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Hitman: Contracts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Hitman: Contracts (PlayStation 2) review


"Hitman: Codename 47 was an average PC action game in which Agent 47, a genetically engineered executioner much in demand, would be regularly hired by clients through an invisible government “Agency” to carry out hits across the globe. The game had obtuse controls and no save option, its chief redeeming feature Mr. 47 himself – a well-dressed, well-built chap, polite in conversation and exuding inimitable charm. He also happened to like a bit of the old ultraviolence. "



Hitman: Codename 47 was an average PC action game in which Agent 47, a genetically engineered executioner much in demand, would be regularly hired by clients through an invisible government “Agency” to carry out hits across the globe. The game had obtuse controls and no save option, its chief redeeming feature Mr. 47 himself – a well-dressed, well-built chap, polite in conversation and exuding inimitable charm. He also happened to like a bit of the old ultraviolence.

Such fascinating contrast is the ideal recipe for a memorable character, and one that’s so proficient and handsome you kind of want to be him. In Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, 47 came out of retirement, this time with a personal motive. As well as being a better story, Hitman 2 was a better overall product, addressing practically everything that was wrong with the original. It was brilliant, actually, and possibly one of the finest games since the turn of the millennium. At the end of Hitman 2, we witnessed 47 leaving a religious sanctuary in Sicily, more human, but still forlorn, unsure of who to trust and who not to.

Hitman: Contracts begins with 47 limping into his Parisian apartment after a botched mission, with a vicious bullet wound to show for it. Yes, the man we always assumed to be invincible is just a man, and he feels pain too. He is dying. As 47 lays on the table, blood pouring from his abdomen, he recalls years gone by – they always said it’s times like this when your life flashes before your eyes. Thankfully, 47’s journey to Death’s Door does not feel like your cliched Little House on the Prairie “will he snuff it or won’t he” episode, in which tearful relatives encircle their bedridden granddad; the total pessimism of 47’s surroundings and his loneliness are quite chilling.

Of course, when you put things into perspective, a going-over of 47’s previous operations is a blatant excuse to once again don the pitch black suit, white shirt and red tie, prepare the fibre wire and reload the pistol, but what’s wrong with that?

As a supplement for fans of Hitman 2, there’s very little wrong with this at all. Contracts looks and plays astonishingly like Hitman 2, see. I can’t see why other reviewers would complain about that; if you attempted to refine the game engine of Hitman 2, it’d be like pinning down a naturally beautiful girl and plastering her in lime green make up. Hitman 2 is suited to the PS2 pad and has smooth controls. Contracts is suited to the PS2 pad and has smooth controls. What I’m hinting at is not hard to decipher. All because this is a follow up doesn’t mean 47 has to “run differently” (I say that because some reviewers have asked why his movement hasn’t been modified – what tripe). Now do you see why things like this haven’t been changed?

Sadly, there is something that needs the tiniest tweak, and that’s the AI. I feel that, when 47 has taken an enemy uniform, the people you subsequently communicate with should be more inquisitive, and not simply turn their heads and dismiss you after a small glance. Imagine you’re inside a Russian army base. The soldiers eat and sleep on the base, so you’d expect them to socialise and get to know each other between shifts or over breakfast. If some guards suspected 47 to be an intruder more intensely than others, as their friend hadn’t returned from the crapper for a good half hour and they’d recognise his face anywhere, that’d be fine.

If and when your cover is blown, usually brought about by committing one noticeable howler, the guards are more intelligent in firefights than they were in Hitman 2, which is nice to see. Being rushed by enemies assembled in single file down a narrow corridor still makes them target practice for your coarse firearm, but in open spaces, such as snow fields, your adversaries will group and attempt to cut you to pieces, while one of the group breaks off to alert guards in other areas. If you don’t stop a second member of the group breaking off, he might be circling a building in order to surprise you from behind, while the supporting members give him covering fire. Real military units work together in comparable fashion, so the developers are certainly progressing ahead of Kamikaze Keith and Suicidal Seth (see Hitman 2).

