Hitman Blood Money is a curious animal. On the one hand, it's got a decent plot, fun and open-ended gameplay, and interesting missions. On the other, there's the somewhat iffy hit-detection, over-detailed models, and a reliance on stock models to populate levels. Does it all add up to a game worth playing or a game worth missing? I'd like to think that it's the former.
Hitman opens up with a gimmie stage that holds your hand and tells you exactly what to do and when to do it. It shows you the ropes and most of the game's mechanics, then sends you on your way. From that point on, you're on your own. This is where the open-ended gameplay comes in. Hitman throws you into the deep end, and you do have a number of pointers, mostly in the form of intel that you can purchase or things that you overhear, but you'll do most of the exploration blind.
In this sense, Hitman is a waiting game. There's something to be said for finding a good hiding place and taking a breather while you watch the patterns that the denizens of the stage walk. If you want, you can disguise yourself as another character, which lets you do recon in the middle of a crowd of people if you so choose. Oftentimes, a character will speak a clue aloud regarding the mission, even if it's just an obscure hint that a singer may not be exactly what she seems. If you find an area that you're forbidden to enter, there will often be a man nearby with a uniform that you can steal so that you can gain access.
The individual stages have a number of different ways to accomplish your objectives. If you want to go in guns akimbo, you'll probably die, but careful planning will let you kill every single person in the stage if that's how you want to play it.
You're obviously rewarded more for doing things quietly, however. The game ranks you after the mission based on how many people saw you, the number and type of deaths, time, and various other things. The highest rating possible is Silent Assassin, and you can get it on every stage if you're careful. Your actions are reported in an after-mission newspaper which states how many people saw you, what kind of weapons were used, and some background information on the target. You can go into a stage, take out only your main targets, and get out with no witnesses spotting your nefarious deeds and the targets dead via carefully planned "accidents." This, again, is the open-ended gameplay at work. Your skill as an assassin directly relates to how you play the game. If you're impatient and just want to gun people down, do so, but don't be surprised when you get a low ranking. If you've got what it takes to stay cool under pressure, you can make it through the entire game with no witnesses at all.
Hitman's graphics are pretty good. We reviewed the Xbox 360 version, and they were sharp in all the right places, but still suffered from that over-detailed finish that plagues so many games. It's nice to see muscles, but not when they look like they've been carved into stone blocks. This makes some of the people look inhuman, to be quite honest, despite their otherwise well done animations and texturing. The animations for unique characters are great, but the ones for incidental characters leave a little to be desired. The Mardi Gras stage is a wonderful stage to show off the crazy processing power of the 360, but a lot of the characters not only look alike, but move alike as well. That's no good when you're trying to maintain some sense of immersion in your game.
The environments are also true to life, and look a great deal better than the people that populate them. Whether it's the tropical jungle of the second stage or the high-rise party of one of the latter stages, things look good throughout Hitman Blood Money. The wedding stage is also another bit of eye candy, with a detailed house to explore, in addition to a bit of swamp land. The level design is particularly well done, with levels that strive to be real buildings and areas rather than just objective-based linear stopping points.
Hitman Blood Money ends up coming together quite nicely. The gameplay gives you plenty of choices regarding progressing through a stage, and it looks good while you do so. It would've been very easy to churn out another boring murderfest, but instead we get a thinking man's game. Good showing.