While having a sharply tailored suit and a numbered identity have always been prerequisites for being a spy, these days it also goes hand in hand with killer-for-hire.
Agent 47 is back, and for the right price, will ‘take care of’ any ‘problems’ you might have. If the Mafia doublespeak gives you a headache, just take a look at the title of the series and things should become clear. Blood Money is the fourth and latest installment in the Hitman series, featuring the highly trained professional hit man, Agent 47. At first glance, 47 might seem more like a carbon copy of Vin Diesel dressed up as a waiter – but don’t let the shiny head or the penguin suit fool you. Agent 47 is as ruthless and talented as they come, and with the DNA composition of the 5 most notorious criminal masterminds, this guy was bred to kill. Quite literally. With his superior genetic makeup, and his extensive lifelong training, Agent 47 puts Jessica Alba’s Dark Angel to shame, and makes Jean Reno’s Léon look sloppy.
Prior experience with Hitman isn’t assumed, but players familiar with the games will undoubtedly feel more at home. You’re eased into the game with a gentle tutorial mission guiding you every step of the way. A slightly comical, disembodied voice will drone instructions as you explore an abandoned theme park. Your target is the ‘Swing King’ – the seedy former owner of the theme park, whose negligence saw the spectacular collapse of a park ride, resulting in the deaths of dozens of visitors. The distraught family of one of the young victims finally gives in to their grief, and requests that the Swing King be taken out. You may scoff at the extreme hand-holding of the tutorial level, but you’ll change your tune once you’re left to your own devices in increasingly difficult later levels. Frolicking round opera houses, steamboats, extravagant parties and crowded festivals will all be in a days work if you manage to progress through Blood Money. Sure, it may sound like a relaxing vacation, but you’ll also have to deal with corrupt officials in the highest levels of power and rival agencies intent on sending femme fatales and albino assassins to get in your way. There’s just no catching a break when you’re the worlds most deadly killer.
No matter how much action is thrown into the Hitman games, stealth is always the better option. As you guide 47 through more than a dozen tense missions in Blood Money, stealth tactics are rewarded far more than running and gunning. If things do turn pear-shaped, you have the option of fighting your way out, but chances are, your shoddy efforts at being discreet will cost you dearly in both contract money and notoriety. This time around, there’s a distinct focus on making your target's death look like an unfortunate accident, and in almost every case, there’s a clever way of making these “accidents” come about. For a more traditional kill, Agent 47 carries a long piece of wire used to garrote his targets. But the fun doesn’t end there. Guns, knives, pool cues, hammers, syringes and a multitude of other items can be used to terminate your mark. The difference comes with the level of attention you attract making each kill. The more bodies you leave behind and the more people who witness your crimes will have an effect on the amount of money you receive at the end of each mission, along with the amount of notoriety you gain. The more familiar you are to the public, the harder each assignment will get. Thankfully, your hard earned cash comes in rather handy, and you’ll be able to buy off your unsavory reputation, purchase upgrades for your weapons, and generally bribe characters left right and centre. It’s amazing how much people will forget for the right price.
The different difficulty settings help to make Blood Money a flexible experience, no matter your level of skill. With each higher setting comes a new challenge, including smarter AI, less (or no) save points during a mission and a more responsive notoriety meter. Even on the higher settings, the AI seems to be more true to life than in some of the previous Hitman titles, and though still flawed, is a little less ridiculous. As you take on different disguises, you’ll find that enemies are generally observant and will notice anything out of the ordinary – on the other hand though, you’ll also find that you can bluff your way through most situations. The AI isn’t Mensa standard, but will bite you just as you’re starting to get overconfident, and the result is a delicious balance of exciting but completely nerve-wracking gameplay. The excellent level designs make for smooth and open-ended play, and gives the appearance of more freedom than in previous Hitman games. You’ll still be forced to use your brain and think a little outside the square, but the route to your objectives is often less obscure and frustrating than some of the maze-like settings found in the second game.
With such high praise for the gameplay, it’s only fair to bring this game back to earth, and unfortunately the PS2 graphics do that all on their own. The game is intensely cinematic, and has some gorgeous and impressively directed cut scenes similar in style to those in Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, you’re left assuming the actual game is gorgeous too, or would be on a next generation console, because the PS2 doesn’t even come close to coping, and presents pixelated, chunky graphics that negate any of the rich details. If you were to squint slightly for the entire game, you’d probably get a feel for how the game should look.
If you’re willing to overlook the aesthetics (pun intended), the moody feel of the game should be enough to wash away any displeasure you have over the visual hiccups. Voiced by David Bateson, Agent 47 has a dark and detached but humourous wit. The grim and slightly film noir tone of Blood Money brings back the almost forgotten atmosphere present in old adventure games like the Broken Sword series. The situations might be bleak and stomach churning, but the main character isn’t about to lie down and cry themselves to sleep. Combined with the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack done by the talented Jesper Kyd, it’s not long before you’ll be dismissing the shoddy graphics with a wave of your hand. With so much right, does it really matter about the lack of presentation polish? If you’re sure it does in fact matter, the current generation versions are definitely not a good fit.
The replay value for Hitman Blood Money is higher than most games, with a lengthy single player story and the ability to tailor the difficulty level to such a wide range of skill. The story is intense and the levels feel great, but some minor action glitches and the rough graphics keep this from being a totally immersive experience. You’re left with an excellent blend of stealth and action, but a distinctive feeling that they haven’t quite hit the bulls eye yet.