There are 12 missions to undertake in the game (disappointing on paper after around 20 in Hitman 2, but the content is what matters), a fair few inspired by levels from Hitman 1, such as a gang war campaign in Hong Kong, but with today’s improved graphics, and lessons the developer has learnt since beginning the series, the missions are transformed from mediocre into satisfying and ruthlessly efficient. These “special editions” feel like watching the Director’s Cut version of a film, as you’re playing the levels in a state that the folks behind Contracts would have always wanted you to play them.

A collection of brand new missions compliment the vintage ones, the best by far documenting 47’s infiltration of an English country mansion in order to rescue an American college boy, whack a loopy Lord of the Realm and slay his pompous son in turn. The whole affair is quirky, bizarre and very absorbing, containing multiple ways to approach every objective, with plenty of weapons and disguises strewn across the mansion grounds – it’s what Hitman is all about.

Contracts is full of deeply disturbing moments that players of a nervous disposition may find difficult to stomach. In the very first level, 47 pays a visit to the local asylum; as you proceed through germ-infested, clammy corridors, patients are there to greet you, just rocking back, and forth, and back, and forth on the floor. Seeing as my dad has a history of volatile mental illness, those images alone had me quaking in my boots.

What’s more, the developer is not afraid of peppering the more gory sequences with jet black humour. Picture a once attractive young girl, full of life, sitting on a park bench…now picture the same girl, blindfolded, mutilated, drained of life, hanging from a blood-splattered ceiling. A raw arm is the only part of her carcass that can be identified. And an obese Scottish butcher in crumpled underwear and an apron is admiring his masterpiece, while – wait for it – “Put your head on my shoulder” crackles over a radio in the background. I didn’t make that up, and it’s not to be missed either – this is the developer sadistically manipulating their audience, and I love it. Bear in mind the same mission features a highly energetic yet highly illegal underground opium party, full of seedy guests in horned masks and foul prostitutes; it’s astonishing how Contracts didn’t get the dreaded 18+ tag slapped on it in the UK.

The musical score of Hitman 2, composed by Jesper Kyd and performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, was integral to the very European mood of the game and a perfect companion to trudges through the snow of St. Petersburg. But to tie in with the frightening atmosphere of 47’s brush with the Grim Reaper, Jepser Kyd has gone it alone for Contracts, conjuring up a series of mostly hushed, suspenseful tunes, to represent 47’s irresolute and vulnerable mindset, and his steadily building fear of something being around the corner. Some of these pieces would befit a classy horror story, and Kyd’s ideas gel brilliantly with the gloom of Contracts too.

With a dozen missions to play, most of them sufficiently sized and none of them outright bad, the game might initially take a few days to complete only. Fear not; there is at least one secret to unlock for every mission, and the only way to put the finishing touches to an already delicious arsenal of handguns, shotguns, sub-machine guns and rifles is to sneak your way through the game and keep your aggression levels at zero, to be awarded a “Silent Assassin” rank. Each time you earn Silent Assassin, it unearths a new addition to your armoury, ranging from the plausible – a pair of silenced pistols – to the unfathomable – one Dirty Harry-esque magnum revolver in each hand.

Silent Assassin is how you get the most out of the game, as you carry out the task at hand cleanly and stealthily, never once being sniffed out or caught red-handed. And yes, this is how factual hitmen are expected to do it. Logically, if the main draw of the game is that you can step into the shoes of a gentleman with such a curious career for a few hours, you should get the most pleasure out of emulating 47’s real-life counterparts with style.

This game is by the far the darkest Hitman to date, exposing 47’s physical and emotional weaknesses and dispelling the myth that he is peerless and without equal. He is a flawed human like the rest of us, and a lot of the characters you’ll encounter through the course of the game show you how twisted our species can be. If this is the developer conveying a political, social and/or psychological message, I thank them. If it isn’t, enjoy Contracts for what it is anyway: pretty terrific.

Rating: 9/10

eddy555's avatar
Community review by eddy555 (October 08, 2004)

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