Many games don’t dare dive into the darker aspects of human society. As a gamer, you’ll more often end up playing the perfect hero who ends up saving the entire human race (like Gordon Freeman), but you’ll almost never be the twisted drug dealer, crazed murderer or calculating assassin. Why? Because our society’s standards say that it’s incorrect to portray such violence and immorality. However, a few developers (well mostly Rockstar) have dared make some extremely “wrong” games which also turned out to be some of the biggest sellers of their years. Manhunt and GTA are two franchises that have made millions, as well as been in the headlines several times thanks to their violent and adult nature. But there has also been another brutal and shadowy series lurking around called Hitman, and with their latest game, Blood Money, Eidos and IO Interactive have gone deeper than ever before into the worst parts of human civilization.

The Agency

Six years ago, a brand new game called Hitman: Codename 47 came out, and even though it didn’t make a good impression on most reviewers, it was extremely interesting for trying to make itself standout from the other Third-Person Action games. Although the innovation offered by the game was interesting, it stayed mostly hidden away, waiting in the shadows for its successor to appear; Hitman: Silent Assassin. With this second attempt, Eidos and IO Interactive removed all the errors and bugs that rendered the first Hitman so annoying and stunned the industry with an amazingly enjoyable game. Instantly, thousands among thousands of people were drawn into the captivating story and new gameplay mechanics. But most of all, the fact that you were a cold hearted assassin who would kill as long as the price was high enough was something completely new and different. I personally tried the game out just for that reason and since, in addition to being dark and immoral, the game was so captivating and different, it became an instant classic in my book.

The third game in the franchise, Hitman: Contracts, was just as good as the second, but unfortunately, not any better either and didn’t bring anything new to the series (which was sort of frustrating). However, Eidos and IO Interactive realized this and now, with Hitman: Blood Money, they did everything to take their game to a new level.

The Requirements

What does one need to be the coolest bald assassin on the planet? Well actually, a very powerful PC is required to play this game (unless you buy it on console), even though the specifications are nothing extraordinary.

Here are the minimum requirements:
• Pentium 4 1.5Ghz or Athlon XP equivalent
• 512MB RAM
• 100% DirectX 9.0c Compatible Video Card (GeForce FX/Radeon 9500 or higher)
• 100% DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card
• Quad-Speed (4x) DVD-Rom drive
• 5.0GB free disk space

Regrettably, even if you fill in these requirements, you might be in for a very nasty surprise. Another system I have in my posession fills in the requirements stated by IO Interactive (Athlon XP 2800+, 1024MB DDR, HIS 9600XT, Audigy LS) and yet, this couldn’t even run the game at anything above 10 FPS. I tried everything from reinstalling the game, changing drivers, installing a patch and many other solutions but the game refused to run at a decent rate, even with all the graphical settings and resolution set to the lowest possible.

Luckily, with another PC, I didn’t encounter any problems and was actually able to play the game with all the settings maxed out (including some anti-aliasing and some anisotropic filtering). And while the engine did run decently, it wasn’t rare to find several bugs here and there. I really advise you to install all the patches available if you try this game, otherwise you might have a few problems and miss out on an excellent experience, because under the slightly fiddly 3D engine lies an amazing game to discover.

The Beauty

Even though you might have trouble starting the game, once you do have everything working the way it should, be ready to see some very nice graphics (especially on the Xbox360 and PC versions). It isn’t mind-blowing and is nowhere near the same level of beauty as Oblivion for example, but it’s far from being ugly. Each level has its own distinct atmosphere thanks to the different color palettes (which are usually slightly dull and dim), high resolution textures, dynamic lighting, soft shadows, high polygon models, depth of field, normal mapping and realistic locations which are exactly how you’d expect them to be. Whether it’s some vineyards in Santa Rosa or a casino in the heart of Las Vegas, the game immerses you perfectly. Also, the levels where you carry out your assassinations are enormous and allow an unprecedented amount of freedom for the series. Of course, I can’t forget the excellent level design either which is what makes each mission such a joy to play and learn in. No two levels are similar in any way and this unique style to each area really gives Blood Money its charm.

But not everything is superb, and that is especially true for the animations (that are quite jerky) and rag doll physics (which are exaggerated). This in itself isn’t too bad but the major problem is that it completely ruins the game’s wonderful immersion. When you see a body bend unrealistically in a small nook because the physics engine is too rudimentary or see Mr. 47, the main character, bend and open something at unnatural speeds, like a robot, you can’t help but feel that IO Interactive could have done a little bit of extra work to polish this aspect of the graphics. It’s still a beautiful game to look at (and one of the main differences in between Contracts and Blood Money), but if only they would have given the game a bit more time, we could have had something truly amazing on our hands.

The Sound

I’ll immediately just tell you the simple truth: no game has ever had music as good as this. Jesper Kyd, the man behind the music, has done wonders with Blood Money and you will experience the most amazing soundtrack which constantly evolves with your current in-game status. If 47 is all calm and deadly, the music will be eerie and tense but the moment the situation gets out of hand and, for example, 47’s disguise is discovered, the music changes style and compliments perfectly what you are living on screen. The sound effects are also first class, from the chirping of birds to the sound of your silenced rifle, there isn’t a single sound that wakes you up from the amazing immersion that is Blood Money. In this domain, IO Interactive really gave it their all and you can see it within moments of playing the game, since the sounds of crowds, your footsteps and explosions are all heavenly. Nothing much to add, the sound effects and the music are “crème of the crème”.

