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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Eidos Interactive
Developed by: Io Interactive
Genre: Action
Rated: M (Mature)
Players: 1
Release Date: May 30, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims

Arriving at a Paris opera, you make your way to a construction site backstage wearing the uniform of a painter who conveniently is sleeping in the men's room. While your target and the rest of the performers are rehearsing the third act, you sneak into their changing rooms and swap one of their prop guns with a real one. As you proceed to the next phase you can hear the opera score through the house speakers as it builds up to the point where a simple rehearsal turns into a live execution.

When the audience realizes what's happened, your second target rushes onto the stage - and right beneath a light fixture you have rigged to explode and fall. Police rush right past you as you exit the building, not suspecting for a moment that this is anything more than a tragic accident.

That's basically how your average hit might go in Hitman Blood Money, the fourth installment of Io Interactive's series of stealth games. Although the last game, Contracts, was really more of an upgrade from Silent Assassin than a real sequel, Blood Money expands the Hitman formula in nearly every way to create probably the best game in the series yet.

In this new game you'll once again take on the role of Agent 47, a bald clone considered to be the most ruthlessly efficient assassin alive, as he performs even more hits while himself being hunted down by a mysterious organization.

One of the first noticeable improvements made in Blood Money is the new graphics engine that Io has created for the game, which looks excellent on every platform. Texture and lighting effects in this game are particularly impressive, especially on the Xbox360 and PC.

In addition to looking better, the levels in Blood Money are also far larger, more detailed, and much more populated than ever before, oftentimes pulling off things I didn't think were possible on the PS2, like having areas filled with literally hundreds of characters onscreen at once without so much as a hiccup in the framerate.

Larger environments means that missions in this game are larger and more complex in scale. While the previous games were mostly one target per mission, nearly every level in Blood Money has at least two targets, with one in particular tasking you with the job of dealing with over half a dozen. The missions in Blood Money also exhibit a pretty nice variety, taking you to places such as an opera, a rehab clinic, a suburban neighborhood, a playboy mansion, Vegas, and even the White House (which has one of the most intimidating security details I've seen yet). Despite how interesting this game's story actually is, whenever I completed a mission, the first thing that would go through my mind would be "what kind of place are they gonna have me go to next?"

The trademark of the Hitman games has always been the level of freedom given in how you actually carry out each hit. Blood Money takes this and expands upon it nicely, with each mission giving you several routes to reaching and eliminating your target.

For instance, instead of simply replacing that gun in the opera mission described above, you also had the option of sneaking into one of the upper booths of the theater and shooting the target with a sniper rifle, timing your shot with the music so as to mask the gunshot. You also could have knocked out one of the actors, gone onstage with the real gun disguised as the actor, and shot the target up close, making sure to act along with the play so as to avoid suspicion.

Possibly the coolest new addition to the series in Blood Money is the ability to make a hit look like a complete accident, thus removing all suspicion from you. This could be done as simply as shoving someone over a ledge or poisoning someone's food or drink, or even going as far as to rig a chandelier or other heavy object to fall on someone or even rig someone's stove to explode, burning them to a crisp in front of everyone without so much as a spec of suspicion being placed on you if you can pull it off right.

However, successfully pulling off a hit in this game requires a considerable amount of observation, planning, and patience. Before I actually knew how to get to and kill each target at that opera, I had to walk around and scout things out for several minutes on my first try, examining the area's layout, seeing where people go when, figuring out what kind of disguise I needed in order to get where I wanted to go, and finally devising a plan based on the options I saw I had.

One of the things I liked about doing this in Blood Money is that the improved AI gave me a little bit more elbow room when trying to test the environment. Whenever I tried to go somewhere that was restricted, instead of immediately shooing at me and forcing me to restart the level, guards would simply shoo me away or pull out their guns with a warning. I did hear about some issues with the AI from other people, but I never encountered them.

When actually carrying out missions though, one of the biggest issues with the Hitman games has always been the trial and error that the gameplay involved. In the past games there would be parts where you'd have to retry certain things repeatedly before getting them just right to complete the mission. When playing Blood Money this didn't happen to me nearly as much as before, but only because I took the time to fully observe each area to the point of where I had a pretty good plan formulated. If you're not as patient as I might be with stealth games though, then you might still have to go though quite a bit of trial and error to get each mission right.

