STAFF REVIEW of Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox 360)

Friday, June 2, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

Hitman: Blood Money Box art Agent 47 is back in Eidos 4th installment of the Hitman series called Hitman: Blood Money. Before I go into details lets just think what has compelled people to play the Hitman series anyway. I think it?s the fact that this series forces you to think, to plan, to find a viable way to do your mission. This is what makes an assassin different from a serial killer. And there?s always the fact that there is a reason behind a kill. Blood Money hasn?t changed much since the last game in terms of the way the game plays. You still will enjoy the storyline and yes you can still strangle enemies with your handy fiber wire. Also this game is not a game where you can happily blast your way through any opposition without fear of consequences, Blood Money has put the emphasis right back on melting into the shadows again.

It's achieved this via the clever use of the titular blood money and the notoriety system. While each hit grants you a fee, if you should manage to complete it without anyone noticing your presence, this cash sum will be increased. However, get your bald mug on camera, leave corpses out in the open or just leave plenty of witnesses in your wake and you'll soon find your notoriety rising. Finish a level and the next day's papers will report on the deaths (featuring such information as your favorite weapon, number of people killed, accuracy and more), and may even feature an appropriately accurate photofit of who the police are now looking for. It's a novel way to present the information and one that works extremely well, allowing you to review your mission progress by way of something that's easy to digest and fun to read. Should your notoriety level get too high, you can choose to spend some of your hard-earned cash on bribes to lower it. Don't do this and your face becomes increasingly recognisable, thus making further levels even harder to pull off without everyone running screaming from you at first sight. Money can also be spent on a series of weapons upgrades, which give yet another incentive to keep your head down. It's a streamlined system that once again places the emphasis exactly where it needs to be: on stealth.

Now that sneakiness is again a priority, Eidos has introduced 'accidental' deaths to help you fulfill your contracts without a trace. These unfailingly inventive and often hilarious ways to bump off your targets range from rigging someone's barbecue with lighter fluid, to dropping a suspended piano on their heads - but by far our favourite 'accident' is rigging a pyrotechnics display used by a dancer in a club. When the dancer comes out, the flames set her on fire and she rolls over until dropping straight into the shark tank below, where one of the oversized fishes promptly gobbles up its impromptu meal. It's completely twisted yet utterly brilliant and brings a whole new dimension to the game. Finding out just how to pull a complicated accident off effectively can take hours of observation, but once you've seen one target pop their clogs without anyone even suspecting you, it soon becomes quite addictive and you'll find yourself resorting to weapons less and less.

Hitman: Blood Money looks great on all platforms. Whether you're playing the game on Xbox or Xbox 360, you get the same supreme style and well modeled environments. The Xbox versions clearly can't quite compete with the Xbox 360 and PC versions, in terms of resolution, frame rate and subtlety of lighting, but on their respective systems they're quite an achievement. In truth, while the Xbox 360 version looks nicely polished, it's not all that much of a leap, particularly if you're not running the game on a High Definition TV. The visuals are accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack that really hits the mark, and while the voice acting sounds a tad unnatural at times, on the whole this is the sleekest Hitman title to date. Xbox 360 owners can also attempt to unlock the 24 Achievements the game has to offer, which is far from an easy task.

The save system will undoubtedly cause a little unrest amongst players, with various options available depending on the difficulty you're playing the game on. The number of mid-mission saves you can use ranges from infinite to none, but these are purely mid-mission saves and they're lost when you quit the game or restart the system. This actually sounds worse than it is, as most missions can be completed in a relatively short amount of time once you know what you're doing. Still, if you have to unexpectedly stop playing and you're doing well, you'll have to start over next time or leave the game on until you return.

Where Blood Money really shines is in the amazingly inventive level design. Gone are the drab confines of Contract's levels, to be replaced with gaudy and flamboyant levels bursting with colour and activity, from casinos through heaven and hell-themed nightclubs to Mardi Gras festivals. The latter two levels deserve a special mention as both feature literally hundreds upon hundreds of extras, giving 47 a potential wardrobe choice equal to Paris Hilton.

It may not be the most graphically intense game on the 360, but the very locations themselves still have a definite wow factor. Each level is well laid out with many different areas, checkpoints and guards that should keep your killer instinct in good shape working out how to avoid being spotted. Playing the role of hired killer is now more joy than chore thanks to the new moves that 47's picked up. He can turn weapons upon their owners, use human shields, push people over ledges and stash bodies to make them harder to find. Put together, these new features cause the game to flow more naturally than its predecessors and really make it a joy to play.

The only problem I find are that of the traditional but unwieldy inventory, and the context-based button presses which can often find you swapping outfits when you really wanted to haul the dead body away. They're minor complaints, but right in the thick of things, choosing the wrong option can mean the difference between life and death. Enemy AI has also received a boost and with guards following blood trails, talking on their radios and searching you for weapons when entering restricted areas, it's harder than ever to get away with murder.

The music is moody, dark and surreal. It's often not really a song at all, just eerie waves of sound, and electronic drums slowly pounding. Each level provides a different style or music, since each takes place at a different time or place, so don't expect to hear the standard classical orchestrated music from the previous games. This one is different. Also, oftentimes, there is simple silence, and as I play more games, I find that sometimes silence truly is golden. Another interesting note is that Agent 47 talks in this one. He doesn't talk a lot, but you hear his voice enough to get a better sense of his uh, personality. It works, too. The voice actor who plays Agent 47 is a deep-voiced man with a clear, distinct tone and he speaks the way I would have expected him to sound.

While the training level in an abandoned funfair is a fantastic introduction, there's still a pretty steep learning curve to be crossed when you head over to the first proper level. We reckon it's one of the most unforgiving in the game, but don't let that put you off, as you'll soon settle into your assumed assassin role. With its amazing sets, inventive ways of killing, solid storyline with a great twist at the end and more emphasis on stealth, 47's latest is not only the most accomplished Hitman title ever, but a serious contender in the world of stealth gaming.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.8 / 10
Visuals: 7.8 / 10
Sound: 8.2 / 10


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