The Hitman games occupy an interesting moral space. While Grand Theft Auto is attacked for allowing you to kill police and prostitutes, here we have a series in which murder is the goal. The targets don?t always deserve it either; if you?ve played the demo mission, you?ll know that you may well sympathize with your victims. It seems that it all flies under the radar until you?re big enough to sue.
Don?t deny that murder-for-hire is sexy, either. In a world where legitimate businesses ?bleed? the most amount of work from you for the least amount of pay, the idea of striking it rich from the death of a criminal can sound reasonable. It helps that movies like Kill Bill and La Femme Nikita have built up the myth of the international assassin - were they to be believed, there are whole networks of killers travelling the globe like they were sinister James Bonds. In fact, most of Blood Money?s heavily qualified success stems from indulging this myth.
As usual in Hitman, you reprise the role of Agent 47, a cloned assassin working high-profile missions for the International Contracts Agency.
What separates Blood Money from other stealth action games is the need to think like a hitman. You can try, but it?s usually very difficult to complete a mission by killing (or even knocking out) every enemy in your path. Violence produces evidence, in the form of sounds, bodies, or blood. If surviving enemies and civilians pick up your trail, good luck trying to reach your target. More on this later.
Let?s put it this way: if you?re impatient, this is not the game for you. The first phase of any mission should be recon, which involves touring an area and observing the environment. There are things you need to know - these include patrol routes, potential sniper nests, ?accidents? you can arrange, and of course, how you?re going to escape. Only once you can answer these kinds of questions should you try to steal a disguise (or two) and make the hit.
Blending in is half the game and at least half the fun. Part of the myth of the assassin revolves around his ghost-like nature, and sure enough, few things can top simply walking past the guards, killing a target, and then vanishing from the ensuing chaos. Well, I suppose I do love gunning people down with silenced pistols, but that?s probably because of Collateral.
The level design contributes a great deal to the atmosphere of crime and intrigue. 47 isn?t the sort of hitman you hire for a neighbourhood crack dealer; he goes after the head of the cartel, at his vineyard estate in South America. The scenery is truly gorgeous in this game, whether you?re at a vineyard, a Parisian operahouse, or a Vegas casino. The levels seem fully-functional moreover, in that all the characters have purpose and just about anything you?d like can be turned to your advantage.
New interaction options are a key feature of Blood Money. Among other things, you can now hide bodies in bins, yourself in closets, and use sharp objects as weapons. You can also use civilians as human shields, though frankly you?re playing the game wrong if it comes down to that. The same applies for the new close combat moves, since a beating can spray almost as much blood as a bullet. All told however, I do like these options as a fallback.
The other big change is the inclusion of a ?notoriety? system. Leaving behind witnesses, or certain physical traces (bodies, CCTV tapes, etc.) in one mission will increase the likelihood of being detected in a subsequent one. It?s a realistic touch, one that helps discourage going Rambo, but in practice the feature is undermined by the developers? own work. Since you can elect to clean your record for little money, only butchers will suffer any consequences.
Where the game stumbles badly is in the realm the Hitman series has always had trouble: keeping difficulty sane. Though Blood Money does offer multiple solutions and difficulty settings, it practically leaps on you for every mistake, and sometimes when you?ve made none.
I?ll elaborate with an example. Let?s say you need a security guard outfit to enter a restricted area, and right ahead of you is a guard about to turn into a deserted room. It should be the perfect opportunity, but there are innumerable ways this could go wrong. You could be seen by someone you?d antagonized earlier; it could turn out that the room itself is restricted, and suddenly, everyone in sight is rushing to your position; even if you did manage to isolate the guard, he could still turn to face you in a noisy confrontation. Then there?s possibility of someone randomly walking in on you, an event that?s annoyingly common.
These risks would be fine if it weren?t for the game?s built-in chain reactions. If someone does discover you with a body he?ll probably start shooting, or if not, he?ll run and find someone that will. This means that unless you can hide and locate a new disguise, you?ll end up in a firefight which will draw in yet more enemies, until you?re either going to be killed or have no reason whatsoever to use stealth. Trial and error can become the order of the day, and that?s never been much fun.
Did I mention that mid-mission saves aren?t permanent? Hope you have a lot of free time.
The AI is a facade that tends to collapse under stress. It has some neat tricks under its belt, but it takes only a small bit of patience to realize they?re pre-programmed. Under combat conditions it fairs even worse, as the AI will charge blindly into the fray instead of hanging back and taking cover. If the AI wins, it?s usually because of numbers. My slip-ups have created literal heaps of corpses.
Paradoxically, the extreme difficulty could be what keeps players coming back to Hitman, and what will keep them coming back to Blood Money. Conquering the unconquerable can be immensely satisfying, to the point that finishing a Hitman game may be a badge of honour.
Also, Blood Money has surprising replay value for a single-player title. There?s enough room in the design that players can always be faster, quieter, and more creative on their hits. For the true masochist, there are optional objectives and higher difficulty settings.
The real issue is whether the frustrations of the game are balanced out by the rewards. Do you love assassin movies? Blood Money is one of the few games with the same theme, and although this might not mean much, it is substantially better than the rest. Are you a veteran gamer, alternately? Then for you, the challenge here should be tolerable. If I?d answered no to either of the above questions however, I would seriously consider another game.