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Hitman: Blood Money (PlayStation 2) artwork

Hitman: Blood Money (PlayStation 2) review

"Is it his style, his attitude, or the artistry in his skill? Maybe he is the manifestation of our own sadistic fantasies."

What is the reasoning behind our obsession with the contract killer, and why have we romanticized him into an archetype beyond that of a lowlife thug? Is it his style, his attitude, or the artistry in his skill? Maybe he is the manifestation of our own sadistic fantasies. Or perhaps, as I tend to believe, it is his devout individualism. He lives according to his own laws, free from the burdens of familial and financial constraints. He is the ultimate entrepreneur, able to perform his work as he pleases. Like a phantom, he can become anyone and go anywhere, and when the job is complete, he disappears as effortlessly as he came.

Such is the life of 47, the mysterious cloned hitman. 47 is an urban legend, but one that is all too real for Jack, a decrepit FBI agent. Nearing his death bed, Jack reveals the story behind his long pursuit of the infamous killer to a skeptical journalist. As Jack’s tale unfolds, so does the player’s journey in Hitman: Blood Money, guiding 47 through each level to its grisly conclusion. It’s an interesting premise that sends 47 on a globe-trotting adventure, but one that seems without rhyme or reason. With a paper-thin story that is barely able to connect the dots between missions, I wonder what drives 47 to continually risk life and limb. Maybe this is just a sadistic fantasy after all.

I have heard Hitman compared to other series such as Splinter Cell, Syphon Filter, and even Metal Gear Solid. All are third-person action games with varying degrees of stealth, but the similarities end there. Most of the hits in Blood Money take place in very public areas and often in broad daylight, so discretion is more important than stealth, and run-n-gun tactics will get you killed faster than an insult to Joe Pesci. The beauty of Blood Money is that, without shadows to hide in or the arsenal of a tank on your back, it encourages ingenuity. When assigned to a mission, you will have your objectives, a map, a few supplies like fiber-wire and poison-filled syringes, and possibly a pistol. Getting past security, locating the target, and finding a way to pull off the hit are your responsibilities.

This open mission structure is only possible due to the wealth of options provided for the player. 47 can kill or subdue characters to obtain items or don their clothing, conceal weapons in an everyday container like a toolbox to carry around, distract characters with the flick of a coin, and orchestrate elaborate “accidents” to name a few of his abilities. In one particular level, you might choose to steal admission papers and sign up as a patient to get inside a rehab clinic. You might even take down a security guard to get his uniform, silence the sole witness, and then dump both of their bodies in the garbage. I opted to sneak inside and sedate one of the orderlies in the basement so that I could take his uniform and keys. There are countless ways to make your way through a level, so reconnaissance should be priority number one; disguise yourself and see where you can go undetected, study your surroundings to plan your route, and watch enemy patterns to strategize the final blow. However the target goes down, walking freely out the front door with no one the wiser is a morbidly good feeling.

With such intelligent level design, it’s a shame that spotty controls and occasionally questionable A.I. hold Blood Money back. Platforming abilities are automated, and 47 seems to have a magnetic attraction to climbing over ledges, regardless of the resulting drops. On the flipside, he also appears to have an irrational fear of climbing through open windows. 47 can perform a number of context-specific actions, such as disarming, strangling, headbutting, and pushing, but someone had the bright idea of assigning them all to a single button. They may work properly nine out of ten times, but that one remaining time can ruin an entire run. Imagine sneaking up behind a guard, your fiber-wire pulled taught, but instead of strangling him, 47 gives him a schoolyard-style shove. The guard pulls out his gun and fires a round. Within seconds the room is packed with guards, your cover is blown, and even if you survive, you’ll lose a good chunk of your paycheck covering up the incident. This, coupled with A.I. that is dumb as a rock one moment, but omniscient the next, means you need to get reacquainted with that famous menu combination; pause, load game.

Before a mission begins, you are given the opportunity to choose your weapons and upgrade equipment. In addition to your standard weaponry, you will find unique weapons throughout Blood Money that can be carried into other missions. Some of the unique weapons, like the nailgun, became instant favorites of mine, but rarely will you ever need anything other than 47’s classic pistol, the Silverballer, with a purchased silencer. At the end of a mission you are graded on your performance and given payment, minus the money to replace lost equipment and send in cleaners for damage control. If there were any witnesses, a notoriety bar rises, making it more likely that you will be identified in future missions, but a few bribes to civilians and police officers can take care of that. This post-mission briefing is interesting, but oppressive. The open mission structure is Blood Money’s strongest suit, but to get the best grade, get paid the highest sum, and keep your notoriety at zero, there is always an optimal way through a level.

Hitman: Blood Money is an enjoyable game but where it succeeds in concept, it often fails in execution. It is a battle of contradictions. The story provides an array of levels, but at the cost of continuity and a sense of accomplishment. Exploration is rewarded with unique weapons, but they generally serve no purpose. There is so much potential for creativity in performing a hit, but often with a negative impact to your final results. In the end, the only driving force behind Blood Money is the search for perfect routes. Once you have found them, there is nothing left to do but start over and fulfill your fantasies with the kill-em-all approach.

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Staff review by Brian Rowe (June 16, 2006)

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