with access to secure areas in order to get closer to your target. Another option, new to the Hitman series, is the ability to create “accidents” that off your target in very clever ways. These accidents range from falling chandeliers to the more clever kills including switching a real gun for a prop gun backstage of an Opera production and injecting food with a poison serum. What’s great is that though the game will sometimes give you hints, for the most part it lets you discover these moments on your own. The world is your sick, twisted little playground.

Of course, you do have one more option, go in, guns blazing, and taking out anyone and anything that stands in between you and your targets. No survivors mean no witnesses right? While this has held true for past Hitman games, Blood Money takes a different approach with the addition of the notoriety meter. Every time someone becomes suspicious of you, anytime you are caught on camera, and especially anytime you kill someone, especially a civilian, your notoriety rises. Your actions will actually affect your future missions, as more people will begin to recognize you and report you to security. You’ll even hear the citizens talk about your latest shooting spree. Once you finish a mission, you are treated to the local newspaper report of your crimes. The lower your notoriety, the less the public knows. Go in and kill anything that moves and you’ll be treated to a nice police sketch of yourself. The newspaper clippings seem different after each mission and vary with how you go about your mission. This novelty wears off after you realize that the majority of information is the same in each clipping, with only cause of death and small specifics changed.

Blood Money also lets you choose how you spend your payment for each successful kill. You can choose to upgrade your weapons. Each weapon has a multitude of upgrades available from silencers to longer scopes and laser sights. Each upgrade is visible on screen, and you choose what weapons you bring along on each level, making customized trademark kills a fun, and intriguing possibility. You could also choose to spend your cash bribing everyone from the press, to the police, and even the witnesses of your crimes. This immediately lowers, or in some cases erases your notoriety, but since it’s available after every mission, almost cancels out the entire notoriety concept all together. I had enough cash after most missions to completely customize one of my weapons, and bribe everyone with a bit of cash left over. Why worry about covering your tracks if you know you’ll just be able to magically wipe everything away with a touch of the X button?

Playing on the Xbox 360, it was easy to see the aesthetic leap in this, Agent 47’s first foray into next generation gaming. For the first time ever, most of your kills take place on American shores, in very familiar and beautiful settings. From the blinding lights of a Las Vegas Casino to the jam-packed streets of Mardi Gras, the visuals may cause you to miss your target at first glance. Climb up a drainpipe on the outside of almost any building, and stand at the top; what do you see? Miles and miles of next generation skyline. The presentation has gotten a boost as well, when a significant event happens that may affect your hit, the screen splits in two, so you can watch the event unfold in real time.

A problem many have with previous Hitman games is that many of the game’s actions were mapped to one button. When you wanted to open a door, or take someone’s costume, you would have to navigate through a window of possible options and select it, costing you valuable time and more often than not getting you caught in the process. This problem has been solved in Blood Money, as your actions are now mapped out to three different buttons. Each time an action becomes available, it pops up next to the corresponding button in the upper left corner of the screen. No more accidentally picking a lock, when you meant to drop a weapon.

Previous Hitman games suffered from a lack of a compelling story that hooked gamers in. The cut scenes often acted as a snack or bathroom break in between taking out targets. Eidos has made a significant attempt to change this with Blood Money, as the story and cut scenes have become almost as integral to the game as offing targets. Agent 47 is being hunted by a rival agency, as we learn through a reporter’s interview with a mysterious man who is obsessed with tracking down the urban legend known as “The bald clone killer.” With each new scene, we find out more about Agent 47’s past, a topic much debated since the series debut.

One thing Blood Money neglected to change was the fact that even when your notoriety level is completely empty, even at the start of a mission, guards and civilians stare you down when you pass by them. This may add to the suspense, but it takes away from the realism. In a crowded (and I mean crowded) New Orleans street during Mardi Gras, the guards ignore everyone else, and stare intently at me, walking calmly around with everyone else. What’s worse is that this alone sometimes causes your suspicion meter to rise, making for more of that famed trail and error game play.

In a game being praised for it’s small changes, Blood Money’s biggest change is also it’s worst. Once you leave a mission, your in game saves are completely wiped clean. No matter what you do, once you hit restart, or turn off your game, your information is gone. The save system in the previous games worked fine, sure your in game saves were limited, but you at least had them. Why Eidos felt they needed to change this is beyond me.

Hitman: Blood Money accomplishes what it set out to do, improve on an already successful game formula with minor improvements that fans have been asking for. Both seasoned veterans and new comers to the series will take well to this game that tackles the world of contract killing, with a sadistic smile.