Hitman: Codename 47 review
Hey I'm the hitman, stand aside
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Given the releases of Metal Gear Solid and Thief, one could say that the stealth genre had hit its peak. Whether it's Metal Gear Solid's penchant for insane storytelling or Thief's more immersing qualities, one cannot deny that stealth gaming can't get any better than this. However, my personal favorite stealth series will always be the Hitman games due to how much these games suck me in, even moreso than Thief's ambience and Metal Gear Solid's crazy story. Much like how Thief has you playing as a thief mixed into a conspiracy plot of sorts, Hitman has you playing as a hitman who must find his way around large levels to find the targets that he has to assassinate while there's a looming plot hidden away somewhere.
See, Agent 47, the hitman in question, isn't an average human being who decided to take up a weekend job as a hitman. Instead, Agent 47 is a perfectly trained killer, raised from birth to kill whoever his “caretakers” tell him to kill. At least, that's how Agent 47 interprets his life, but throughout the game, he wonders more and more if that's truly the case. The story itself amounts to little more than killing targets who leave behind vague cliffnotes denoting parallels to the reason(s) for their killings, and it's due to this that for the most part, it's a hard story to get sucked into. In fact, it's only the last couple of missions where you'll notice that something is afoot with the killing and even Agent 47 himself. To be fair, none of the future instalments (with the exception of Hitman: Absolution) really focused on delivering a great overarching story, but they at least give you enough information during the briefing and thankfully even during its humble beginnings, Codename 47 does that much. By doing so, it allows you to become immersed into the world itself not so much while watching it, but while playing it.
While most stealth games simply revolve around sneaking and maybe using lighting to your advantage, Hitman goes above and beyond by including a disguise mechanic that allows you to skulk around in more restricted areas with people being nonethewiser. It's this mechanic that gives the Hitman series something to help its stealth mechanics stand out from the rest of the pack. Being inconspicuous is what being a hitman is all about and even as early as Codename 47 does this series have the right idea and... mostly right execution. It isn't just as simple as wearing the right disguise; you also have to make sure you either keep your weapons concealed, or pray to the nine divines that you're holding the right big weapon as Agent 47 cannot conceal weapons like assault rifles or shotguns – only smaller ones like knives, wire and pistols. Well, you could conceal these bigger weapons, but only in closets, wardrobes and other such objects. When you begin a mission, you'll be given a bunch of weapons to buy with money that you'll get from the agency with each hit, and you'll need to make the right choices in terms of weapon choice. Should you shell out money for an AK47 and an uzi, or go cheap with a knife and pistol? Maybe you want to spoil yourself with piano wire? It's up to you based on how much you have!
However, you can't really go into any mission just opening fire and then just run and hide somewhere all willy nilly. First off, killing civillians takes money away from you, and if you run out of money, you lose! Secondly... to put it bluntly, the guards are *bleep*ing relentless! Unless you hide the corpses really well, eventually, somebody will find the dead bodies, and then they'll have the guards sniff you out. This isn't Metal Gear Solid where guards will find a corpse and be on a relentless body search for all but two minutes before going “oh it was probably the wind that killed him”. Nope, in Codename 47, the guards won't stop their pursuit for any reason. Thankfully, you can fight back as Agent 47 can snap to walls automatically and guards go down with a shot or two... sadly, so can you. It really makes you think “should I just go in John Rambo style or should I actually think about how I should approach this situation without anybody knowing I was even here”, and given that a lot of this game's X-factor comes from surveying the excellently designed open environments to snoop on your target and find key parts, it should be no problem for you to put two and two together and come up with an optimal solution. If push comes to shove, just improvise. Finally, it's not all about taking down targets. You'll find that you'll need to acquire items and disarm bombs, among other... not so hitman-esque objectives that seems a little more befitting of a CIA agent rather than a hitman, but hey, anything to be inconspicuous, right?
It does open up a few issues. One is that outside of an extra life, there is no mid-mission saving. None, nada, zip, zilch – you do it right the first time all at once, or you try again. In other words, you can't reload your last save point because made a slip up, which is often a result of taking too long to do what needed to be done, doing something too early, leaving a body out in the open or anything else that gives you away. Part of most any given reason for failure is due to the camera, which is zoomed a bit too far into Hitman's head and shoulders to gauge a perfect view of your surroundings as you may need a good view of what's lower while also getting a view of what's higher. Not to mention that when you're dragging corpses, you can't actually see it half the time. Then you put walls into the equation and half the time, it snaps onto them and zooms even further up close to your head. Don't even entertain the thought of switching to the alternate camera view, which simply widens your view and makes things even harder to *bleep*ing see.
But yeah, there is a sort of checkpoint system where you can be brought back to life once or twice in a mission, but guards will either still be on high alert or will be put on it and will be on your ass until it's destroyed. At that point, you might as will just restart the mission... from the very beginning. Now, I can understand making it so that you have to start from the very beginning given that sometimes, you can make a mistake and not face the consequences for a long time. Other than that, having the ability to save partway through a mission would do wonders for a game whose idea of challenge is to have you try out methods of assassination or infiltration to see whether it'd land you with their head on a pike or your intestines as the main entre. Some levels are quite long, taking about 20 minutes if you know what to do amidst some CIA-esque missions and carefully planned methods of infiltration and assassination, so imagine if you were at the climax of the level, only to die because you either got ambushed, you screwed up the assassination or you went for a quick sip of Pepsi and got spotted. You die... and you start over again. You'd have to do all that shit again... all because of no saves or checkpoints – and that *bleep*ing broken ass “checkpoint” system doesn't even register as an acceptable substitute. This is why nobody really talks about Codename 47 without mentioning that it was nothing more than a humble beginning, only for Contracts to essentially render it obsolete.
On the aesthetic front, Codename 47 mostly looks great for a game made in 2000. I say mostly because the animations for 47, whether he's walking around or dragging bodies, look rather jerky. Beyond that, this game was quite a marvel back in its day – so much so that it was reported that this was quite the demanding son of a bitch. Even nowadays, it's still aesthetically presentable. Sure, some of the textures seem a little low res when compared to the likes of Half Life 2, Crysis and Alan Wake, but they're still rather detailed and manage to make each location look distinct from one another. The atmosphere set by the structures of each mission in tandem with the colors also help to keep a distinction between each location. Whether you're going through a Chinese restaurant, a jungle or a hospital, there's plenty of variety and with each of these levels being as wickedly designed as they are, no doubt they'll make quite a positive impression on you.
In terms of the sound design, it's mostly excellent, though I must make mention of its sole weak point. The voice acting is not particularly good as it sounds like the voice actors were speaking too far away from the mic and while turning up the volume, the background noise also became too audible for it to be a minor issue. The actual voice acting is a bit dull, feeling as if they added it in because they had to. But the music – good sweet Jesus, the music is fantastic. There is a bit too much reliance on dead silence at times, but when there is music, it really manages to set the mood. Whether it's the droning ambient soundscapes that play as you explore each map or some added percussion to make fights seem more intense, it's clear that Jesper Kyd has quite an eye for immersing soundtracks that keep you glued to the edge of your seat.
Despite camera issues and some rough difficulty patches, Hitman: Codename 47 is an ingenius take on the stealth genre. Instead of some black ops or thieving in the night, IO Interactive instead took the hired killer profession and made a good game out of it. Just the idea of skulking around in a disguise to keep your enemies guessing while you find a means of getting to your target to assassinate them until they pin you as a suspect due to sloppy work is enough to keep you immersed into the experience. Add some finely designed levels, tight graphics and an excellent soundtrack, and you have yourself a solid experience that's really only let down by some unpolished parts.
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