So the new Hitman game is in full swing, and it’s bloody brilliant for reasons I’ll go into in my review of the complete package. For now though, it’s time to focus on what is currently the series’ high point (and one of my top five games of all time): Hitman Blood Money, which was released in my neck of the woods ten years ago today. As good as new Hitman is, Blood Money still deserves your time, money and effort, and I’m going to give you five reasons why you should replay it, or play it for the first time if you’re new to it.
Every Hitman game has a rating system, whether it be Hitman 2’s ice cold “Do everything perfectly or you get to eat shit” or Absolution’s intrusive points system, you will be judged on your approach to the taking of life for money. Blood Money took it one step further, in two rather clever ways; notoriety and a level-specific newspaper. The former is tracked by a number from 0-100 that carries over between missions: being loud, violent and leaving loads of witnesses to intense gunfights will raise the meter, which can be lowered by different amounts at the end of a level for a price. Get it high enough and people will recognise you, making things a lot more difficult. It has a more lasting effect on the score you get in each level, making you more likely to think about your actions. On the subject of doing things for a price, leaving any customised weapons or your signature suit in a level costs money, because people have to go in and collect them. Money is spent on customisation, which only ever popped up in this game for some reason. The newspaper I mentioned earlier isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a lovely touch: at the end of each level you’re shown a newspaper front page about the murder of whatever poor twat(s) you killed, and it will report on how many people you killed, what you killed them with, whether they were civvies or guards and such, how many shots you fired (if any) and how accurate you were, among other things. It’s a more involving and much more interesting take on the rating system- placing it into a more imaginative context that makes me care beyond whether or not I got “Silent Assassin.”
Blood Money was the first game in the series to take Agent 47 to the States, and it has an interesting take on them. Unlike Absolution’s weird Grindhouse feel, Blood Money went for a mixture of light stereotypes and broad strokes familiar to most people for a base, then built a world that feels like one 47 could actually inhabit. Vegas, Mississipi, the Rocky Mountains and New Orleans are all presented with a slightly dark, European twist that makes them seem like real places but slightly off, and have a lot more civilians who are more active and friendly, unlike the previous games where people were cold and kept to themselves. The game culminates with you infiltrating the White House to kill a corrupt Vice President, and the story focuses on a corrupt ex-FBI Director hunting down 47 and wiping out all of his unseen co-assassins.
Hitman 2 and Hitman Contracts both had several levels set in the same place with you often doing little of interest. Hitman 2 is particularly irritating for a part where you murder a fat recluse in a basement only for the game to tell you that you now have to sneak around an office after dark to plant a bug, then kill a different fat recluse wearing fewer clothes. Blood Money has thirteen levels (short for a Hitman game) and besides a step-by-step tutorial (steps you don’t have to follow, mind) and one level that’s basically a shootout, every level is a proper sandbox with multiple targets whose deaths the game leaves entirely up to you. There are locations with more than one level, but they make them entirely different. The game also has some of the best levels in the series, including A New Life, The Murder of Crows and Curtains Down.
It’s just right:
Hitman 2 is far too stiff and unforgiving, and goes out of its way to inject way too much story into proceedings. Contracts is very dark and moody without much else going for it, with a fair few of its missions being remakes of ones from the first game. Absolution puts a lot of focus on a terrible plot where 47 keeps being reckless and is captured multiple times, and often feels like targets are presented purely through obligation, as 47 is often in locations for reasons pertaining to story, not assassination. HITMAN, while excellent, does feel quite light and score-attack focused, with its challenges. Blood Money strikes the right balance; it’s darkly amusing but also serious and deals with some heavy subjects. It has a decent story but relegates it almost entirely to between-mission cutscenes; you can completely ignore it if you wish, but it’s there if you’re interested. Finally it features a vulnerable 47 but handles it in a reasonable manner that doesn’t contradict the established world and character, and offers good replay-ability directly tied into consequence.
Finally, it holds up:
Having played it again the day before writing this article, I can confidently say that it genuinely holds up. It’s a different experience to HITMAN, and while some of its systems may have aged it’s still a very enjoyable game that’s worth your time; more focused, slightly darker and showcasing a team at the top of their game. I’m not here to argue that Blood Money is the best Hitman game, but it did so many things right, a lot of games, including HITMAN can learn a thing or two from it, and it absolutely deserves another run-through, or a first run-through, if you’re new to its absolute majesty. It was amazing in 2006 and it’s amazing now; no matter how good HITMAN is when it’s finished Blood Money will always have a place in the gap where my heart should be as something truly special.
by James Lambert