Killing for money. It is a simple enough concept really: you take the contract, find your target, eliminate them, and then escape. Easy, right? Wrong…
Hitman: Contracts takes us back into the shadow world of Agent 47, the bald man in black from Hitman 1 and 2. IO Interactive has changed things up this time however, as we get to look deep into the mind of Agent 47 and see what is looking back. Welcome to Hitman: Contracts.
The game kicks off with Agent 47 contemplating the weight of his actions, just before some very unfortunate events lands him in the insane asylum. Events unfold which place you back into the employment of The Agency and you are back in the role of contract killer, but we have been here before haven’t we?
Hitman: Contracts is a good looking game, and so was Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. Both titles feature a clean graphics engine and physics system that simply ‘got it right the first time.’ You will see some detail upgrades throughout the title, but for the most part it looks very similar to its predecessor.
As they say, the devil is in the details, and you will be amazed at the subtle detail upgrades in this title. Pools of blood (and there are plenty) reflect in a slightly distorted glistening effect that has to be seen to believed. This same detail is present in some of the freaks you will encounter wearing full latex body suits that give off a sheen as they dance in the Meat King’s…uh…club?
The lighting engine got a bit of a face lift as well. Real-time lighting casts shadows where you’d expect them. Those same shadows are manipulated by the characters and objects that pass through them, and it is impressive. The environments that the characters inhabit are equally detailed. The realm of the Meat King is a meat packing facility as you might expect, but behind the blood-soaked door lies a dominatrix-filled freak club filled with hookers, lawyers, and other parasites to humanity. (Apologies to the hookers for putting them in the same pool with the lawyers)
Not all of your contracts will be indoors, you will also spend some time out in the blood-soaked snow. The snow effects are very well done as changes in the wind will blow the snowflakes around you in a very realistic fashion. In fact, realism seems to be the order of the day with Hitman: Contracts, from the look of the scope on the Dragonov rifle to the realistic way the bodies flop about as you drag them away.
One might say this has all been done before, but again it was done right the first time so why fix what isn’t broke?
The music for the Hitman series is handled by Jesper Kyd, but this time he has moved the music to a much darker place to match the darker tone of the game. Each area of the game features a different track that matches the area with perfection. Taking a whole new direction, the full orchestral music that was present in the previous titles is decidedly absent and replaced by a more modern electronica-inspired tracks. This welcome change works surprisingly well and manages to fly between dark and motivating with ease.
Another change to the series is Agent 47’s detailed voicework. As you might expect, Agent 47 is a deep-voiced and well spoken man with an icy tone that fits his sleek and clean appearance. Other characters also get similar treatment with much of the people you encounter receiving at least a few voiceovers to bring a bit more life to their environment. Nothing ruins immersion faster than a wooden actor or actors, you won’t have that problem in Hitman: Contracts.
The controls for Hitman: Contracts are fairly straightforward. The left analog stick moves Agent 47, and the right analog stick controls the camera. You can lean left and right with the D-Pad which also controls menu selections in-game. The rest of the controls are set up for inventory, reload, crouch, fire, etc. as you might expect. It all works very well until the action picks up a little.
Hitman: Contracts is built from the ground up as a stealth title. That said, the controls are not made for run and gun gameplay per se and become a bit too erratic to be really effective. This may have been on purpose as run and gun play should be somewhat erratic and inaccurate, but the issue remains just the same. Stick to stealth for which the controls were made and you’ll see no issues with them.
The control is the bane of any 3D title, but this is another example of ‘doing it right the first time’. Hitman 1 had a good camera system and minor tweaks have only improved it for this title. You can also switch to a first person view for a different view of your surroundings, although you can’t run around in first person and ‘Quake’ your way through the level. This is a good thing in my opinion as the game is simply not designed for that style of play.
Hitman: Contracts is less about new contracts and more about old contracts and the way that they come back to haunt you. Agent 47 isn’t named Agent 47 because it sounds cool…he is named Agent 47 because there are 46 just like him. As you can imagine, having a bunch of clones very much as lethal as you running around can be an asset, or if things go South, a very large liability. That liability is played out in the very beginning of the title with ruthless precision. You’ll find yourself traveling through the halls of a mental ward riddled with bodies that look just like you. Given that they were all executed in rapid fashion and lie cold in pools of blood it should make you a little nervous…except that you did it.
You start off at your apartment suffering from a gutshot wound earned during your escape from the hospital mentioned above. (This scenario played itself out at the end of Hitman 1) You begin to think about the missions you’ve taken in the past, that is to say you will be replaying some of the best missions from the previous two titles. There is a twist however, because your mind can sometimes change things a bit. The pain as you bleed out makes things a bit fuzzy, but it is punctuated by sharp blasts into the present to progress your story.
Although you might be playing a level similar to ones you have played before, you are given a whole new arsenal of weapons to accomplish your goals. The levels are laid out similarly to the way they were the first run through, but this time your arsenal of weapons have increased ten-fold. You can use poison syringes, tons of pistols and rifles, your trusty fiber-wire, steel meat hooks, pool cues, and more to eliminate those standing in the way of your missions. You might not think that it would change things so drastically, but let me assure you that a single gunshot will bring things down on your head whereas a silent needle stick to the neck is quiet and quick. The animations with the new weapons are as cool as the implementation. A meat hook to the back looks like it hurts as much as you might expect, and you can use the pillow as a makeshift silencer, a move I’ve wanted to pull off since the first Hitman.
Thankfully you won’t be playing just a ‘best of’ title. New levels are added to keep you moving. I won’t give you the details as it can ruin the story, but know that each level is as detailed and expansive as the last. The levels are set up for stealth gameplay, and if you play it that way you will get the most out of it. If you run and gun you will miss the point of the title, which can lead to a bit of frustration as your rating is dependent on your ability to keep it cool. Being a mass murderer is not nearly as rewarding as getting the coveted title of Professional.
The enemy AI will be doing its best to try to stop you from getting any title, and they seem to be far more suspicious of you than in previous titles. This will play a big part in the way the previous levels play out as the tactics you once used might not work on the new AI. The stealth meter in the lower left corner keeps you abreast of how aware the enemy is of you and of how close you are to being detected. It pulses like a heart and as it moves into the red you are in serious danger of being detected. Unlike previous titles, you can’t stand in a room with even a perfect disguise for long because the enemy will eventually notice that you don’t belong.
The question that I’ve been asked more and more is “But is it different enough?” Well, I believe that there is enough of a difference to say yes. The story combined with the new tools of your job make for a compelling enough reason to pick up the title.
I think that the value of this title will be in the retelling of previous missions. If you really enjoyed those previous missions, and I know I did, then you will really enjoy the new ways in which you can approach them. The new graphics engine and some more ‘weight’ to the story make for a more immersive game which is punctuated by a great new music score. Replaying the new missions is also a great deal of fun as long as you don’t mind some of the trial and error gameplay that is inherent in the stealth genre. The saving grace is that for the vast majority of the title, you are not put on rails with only one way to accomplish your mission.