Hitman: Blood MoneyOne of my favorite things about the Hitman series is the way the franchise was built up over the years; almost like a young sports team being primed for future success. From 2000-2006 the basic formula of the series went largely unchanged in almost all aspects. Rather than radically switching up elements between releases in an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle or slap on some lame gimmick that could be exploited when it came time for marketing, the talented developers at Eidos instead opted to build upon what they already established each time out. No title in the series would be considered the evolution of the franchise when compared against what came directly before it but rather the next logical progression of it. Over time however the upsides to this method begin to become apparent. If compared side by side Codename 47 and Blood Money are unmistakably cut from the same cloth, but at the same time the gap in quality between the two is undeniable.
The story hasn’t changed much this time around. Agent 47 is still living the life of an assassin which mainly seems to consist of murdering people for money and hanging around in dank basements when he isn’t on the clock. Like Contracts a framing device is used to tell the story. The director of the F.B.I. is sharing some of 47s more recent exploits with a journalist and the different assignments he describes make up the bulk of the games missions. However the plot within the plot involving the Agency 47 works for being under attack, and political assassinations that loosely tie into 47s own origins fail to impress. It feels very much like an old SNES game at times as the story is satisfactory but not satisfying; knowing the plot of the game might put everything that’s happening onscreen into context but having that context doesn’t exactly make the game more enjoyable.
While the story might be underwhelming in most regards, I must praise the writers at Eidos for continuing to develop the character of 47. One scene in particular in which he is forced to dispose of a “companion” in order to keep from being discovered says more about the assassin and his practical outlook on life than a monologue ever could and for one brief moment the game stopped being mere entertainment and entered into the realm of art. Despite being its tonal opposite the event in question reminds me of the closing moments of the original Modern Warfare’s ‘Shock and Awe’. Both are the only scenes out of their respective games to evoke any real genuine emotion in what is otherwise a pretty by the numbers affair, but perhaps it is because of this that they stand out and stick with you once the rest of the plot has faded into obscurity.
On the gameplay front things are far more solid across the board. The basic concept is the same as it has always been. You’re given a list of people to kill, information about the targets to help with said killing, and then you’re set free in one of the games various levels to do the dirty deed. If this sounds similar to Contracts (or any other game in the series for that matter), rest assured that a few new wrinkles specific to Blood Money when combined with the various other improvements the series had acquired over the years makes this the best assassin simulator available.
I don't know what happened
The most noticeable change is the ability to upgrade some of 47s arsenal. Slapping a scope onto your silver ballers or outfitting your sniper with a lightweight frame not only makes carrying out each hit easier but it’s also visibly reflected in-game allowing you to look on with pride as your gear becomes more and more pimped out. Upgrades are purchased with money earned from each hit though how much money you earn is based on how well you did. Going through the level unseen and earning the coveted Silent Assassin rank will earn the largest bonus while killing indiscriminately and leaving behind evidence and witnesses will see your base payout take a hit. Notoriety is now carried over from level to level so if you’re not careful you might wind up having to spend even more money just to ensure your cover isn’t already blown at the start of your next operation.
It’s the little things though that really establishes Blood Money as one of the all-time heavy hitters. Choking people with fiber wire has seen a decrease in difficulty and is now actually a consistently viable option, 47 can knock out and disarm people in hand to hand combat, and he’s also learned the ability to take human shields. An accident system has also been implemented and it allows you to make it through most levels without a single kill being credited to you. Accidents are any kills that yep you guessed it, look like an accident. Drowning somebody in a pool or rigging a grill to set fire qualify as such and really expand the options at your disposal.
You ever have the feeling you're being watched?
Which brings me to my next point and that’s the absolutely fantastic level design on display and the way Eidos married it to the gameplay to ensure the player always has a mindboggling amount of tools at their disposal. Take what is probably the titles most iconic level ‘A New Life’ where the player is assigned to kill a man who is under witness protection. His house is under F.B.I. surveillance but a birthday party being held for the targets daughter gives 47 his opportunity. The clown looks like a good option at first but you won’t be able to retain your weapons if you choose to take that route. The caterer has a tray you could store one of your weapons in but he also has a box of donuts that may prove useful if you can figure out what to do with them. Dressing up like the garbage man won’t get you into the house but if you know where to look he is much more useful than he appears at first glance.
Besides for the tutorial; which still does a fantastic job of laying out the rules of stealth to the player, and the finale; which acts as a violently cathartic release for the previous 12 hours or so of restraint, each level is a perfectly crafted example of how to properly immerse a player into a games world.
In recent years studios have started touting about how their games give the players choices; usually in the case of three dialogue possibilities along with maybe occasionally deciding to go left or right at a fork in the road. Blood Money on the other hand is only interested in offering its player one choice but it’s the most important of all; how do I proceed from here? With everybody and their mama slapping multiplayer modes onto games that don’t need it Blood Money should be a case study in how to make a single player only game with outstanding replay value. I’ve sunk over 17 hours into the pc version and this is after already having played and beaten it back on the ps2 when it originally released.
Graphically Blood Money holds up pretty great actually. It’s nothing amazing but the art style is slightly stylized allowing it to age better compared to other games that aimed for something more realistic. It’s the work of the excellent animation though that really makes the world that Agent 47 inhabits come to life. This isn’t Uncharted or anything but the NPCs movements have a lifelike quality to them and the ragdoll physics; while crude when compared to what we have now in titles like Max Payne 3, still manages to entertain especially when somebody backflips down a flight of stairs after eating shotgun to the face.
Definitely the apex of the series so far, Blood Money is a title that should be in every fan of the stealth genres collection. Just like a skilled and patient Hitman player Eidos took their time in seeking perfection, and the results do not disappoint in the least.
(The -.3 is not because of my issues with the plot but rather because of the fact that all of your saves within any given level are lost once you quit. While nowhere near game-breaking; or even an issue if you've got suitable time on your hands, its still a really *bleep*ing stupid decision by the developers)