Hitman: Blood Money Review
Pentium M 2GHz CPU
GeForce Go 7800GTX
The Hitman series of games has been delivering violent action and rewards for those who can be the stealthiest for years. Itís become a fan favorite; some players just enjoy getting through the levels any way they can, while others must master each level and achieve the "Silent Assassin" rating. The developers at IO Interactive have been working hard to increase the fun for both types of players, and as a result Hitman: Blood Money is quite possibly the best game in the series.
Blood Money has Agent 47, the worldís deadliest assassin, taking on a series of increasingly difficult and complex missions that will require him to kill one or more specific targets, and possibly complete some additional objective. The player has to choose how to complete these objectives, and while each level is not terribly massive, the developers have given you enough of an open-ended style that this game will really reward those who will keep trying out new ways to kill people. Youíll have several choices for killing each of your targets, and some will raise the notice of local security or law enforcement while others may not. While 47ís got a nice complement of both melee and ranged weapons (either of which can be used at any time in first- or third-person view), some hardcore Hitman players are of the opinion that a true assassin makes every kill look like an accident. And you can go a long way to doing that in this game; you can push people off balconies, drop something heavy like a chandelier onto their heads Phantom of the Opera style, or poison their drink so that they just keel over thirty seconds after youíve left the room.
This game is actually quite violent, and those who play Hitman: Blood Money are going to have to ask themselves early on whether the fun of killing those security personnel in a huge gun battle is more rewarding than sneaking past them all and just taking out the target. Iíve tried both methods in past Hitman games, but I had always found that the bloodbath method turned out to be not near as much fun as the stealth way. Well, this is the first Hitman game Iíve played so far where either method is really a whole lot of fun. With the new ability to take a hostage as a human shield, IO Interactive has reinforced the gunfight method, but they still will only reward the players who leave no trace, no witnesses, and only the minimum number of dead bodies required to finish the job. And by leaving no trace, they really mean it this time: make sure you leave the mission in your original outfit along with all the custom weapons you brought, because on higher difficulties failing to do so can incur some tough penalties for later.
The environments in Blood Money are better than ever. From a Paris opera house, to a casino in Las Vegas, to a riverboat on the Mississippi River, youíll find a wonderful mix of atmospheres in this game. If those arenít enough, then thereís the well-guarded complex down in South America, an abandoned amusement park, and even a mission right in the middle of Mardi Gras (complete with hundreds of people partying and walking around in the streets). The special effects have been turned up as well, and while you can turn them off on slower computers, youíll be treated to a very visually impressive game if your PC has the horsepower to manage all of it at high resolution. I was very impressed by the gameís great support for the newest technologies, yet the minimum requirements are low Ė the whole thing scales very well for a huge range of computers.
But letís get back to the whole hitman thing. One thing I noticed here is that unlike many games, sneaking is not nearly as important as you might expect in a stealth game. Sure, sneaking behind one guy alone in a room will allow you to get behind him without alerting him, but the only way youíll be able to go around undetected in outdoor or well-lit places will come through other means. Your ability to avoid detection - which is not required to beat a level but will be required for a high rating Ė depends mostly on studying the movements of security or law enforcement personnel and simply not being in the room with them. Finding an outfit that lets you blind in will also get you pretty far, but in some cases you might be forced to knock someone out to do so. Just try not to stand too close to anybody for too long while youíre in disguise, because someone will eventually realize that you donít belong to the security force or that construction crew.
So what gives this game the Blood Money name? Simply put, money. Now, each mission comes with a monetary reward which you can use to beef up your main weapons and keep your heat down. Efficient killing earns you more money, but the problem is that the more efficient you are, the less youíll actually need the money anyway. Why upgrade your sniper rifle when youíre making every kill look like an accident? Still, upgraded guns are fun to screw around with anyway. Along with the weapons you can find and basically unlock during the levels, your main arsenal Ė the signature silverballer pistols, shotgun, submachine gun, M4 assault rifle, and sniper rifle Ė also can be upgraded with the cash youíre paid for each mission. And this has a huge effect; by the time youíre done, your basic silverballer pistol becomes a pair of silenced, fully automatic death machines with laser sights and even scopes. Ok, it might sound goofy, but itís a blast to use if you just feel like going on a rampage in any of the gameís many levels where the kill count can rack up into the dozens or more. And when youíre playing on the harder difficulty levels youíre going to need to use your cash to bribe the locals into secrecy. If you donít, youíll find yourself pretty much screwed in later levels when your face gets plastered all over the newspapers.
The narrative is actually told in a flashback style, similar to what was seen in the last Hitman game where 47 was having his life flash in front of his eyes. Here, 47 starts out actually dead Ė yes, dead Ė as the introductory view of 47 has him laid out in an open-casket funeral. Youíll learn how 47 met his demise and who it was that managed to catch him, and while those who havenít played the previous Hitman games will probably feel a little left in the dark when it comes to the plot, they will still fully enjoy the gameís intensely satisfying ending. That is, if they have the presence of mind to actually find it, which I did not on my first play through.
The difficulty levels must also be mentioned. There are four levels to pick from, and they all play out quite differently. Only the Rookie level allows you to save as often as you want, while the next three reduce your number of total saves down to zero. Iíd consider this a problem, except that each mission really will only take you maybe fifteen minutes or less to either finish successfully or get caught, and until you do finish successfully, youíre really just doing research and figuring out how to do it without getting caught. Expert players have already figured out how to finish each mission on the highest difficulty with the highest score possible in less than ten minutes (some are getting times down to three minutes or less), so the lack of ability to save on Pro difficulty isnít that much of an issue for those who like to play at that level. AI also gets more attentive and less forgiving as you turn up the difficulty, and intelligence on locations for guards and civilians will become unavailable as well. Finally, your notoriety can start biting you in the ass on higher difficulty levels, so you might have to spend your money on bribes rather than cool upgrades for your gear.
Hitman: Blood Money brings together many of the best elements from the series, gives the game a wonderful, updated look, and gives those who want to get that Silent Assassin rating plenty of stealth-based puzzles to figure out. Those who just want to turn this game into a low-difficulty bloodbath arenít going to be nearly as impressed with this game as they might expect, but I highly recommend that players do try to dig deeper and enjoy the game the way the developers want you to. Play it like two games; one as a murderous psychopath, and one as an efficient killer who leaves no trace and no extraneous bodies. If you can play Blood Money both ways, youíll find itís almost like two completely different games altogether. Either way, this game is easily one of the best of 2006 so far.