Hitman: Blood Money

Blending into the crowd like a pro.

Murdering for fun and profit.

In the old days, just about any old computer would run a Hitman game. The Eidos Interactive franchise featuring the contract killing Mr. Clean known only as Agent 47 was typically made with console systems in mind, so any PC worth its salt had zero problems depicting all the razor-wire murdering goodness at tolerable framerates. With the exception of some iffy performance issues, Hitman Blood Money lets you engage in the same brand of criminal activity that made the original a classic.

The missions in Hitman Blood Money have received the most attention. Assignments are still designed with the series’ trademark “Get in, kill people, get out†template, but locales are more varied than ever, and maps are extraordinarily intricate and open ended. Locations like a Chilean drug hacienda, the Paris Opera House, a California rehab clinic, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and the White House look fantastic, with loads of detail in every room, great atmospheric audio, and level-appropriate soundtrack tunes.

Each setting features dozens of ways to get to your targets. Best of all, you’re never forced to take the direct approach. Almost every mission allows you to set up “accidents†and take out victims on the sly. Grab a disguise and do some exploring, and you’ll soon discover that you can skip shooting the ambassador at the opera house and just drop a chandelier on him. Get behind gangsters hanging out on balconies on the river boat, and you can trigger a wave of “suicides.†There is a lot of room to be inventively malevolent here.

Still, levels in Hitman: Blood Money aren’t exactly wide open. Unlike previous releases in the series, this one makes it insanely tough to attack missions as if you are playing a shooter, at least on the default difficulty setting. One nonsilenced shot goes off and you’re almost instantly surrounded by gangs of guards.

2There is little chance of surviving encounters with these goon squads, moreover, because just a couple of enemies onscreen cause the frame-rate to plummet on an old PC. If the developer was trying to address criticisms to the effect that earlier Hitman games were too easy for Rambo wannabes, mission accomplished. But even if you don’t have any framerate issues, surviving a prolonged gun battle on anything but the Easy and Normal difficulties is next to impossible since just about every guard in the map will zero in on your location once you start blazing.

The best approach is to be sneaky, though here too there can be problems. Movement in general feels clunky, especially given that you’re supposed to be the world’s most deadly assassin. Guards are more aware of you than ever before and will turn around at the slightest noise. Your creep speed with razor-wire at the ready is now so slow that it’s tough to catch up with walking guards in order to pull off quiet kills.

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Some basic moves have been automated, so it’s easy to alert guards unintentionally by accidentally jumping across a gap or climbing in a window. And positioning is overly touchy, forcing you to be in just the right place to hit an elevator button, pick up ammo, or grab a disguise quickly.

Other changes are more beneficial. New combat actions liven up the ways in which 47 takes out foes. For example, you can get close to a guard, punch his nose into his face and grab his handgun in one cool move. Notoriety is also tracked through the entire game. Screw up an assignment by getting spotted too often or by getting your mug captured on closed-circuit TV cameras, and you’ll have to spend big bucks on bribes to prevent guards from recognizing you in subsequent levels.

6Cash can now be spent on dozens of weapon upgrades that carry forward from level to level, allowing you to add such niceties as silencers, lasers or scopes. Cash overall is more important than even in the first game, and of course you get more greens by performing clean hits – which usually entails figuring out the levels as if they were giant puzzles. Lastly, a new alert system splits the screen into two parts when something really important happens. It’s more annoying than helpful, however – a simple message would be less obstructive.

Were it not for performance issues, Hitman: Blood Money would be a worthwhile play for anyone into the franchise’s nihilistic humor. So, if you really want to keep up with Agent 47’s fourth hits, consider playing it if you have the system to run this game. Ans without spoiling the story, I also have to say that it’s worth playing to the end since Blood Money might have the most awesome ending I have ever seen in a computer game.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 4.2 GB HDD, 64 MB Cideo, WinXP

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