Agent 47 lives a fairly solitary life. Due to the nature of his work, he does not pursue relationships or public attention, instead focusing on his craft and the rewards that it brings him. Agent 47 is an assassin; his objective – to kill but not be seen. As you can imagine, his job is extremely stressful. How easy do you think it is to kill someone at a party attended by hundreds of active and alert guests? How about during a parade, as the streets are packed with avid partiers? Hitman: Blood Money is a choose-your-execution adventure that places you in the role of Agent 47, though your time will not just be spent taking down targets. As you progress through the game, you will find that there is much more to the job than dollars for death.
Hitman: Blood Money is the fourth entry in the series, and the first for the Xbox 360. Agent 47 started his gaming career on the PC with 2000's Hitman: Codename 47. It did well enough for Eidos to expand the series to console systems with 2002's Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. The game was both a critical and commercial success, being dubbed a Greatest Hit on the PlayStation 2 and a Platinum Hit on the Xbox. Unsurprisingly, 2004 saw the release of Hitman: Contracts, which did little to move the series forward. It sold well but was much less revered than its predecessor. The two-year cycle continues with the recent release of Blood Money, but don't expect incremental upgrades. A new emphasis on managing your career adds a new layer of depth to the experience, and it is certainly a change for the better.
At its core, Blood Money is still mostly concerned with the hit. As Agent 47, you are given a list of objectives that must be completed before you can flee the scene. How you accomplish the tasks is largely up to you; while not a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto, there are enough options to create a varied experience for each gamer. The Hitman series is by no means a run-and-gun shooter. If you try to blast your way through a level, you will almost certainly be taken down. No, Hitman is all about plotting the perfect hit – that is, taking down the subject without making a big scene. To do this, you will have to analyze patterns, look for clues, and change outfits frequently. There is still a ton of violence and vulgarity in this game, but the killing is much more methodical than in most shooters.
One of the main reasons the game works so well is the intricate level design. Some of these levels are truly monstrous, including one that takes place on several floors of a hotel in Las Vegas. Even a mission on a cruise ship feels larger than it should be, as you can access each level, as well as the various rooms. Of course, there are some staged events that make it a more enjoyable adventure. For example, one mission has you taking out an opera singer who is performing in a scene where he's being shot with blanks, which gives you the opportunity to suit up as one of the shooters and take him out with a real gun. Still, it will undoubtedly make you feel like a professional, which should ultimately be the goal of this experience.
As I noted earlier, there is a lot more going on in this game than executing the kill. The title of the game expresses the biggest addition perfectly: Blood Money. Yes, you now have the ability to manage your assets, which is way more interesting than you might think. Each weapon has a series of valuable upgrades, which are unlocked as you progress through the game. Upgrading the weapons fully will earn you Achievement Points in the Xbox 360 version, so you will want to make that a priority later on. In addition to weapon upgrades, you can also purchase various items that will help you along; your dollars are perhaps best spent on upgrading your lock-picking abilities, as well as purchasing pills that will refill some of your life meter.
The amount of money you make in each mission depends largely on your own performance, so you will want to work quietly and efficiently to come out on top. However, if you end up making a scene, you have the opportunity to use some of your money to pay off people. Witnesses, police chiefs, and journalists can be silenced for a price. It may seem inconsequential, but don't blow it off because if your notoriety level gets too high, you will have a harder time completing your later missions. A newspaper image is generated after each mission that will tell you how the mission went, and if your notoriety level is high, the story will feature many more details than it would if your level were low. Take this as a hint: Either play better, or spend some of your dough.
Your earnings can also be used to purchase information during a mission. A handful of tips are available in each mission, and may make the difference between wandering around for minutes or hours. Yet, despite the tips, a couple of the missions are so complicated and convoluted that you will undoubtedly wander around a bit in search for the smallest clues. An early mission had Agent 47 infiltrating a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility and required probably a dozen costume changes and several instances of running from one end of the building to the other. Most of the time, some basic exploration will provide everything you need to get the mission done. Another amusing aspect of the game revolves around the ability to cause accidents. Agent 47 can tinker with things in the environment (such as a tank of gas) that will result in clean, untraceable kills.
Hitman: Blood Money is a tale of two games: rookie mode, and everything else. If this is your first Hitman game, I implore you to start with the rookie difficulty level. This will allow you to learn how to play the game without too much pressure from the artificial intelligence. Also, it will allow you to learn a bit about the levels before moving onto a higher difficulty. The normal difficulty can be very difficult at times, and requires slow, precise actions. Running around with a gun in your hand will almost certainly lead to your death. The game allows you to save your progress during a mission, though the number is limited by the difficulty level. You can save as much as you want as a rookie, but the normal difficulty allows for just seven saves. Start with rookie – it will be worth playing the game twice.
Eidos Interactive's own Tomb Raider: Legend proved that a game originally designed for an older console could look great on the Xbox 360, but Hitman: Blood Money does it one better. Surprisingly, I found this to be one of the best-looking games on the console. The environments are sharp, detailed, and realistic without looking too shiny. The characters are well done, and there are times when hundreds of them will flood your screen. The lighting effects are excellently done, and the water reflections are brilliant. A close-up of Agent 47 even reveals details like animated eyeballs. It is not the type of game to try to overwhelm you with its visuals. Instead, it succeeds by filling the screen with crisp, colorful characters and environments, and there were never any instances of slowdown. As is the case with all Xbox 360 games, those of us with widescreen HDTVs are really in for a treat with Blood Money.
I usually do not make a big deal about the audio portion of a game, but like the visuals, Blood Money does a great job all around without being too flashy or obvious. The voice acting is very well done, both in the cinematics and during gameplay. Dolby Digital 5.1 support brings the sound effects to life, from the gunplay to the various environmental effects. In some stages, you will find a radio or television with its own unique voice track. Spin your character around, and you will hear it rotate from speaker to speaker around your room. Sure, all Xbox 360 games have support for 5.1, but few use it as well as Hitman: Blood Money. Music is used sparingly in the game, though often to great effect. The playing of Schubert's "Ave Maria" on the menu screen gives a strong hint to future events in the game.
Other than the occasional bout of confusion, the only other issue I had with Hitman: Blood Money was that your character is sometimes discovered without explanation. It usually happens later in the mission, after you have done some dirty deeds, but the timing is often inexplicable. If I am in costume and am not doing anything conspicuous, I should be given a reason as to why I am suddenly being shot at. I can't tell if it is a bug or merely an intentional quirk. Despite some minor issues, the concept behind Hitman: Blood Money is brilliant, and is (mostly) executed with flying colors. Virtual assassinations have never looked or played so well.
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