As Agent 47 stood in the closet, I could hear only his breathing and see only a small sliver between the doors. He dare not move, his target was bound to be headed this way soon. Moments later, the door to the room opened, the quarry sat and 47 silently snuck behind him, fibre wire drawn tight…
Dressed as a guard, 47 strolled up and down the hallway as if it was the most natural thing he could be doing. He stopped at a locked door, picking it quickly and noiselessly, letting himself inside the room. The slime ball drug lord stood on his balcony, oblivious to 47's presence. He crept slowly and silently behind him, pushed him over the railing to his death in the water below and strode back into the hallway…
Assault shotgun in one hand, Silverballer pistol in the other, 47 rushed into the compound wasting the downstairs' guard. The noise of the gunshots alerted the compound as guard after guard poured into the room, only to be mowed down by 47's SMG. After the slaughter was complete, 47 marched upstairs, opened the door and blew the brains out of the target…
Yes friends, Agent 47 is back and has his sights set on the next generation – but how does the fourth game in the Hitman series fare on the 360?
For those that don't know (shame on you), Agent 47 is the bald, bar-coded, cloned assassin for the International Contract Agency. The ICA receives contracts for assassination and passes them onto 47, who carries them out with surgeon-like precision – or not, depending on your play style. Armed with his trusty Silverballer pistols and fibre wire, 47 infiltrates areas in his familiar black suit, which may be discarded as soon as a more suitable disguise becomes available.
In this latest version, a number of ICA agents have been the targets of assassinations themselves, and the Agency knows that 47 is next. While story has never been a strong point of the Hitman games, Blood Money does a good job of crafting a narrative that encourages the player to follow along, curious how it will all play out. The ending is particularly satisfying.
The Hitman games don't really fit into any single genre. While traditionally associated with stealthy game play, one could conceivably rush through the game guns ablaze and still come out victorious in the end. However, to truly appreciate this game, it is best to play as the designers intended – slowly, methodically and creatively. That said, Blood Money might be the most difficult in the series to successfully go "Rambo" throughout. The enemy AI, while not brilliant, is certainly resilient, and will make your life incredibly difficult should you be caught attempting to relieve someone of theirs.
The Hitman series has always been known for its open-ended environments, allowing players to make hits in a number of different ways, be it as a silent, stalking assassin or a cold-blooded mass murderer. Blood Money doesn't fail in this regard, as highlighted in the scenarios above, which were all taken from the same target on the first (real) level. Each level is unique and none are shoddy. Ranging from a quiet, suburban neighborhood to a busy Las Vegas casino, each level provides a distinct, pleasurable, killing experience. The incredible level design and options for elimination are definitely the strongest features of this latest iteration.
Several new features have been added to Blood Money such as new animations, upgradeable weaponry and the ability to dispose of bodies, climb over low walls and through windows. The most publicized addition is the new notoriety system that tracks your infamy throughout the game. During a mission, if the player kills anybody other than the target(s) in a non-accidental way, bystanders witness an act of murder or cameras catch the player on film, your notoriety will increase. The higher the notoriety, the easier it is for enemies to discover you, with or without disguises.
The idea is great in theory, rewarding players who play the game the way it was meant to be played and punishing those with a less, shall we say, elegant style of play. However, the feature fails to live up to expectations, as it is far too easy to lower your notoriety through bribes. The downside to bribing is not having as much cash on hand to upgrade your weapons, but most players will never notice the effect of notoriety on game play.
The best addition to the game is the new accident system. Players can now push enemies or civilians over ledges, drop heavy objects on targets and cause "natural" explosions to mask their dirty work. An attentive player will discover numerous ways to dispose of targets and unwanted witnesses.
Once again the musical score by Jespyr Kidd is phenomenal in its subtlety. The music won't jump out at you, but you'll know it's there, nicely framing whatever is happening in the action. The sound effects of the guns are still over the top, yet wonderfully satisfying. The character voices do an adequate job, though some of the dialog is stilted and cheesy.
As far as graphics are concerned, I'm slightly disappointed. The 360 version is a visually upgraded port from the original XBox version. The graphics in no way could be called fugly, but they certainly don't stand up to most next-gen expectations. There are upgraded textures and lighting effects, but not much more than that. I can't wait for the day when the older consoles are downgraded rather than the reverse.
Thankfully, the camera seems to have been tweaked a bit for Blood Money. In the past, the camera would get caught on walls, clip through Agent 47 and make sneaking up on your enemies an exercise in frustration and reloading. Not once during my time with the game did I experience any problems, though I have read elsewhere that may not be the case for some players.
The 360 version is $20 more expensive and features the exact same game with the only addition being achievements. While I do love my achievements, I'm hard pressed to recommend buying the 360 version instead of the others; there's just not $20 worth of difference between versions. However, if the 360 is your only option (and what a sweet, sweet option it is), don't feel cheated. You're getting a great game at the standard, next gen, non-first party price.
For those who haven't enjoyed Hitman games in the past, this game probably won't change your mind – not much has changed. However, if you've been waiting for another chapter in the Hitman series, this is certainly the finest thus far. The replay ability is solid, featuring four different difficulty levels and the enticing goal of achieving the coveted "Silent Assassin" rating on every level. With fantastic level design, enticing game play and a compelling story, Blood Money will not fail to please.