Genre : Action
Developer: IO Interactive
Release Date: April 20, 2004
When you hear about the term “Stealth” in a video game images instantly spring to mind of Sam Fisher hiding in the shadows or devices such as optic camouflage used by the likes of Master Chief and Nova in Blizzard’s ever-upcoming game Starcraft :Ghost. In the Hitman series of games stealth is still a major factor to be considered but resides on the other end up the spectrum; instead of using tactics or a special device to conceal yourself from enemy view you are more often than not hiding in plain sight amongst the enemy ranks. The Hitman series has always been a grab bag of both great and less-than great game mechanics and features, and while Hitman 3 is definitely a good game in its own regard it is also hampered by a few aspects that keep it from becoming a truly great game.
Hitman 3’s plot makes very little sense until it comes together near the very end. Wounded during a job Agent 47, the bald-headed, bar-coded protagonist in all of the Hitman games, stumbles into a Paris hotel room bleeding from a gunshot wound in his side. Though Agent 47 is a trained killer he is also human, and as his blood slowly leaves his body he begins to fade in and out of consciousness and while under he recalls slightly hazy memories of his past jobs. For almost the entirety of the game it is in these recollections that you actually play, making your way through new missions as well as altered versions of missions from Hitman 1 and 2.
It must be noted that the missions that are carried over from the previous two games in the series are not carbon-copies at all, but rather should be though of as based on them, or built and designed in the same theme. The Thermal Bath Hotel mission from Hitman 1 makes a return, as does various others such as the very first level and the Lei Hong Assassination, but the level designs have been completely altered so that while some parts of the level look the same most of them are totally reworked. In essence fans of the series will love the fact that some of the best levels of the series have been redone in the new engine, but really won’t know any more about the level layout or how to complete the mission any more than a person who has never picked up a Hitman game before.
Hitman 3 plays much like it’s predecessors in the series but takes on a much darker, more violent, and occasionally disturbing tone. Many missions require you to find some way to kill a specific person or persons, with other objectives such as collecting an item a client wants while you’re in the area. There are often a variety of ways to accomplish any of the objectives; for example imagine a compound filled with guards on patrol. Do you silently slit the throat of a guard’s neck, take his clothing, and use it as a disguise to simply walk into the compound? Do you stay completely undetected and make your way in and out without killing anyone except the target? Or do you want to take the least fun albeit sometimes the easiest route and simply gun anyone down who opposes you? Any route you can take is a potentially viable one and it really boils down to how you as a gamer want to play the game, though the most enjoyment is found when you are sneaking around or in disguise rather than just shooting everyone.
As for the violence and tone, the Hitman series have always been violent (As should be expected given the title, the mission objectives, and the subject matter) but Hitman 3 raises the bar significantly. In the very first level Agent 47 must infiltrate a bondage party being held inside of a functional meat packing plant, essentially mixing patrons who are high on opium and dressed in black latex and leather with butchers who are cutting on cow corpses with cleavers only a few rooms over. If (When) you kill someone, to hide the body you can simply hang them on a meat rack by lifting them up and impaling them on a hanging hook. Melee stealth kills are much more violent and are no longer limited to simply slitting a foes throat. Now, depending on various things such as how long you have been stalking your foe and how quickly and firmly you press the button you can perform such attacks and jamming your blade into their kidney, the front of their neck, or impaling them beneath the base of the neck with a meat hook and trying to tug upwards. For the tone itself, imagine this scene. In the same level you are tasked with finding the daughter of the client who has been reported missing, who is found dead, hanging from the ceiling by her feet, her slightly mutilated naked body wrapped in cellophane, her hand cut from her body and laying on the floor in a pool of her own blood, with multitudes of air fresheners hanging from the ceiling, a shrine dedicated to the dead woman on the wall adorned with pictures and candles, and over it all plays an old ‘60s-style love song. It’s definitely a departure from the other Hitman games where your criminals were relatively sane drug barons and criminals.
The gameplay itself essentially remains unchanged from Hitman 3, in almost every department. The control scheme has been slightly tweaked as has the interface, but anyone who has played Hitman 2 should feel right at home within minutes. Actually moving around still feels as artificial as it did in Hitman 2 but by far the biggest complaints are about the AI and the removal of the pre-mission weapon select system. AI in Hitman 3, much like it was in Hitman 2, is the equivalent of a real-life individual with Attention Deficit Disorder and a room temperature IQ. If a guard happens upon a dead body all guards become alerted for a short while, if the body is found without clothing they begin to look for anyone suspicious who is wearing the same style of clothing as the deceased. However, after that short while is up guards resume their previous patrol routes and just leave the body as it lay. You could feasibly kill everyone in a level except for a guard and the target (usually a commander or similar person of power) and pile their bodies up in one room. If that guard were to walk into the room after a while, and after he inspected every individual body, he would simply return to his route whereas it would be more realistic and ultimately more satisfying for that one guard to actually notice the predicament and guard his boss. The removal of the pre-mission weapon select system is almost a slap in the face considering it has always been in the Hitman series until now and gave players a wide range of freedom in their tactics. Stealth players would load up with silenced weapons and knives, or you could go for exotic weapons like sawn-off shotguns and sniper rifles. Now, you are limited at the start to simply what you are given and must make do, and while this never becomes a problem in itself there are often times where you could see the virtue in a slightly different weapon selection.
As for the game engine itself, Hitman 3 is what you would get if you were to take the Hitman 2 engine and buff the heck out of it. Visually Hitman 3 is very appealing in most regards with detailed geometry and objects, crisp textures, reflection effects, and especially the upgraded look from the Hitman 1 and 2 levels, but other things such as animations (Especially for Agent 47, sadly) and lighting aren’t improved much from Hitman 2, which in itself wasn’t a shining example of animation and lighting excellence. However, the sound engine in Hitman 3 is easily the best in the series in both the quality of the sounds and how they are presented. A really nice feature of the sound system is occlusion, which makes music heard through a wall from another room actually sound the part rather than simply becoming lower in volume, and decreases in a realistic manner more and more as the distance and the amount of walls between you and the sound source increases. Music plays a bigger role in Hitman 3 though mainly in places where it is realistic such as the thumping techno in the bondage party or the grunge-y Clutch song “Immortal” in the Flaming Windmills biker club. Weapon sounds all sound not only crisp and distinct but actually sound like they have some power behind them, half the enjoyment of unloading an Uzi is hearing the noise it makes.
All points considered Hitman 3 is an overall better game than Hitman 2, though as a series some of the concepts are becoming a bit worn out. Playing through the game as a gun-toting maniac and gunning everyone down is a usually easy way to complete a level as most enemies aren’t the best of shots, but the most fun is had by donning a disguise or simply sneaking by and subtly killing your targets such as poisoning their food with laxative and killing them as they “relieve” themselves. The animations, slight control issues, and relatively weak AI do detract from the experience somewhat but are almost getting to the point where fans expect these flaws in a Hitman game and simply look over them to see the fun that can be had with the game as a whole. The biggest determining factor in Hitman 3 on whether or not an individual gamer will have fun playing the title is the level of patience you have, as Hitman is about as far from a twitchy gamer’s style as you can get and rather rewards players who think things through carefully and come up with some sort of plan of attack. Overall, Hitman 3: Contracts is a slightly flawed title that does cater to fans of the series for the most part, but anyone with an assassin mentality, a good helping of patience, and a love for sneaking in for the kill will ultimately have a great time with the title.
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