Nothing quite like a hit from the past.
There’s no plot thread tying Contract’s missions together, but if you follow the cutscenes you’ll gather that 47 has suffered a terrible gunshot wound and he’s on the brink of death. He goes into flashback mode and recollects some of his most dangerous jobs, and that’s essentially the game for twelve missions. It’s somewhat disappointing that there’s nothing added to the original formula of ‘sneak into location X and eliminate target Y’, but those who’ve enjoyed the gameplay from Silent Assassin will likely get a kick out of Contract’s overall challenging mission design.
What is unquestionably new is the shift in atmosphere, which has taken a much darker tone. It’s actually a welcome change in style as it lets us experience events from the warped perspective of our tragic hero, lending a sort of dreamlike quality to the game. It’s dark and rainy in every mission, the music is surreal and the occasional horrific discovery – be it torture victims, murder, sexual deviancy, etc. – adds greatly to the unsettling atmosphere.
My Mind Is A Very Dark Place
There are only about half as many missions here than in the previous game, and half of those remaining are remakes from the first Hitman game. In a way it’s nice to get to play some of these old missions as they probably should have been played the first time around. On the other hand, those who’ve stuck with the Hitman series from the very beginning might not entirely appreciate the dÃ©jÃ vu and end up feeling ripped off. There’s the classic Gellert spa hotel in Budapest, practically all of the Lee Hong missions as well as that creepy Romanian asylum from the end of Hitman: Codename 47 (which actually makes up the first level of Contracts).
But overall I’ve enjoyed the new levels much more than the remakes, perhaps because I’ve replayed Codename 47 several times. There’s one gritty mission where you have to sneak into a depraved party set in a slaughterhouse, one where you must murder an English gent in his extravagant mansion and a few more generic ones set in Russia and Rotterdam. Naturally there are several ways of accomplishing objectives, and the more stealthy you are the better your end-mission ranking will be. It takes quite a lot of exploration, patience and ingenuity to figure out exactly what the game is trying to get you to do, but it’s quite rewarding when you’ve untangled it all. Contracts is definitely a thinking man’s shooter, but it’s still surprisingly cathartic when you go all-out ballistic.
Killing in the rain
The AI hasn’t changed that much despite the boasting of a new squad-based system. It’s there, but enemy guards still tend to behave as individual actors and not as organized groups. You can easily attract enemies to you with a few gunshots, and then wait around a corner to dispatch them as they simply rush straight at you Lemmings style. The overall difficulty of the game is nicely balanced, so on the lower end you enjoy a much more forgiving stealth and combat system, while on the higher you’re forced to rely almost exclusively on stealth because of slashed hitpoints.
There’s not much here that we haven’t already seen in the first two games, so if it’s more of the same you’re looking for then by all means go for it. The one plus here is that the formula has been noticeably refined and polished. In the end, the level design has plenty of clever puzzles and patient sneaking around to keep most fans of the series interested.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, Win98