It’s fair to say the Hitman series has come a long way. From its PC debut through the latest outing – the series has always tried to stand apart from the crowd. In Agent 47, IO-Interactive created an iconic character whose cold and ruthless nature worked wonderfully against the more abstract humor presented by the series. When you’re taking targets out dressed as a clown or blowing up targets with a rubber duck, you have to be able to work both sides of the line. For me, the series never quite peaked more than in 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money.
Blood Money was the series finest hour for many reasons – not least because it felt like the developers had finally cracked the formula. The first Hitman game was a largely forgettable outing, an unrefined beast that had interesting ideas but didn’t quite know how to put them together. It would be 2003’s Hitman 2: Silent Assassin where the series would begin to show its AAA-pedigree – delivering a complete experience that felt more like the Hitman game fans wanted. 2004’s Contracts was mostly just filler – a way for the series to remain fresh in the mind while IO-Interactive worked on their next big title – Blood Money.
Blood Money’s story is by and large a backseat passenger to the gameplay, but it does become more and more important as the game progresses. Framed through a series of flashbacks, the game recounts a number of hits that 47 has been involved with over the past year. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that the US Government and “The Franchise” have been working to close the net on 47 and his Agency. With the net tightening, can Agent 47 and his handler Diana survive?
One of the best things about the Hitman series (something Absolution forgot) is that it relishes in its open-ended nature. Every level is teeming with opportunity and the chance for discovery. From open windows to locked doors – the game’s levels are designed in a way that encourages experimentation. One play through might see you dressing up as a clown to blend into a party, the next will see you dressed as a chef to poison the cake. It doesn’t matter if it goes wrong – in honesty that’s part of the fun.
For the most part – Blood Money’s levels are excellently designed. From neighbourhood cul-de-sacs through to the heavy bass of Heaven and Hell nightclubs – each level has a unique feel that makes it worth the experience. This isn’t to say all levels are excellent, but there’s more hits than misses in the game. Each is littered with items, opportunities and plenty of scope. Unlike later games (Which hold a huge neon light above every opportunity) Blood Money expects you to find them in the level. There’s a purpose to exploring every room and looking at every angle to achieve the best result.
Speaking of best result, Blood Money allows you to accumulate money and upgrade items and weapons. The better you perform on levels, the more money you earn – which can then be spent upgrading the weapons you need. Fancy buying a silencer for your pistol? That’s great. Prefer the idea of dual wielding and going crazy? The game allows you to do this – tailoring the experience to your style and approach. Of course the game would prefer you to behave in a silent manner – but the option of running and gunning is there.
Perhaps the most ingenious way of controlling this though comes in your reputation meter. At the end of each mission, the scale of your brashness is rated. This is conveyed to you in the form of a newspaper article, which details your exploits. If you left a trail of witnesses in your wake who saw you do the deed, the stories hone in on Agent 47 and become much more detailed. He becomes more recognisable to the NPC’s of the world, eventually reacting if they see him (even in costume). Your actions in this game have consequences – and they can mess you up in the grandest of scales if you don’t keep your anger under control. You can bribe the police to lower this score – but that’s money you don’t get to spend on your weapons.
What’s brilliant though about Blood Money is that no two play throughs are the same. Every interaction and every little incident changes the nature of the game and stacks the difficulty. It’s the tension of hoping that guards don’t see through your disguises. That you’re erratic movements don’t give away your plans. It’s hoping NPC’s don’t wander into view at the wrong moment as you’re dragging a body to a dumpster. Blood Money makes being a hitman so much fun – it elevates the series gameplay to grander levels and does so with little hindrance to the overall experience.
Hitman: Blood Money remains the series best outing. While later games would focus more on creating linear experiences, Blood Money works as an experimentation title. It’s just a blast to play and holds up all these years later. I wish Square (Or IO-Interactive) would come back to this format and deliver more of this game. Even as singular experiences, they work brilliantly.