This also applies for getting the Silent Assassin ranking (perfect score) on each mission. Usually in the past games to be awarded the Silent Assassin rank you had to memorize a mission by playing through it several times. In Blood Money I've been able to get either Silent Assassin or the next best rank on every mission on the first or second try simply because I was able to think things through a little bit.

In one level I could have taken out a target literally seconds after starting the mission by simply aiming upwards and shooting out the bottom of the Jacuzzi he was in, dropping him 70 feet onto the ground below. But instead I tried to think of a more discreet way of killing him and eventually ended up spiking his drink with an aphrodisiac which caused him to head back to one of the private rooms with a girl where I followed him and took him out without anyone seeing.

You could say that this level design does make the game easier but it also makes it more intuitive and to some extent removes the trial and error aspect depending on how you play. For a lot of people this might also bring about probably Blood Money's biggest single disappointment - the save system.

Hitman games have always allowed you to save anywhere at any time, this game still does that which is nice for quickly being able to retry certain parts. But the difference here is that when you quit the game, restart the mission, or turn off the system, you lose all mid-mission saves, which means you basically have to do each mission in one sitting no matter how long it takes. This can become aggravating if you don't have a lot of time to sit down and play the game for long stretches.

In addition to the level design, the controls in Blood Money have also been retooled a bit to seem more intuitive, with the inclusion of three context sensitive buttons as well as a bunch of new actions that 47 can perform. Actions like taking human shields, instantly disarming enemies, and instinctively hiding drawn weapons behind his back when near other people. These controls work out just fine on any controller but took me a while to get used to in the PC version.

One of the most important things you do while playing Hitman - hiding bodies, has also been made less of a hassle in Blood Money. Instead of having to drag bodies around a corner or where you hope they might be out of site, you can now simply dump them in nearby trash bins or over cliffs with a simple press of the action button.

In Blood Money you've also been given new equipment for each mission. Standard equipment includes your basic silverballer pistol and fiber wire as well as new additions like the poison and sedative syringes, remote controlled bombs, and coins for distracting people. While the coins proved to be almost useless to me, the other new tools became indispensable when it came to making hits look like accidents.

This brings me to one of the cooler additions to Blood Money that expands upon the different ways you can play it - the ability to control your finances. Depending on how you do in each mission you are paid in actual money that you can spend on all sorts of things like upgrading weapons and buying equipment (like a briefcase to hide rifles in) and even Intel on each mission. At the beginning of the game I started out with a single standard silverballer pistol. By the end of the game I had two silenced pistols with laser sights, expanded clips, magnum ammo, and scopes. Don't even get me started on the sniper rifle.

One of the other things you can spend money on is bribes. Among the new things introduced in Blood Money is the notoriety system. One nice little touch that Io put into this game is the newspaper clippings at the end of each level, which you can read to find out how much the police know about you based on the amount of noise you made and how many witnesses you left during each mission which cause you to gain notoriety, which could make later missions harder since people will start to recognize you from the newspapers. If this happens you'll be forced to spend your hard earned money on bribes and possibly new identities instead of new upgrades for weapons.

One final compliment I want to give to this game is to its music score. Once again Jesper Kyd and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra bring an excellent score to a Hitman game, comprised mainly of orchestral music with a little techno. Not only is the music nicely composed, but it also happens to kick in at just the right moment in each level to perfectly fit the mood of each situation, whether you've just begun your operation, are closing in on your target, or are engaged in combat. The whole score only adds to game's already above average presentation.

Bottom Line
Hitman Blood Money takes just about everything that made the previous games and expands upon it, starting with a brand new graphics engine that looks great on every platform, then offering new ways and new tools with which to kill your targets, new ways to cover it up, and a system that in the end is more intuitive and accessible than before, if also a bit easier. The save system may have been a step back from before but for me it was only a minor setback from what overall was an experience that set out to and succeeded in making me feel like a badass assassin.


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