What about the voice acting? The main characters sound good, as do the main victims but some of the secondary NPCs just sound so tacky and lame that it is difficult not to cringe every time you hear any of them speak. It’s a real pity because it takes away from the overall polish of the title.

The Objective

Incredibly though, all the previous things you’ve just read are unimportant once you’ve experienced Hitman: Blood Money’s phenomenal gameplay and story. The latter is sensational and while some might complain that there isn’t enough chronology and detail in between each mission, I personally loved the way the game kept you on edge, making you beg for more details about the plot. I won’t say anything, and thus avoid spoiling the story for anyone, but it is expertly narrated and you’ll witness an incredible twist at the end…!

But what is even more captivating than the story is the tweaked gameplay which lets newcomers and connoisseurs enjoy the game like never before. First of all, I remember when I tried out Hitman: Silent Assassin for the first time that even though the controls were easy to understand, it wasn’t rare for me to make a mistake and blow my cover. Of course, if that ever happened you always had to flee because 47 was useless at hand-to-hand combat. This time, IO Interactive has given Blood Money all their attention and it shows since playing the latest Hitman was a much smoother experience. Nothing fundamental has been changed from the previous games but the small tweaks have rendered Blood Money a more enjoyable experience. For example, you can now actually have hand-to-hand combat, jump from ledges, peek through keyholes and much more. As well as being easier to play, the creators made the first mission a tutorial level to help you understand the basic principals (distraction, sneaking and creating “accidents”). Once you’ve learnt the trades of the game, you’ll explore the most extreme destinations for your missions, ranging from porn king parties in the Rocky Mountains, to redneck weddings in Mississippi, to Mardi gras in New Orleans and even a mission in Washington DC at the Whitehouse. Drugs, alcohol, and prostitution will be particularly common sightings, reminding you just how dark human society can be. And one must forget Mr. 47’s sole reason to do any of these missions: cold hard cash… and lots of it.

Once you complete the training mission, the game only gets better since Hitman is completely unlinear, meaning that there isn’t a fixed method of carrying out your assassination. You feel like pretending to be a guard and silently killing the target with your poison needle? Or would you prefer to plant a bomb in a package that the victim is going to receive and blow him up to smithereens? The choice is up to you and this freedom makes Hitman very different from other games on the market where you have to follow a strict path to accomplish anything. Before any of the main twelve levels of the game, you always get a short briefing and your selection of weapons and accessories. This means that you can also replay each level differently, given that you can change the initial equipment you begin with. However, a potential problem with this liberty is that you might just decided to skip the assassination part of the game and buy the biggest gun in the game and try out the psychopath murder style where you shoot anything that moves. Well again, IO Interactive anticipated this (since it was a problem in the older Hitman games) and thus, they installed a new notoriety system which works extremely well. It is essentially a system that rates how cleanly you do all of your jobs. Leave a lot of corpses and witnesses, you’ll be quickly on the newspapers and civilians might actually even recognize you in some future missions. But if you play intelligently, avoid killing people and make all the deaths look like accidents, you’ll be rewarded by keeping your notoriety at a low level and make extra money. You can always bribe the police or create a new identity to lower your notoriety, but this costs money and trust me; you’ll need to save up for some of the better technology available to you.

But not everything is rosy since one of the worst problems still evident in Hitman: Blood Money is the rudimentary AI which is quite disappointing on the easier difficulty levels. For myself, I played the game on the toughest setting and never found the AI to be a problem but, on some of the easier settings, it is true that the guards or cops can react quite stupidly. And all this leads to the game’s biggest problem which is its target audience. Many gamers will want to do exactly what I had written above (buy a big gun and shoot everything) which makes Hitman horrendously lame to play. It just ruins the entire game and that’s one of the main reasons that this franchise from Eidos has never had as much success as GTA. To enjoy Blood Money, one must be calm, slow, patient and methodical. Every level can be accomplished in a variety of different manners but unless you take your time, you won’t figure out any of these. You have to set some time aside for Hitman Blood Money as each level lasts in between 30 to 45 minutes. Again, this all depends on the gamer and not on the game, so you can make Hitman the masterpiece of 2006, just as much as you can make it the biggest disappointment of the year too.

The Payment

What can I say, if you’ve enjoyed previous adventures of our bald friend, Mr. 47, you’ll enjoy Blood Money more than ever before. The game is especially long, captivating and has tons of replay value, seeing that you can always try to replay a mission and aim for the ultimate “Silent Assassin” rating. However, for a newcomer, this game might just be dull and boring to play, unless you appreciate the love of silence and the ability to transform yourself into a calculating assassin. One thing is for sure, Eidos and IO Interactive have a great game on their hands and I can only hope to see the franchise continue to prosper with time. Sure, it could have had a bit more polish in some areas but you almost forget these problems as you try and figure out how to achieve each assassination in the best possible method. Nothing feels as rewarding as accomplishing a given task in the most perfect of manners, and that is what sets Hitman apart from the competition. It’s simply outstanding.





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