Blood Money takes the best designs from its predecessors to provide more refined gameplay.

User Rating: 8 | Hitman: Blood Money PC

INTRO:

After the series’ semi-reboot in both gameplay and canon in Hitman: Contracts, it may seem like it is getting its act together by addressing the gameplay issues in the first title and cutting out the more-mellowed version of Agent 47 in the second.

Blood Money, which is the fourth main entry in the series, offers a much more involved experience. Unfortunately, the game also comes with some of its own issues, some of which makes the money that Agent 47 earns quite worthless if the player is to play the game as it is intended.

PREMISE & STORY DESIGN:

Blood Money is a sequel to Contracts, so Agent 47 is still the cold-hearted murderer that he was in the previous game. He may be exhibiting more personality quirks in Blood Money, which the player would see as he/she progresses in the story mode. However, his ruthless sense of practicality has not dimmed at all.

Like in the previous game, Blood Money has the assassin-for-hire being sent on his usual missions, which are the elimination of high-profile and well-guarded targets. The story predictably introduces the twist that there is a conspiracy behind these recent missions of 47’s, but compared to the first game’s similar story development, Blood Money has a more exciting presentation, thanks to its access to relatively better graphics technology.

More elaboration on the twist would be a spoiler of course, but Blood Money’s presentation does a lot to provide character to Agent 47’s persona. This assertion will be explained later.

Interestingly, the game has themes of opulence and decadence, which are shown by the locales and people that 47 encounter. This is in addition to the series’ typical signature of having 47’s targets being people of dubious nature and whose deaths most players would have no issue about.

(As a side note, some of the scenes shown in the promotional material for the game turn out to be mere false leads on how the story would turn out.)

CHARACTER DESIGNS:

Where the previous games often portrayed him merely as calm and – in the case of Contracts – occasionally cynical, Blood Money gives Agent 47 more appreciable quirks in his personality. To cite an example, his penchant for his signature black-and-white suit and gloves is mentioned at certain points in the story.

47 does show a softer side of him at one point in the game, but this minor scene changes in tone quickly when he ruthlessly does away with his object of affection after he realized that he has just gotten into trouble.

Indeed, if there was any video game protagonist that is convincingly cold-hearted, it would be Agent 47.

There are other characters that are worthwhile knowing too. Agent 47’s targets happen to be among them. Where his targets in the previous games had little screen time or even voice-overs, the ones in Blood Money have more development assets invested in them, such that they have seemingly more lines and routines.

For example, there is a film-maker that busily goes about his set, making remarks on the scene that he is producing. Occasionally, he will go elsewhere, either to relieve himself, get some refreshments or talk to (or rather, shout at) his employees. This can be seen if the player has Agent 47 stalking him long enough without him realizing.

On the other hand, their ultimately limited roster of routines and pre-scripted responses to alarms can make them look robotic. However, it can be argued that this was done in favour of gameplay expedience.

The miscellaneous characters in the game also have their own flavour. Civilians, in particular, have a lot more routines than most other tertiary characters – routines that the player can exploit to humorous (and usually harmful) effect.

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW:

Much like the previous games in the series, the player is expected to take control of Agent 47 and perform missions that have been given to him. The player still cannot pick contracts and has to go through a linear series of missions. However, there is some replayability that is provided by the difficulty settings, which will be described later.

As is expected of a Hitman title, the player must have Agent 47 navigate through the proverbial lair of a target, after the player has kitted him out for the mission. Any decision that the player makes has to contribute towards eventually cornering and killing 47’s quarry, and then getting out in one piece.

How the player goes about these missions determines the game’s measurement of the player’s performances. Following the tradition of the earlier games, Blood Money prefers that the player be as discrete and careful as possible, e.g. making it look as if the target has died due to an accident. It frowns upon wanton violence, and it so happens that the aforementioned elements of replayability will give such a player the experience that he/she deserves.

DIFFICULTY SETTINGS & NOTORIETY:

The aforementioned elements of replayability concern the difficulty settings of the game and the feature of notoriety.

Before starting a play-through, the player is given the choice of selecting its difficulty level. This is an important decision, because it also happens to have long-term consequences on the level of challenge of the game, not just the difficulty of each individual mission.

One of the main features of the difficulty settings is the mass media coverage of Agent 47’s exploits. Utilizing the story element of Agent 47 becoming more and more of a proven urban legend as the series developed, there is a gameplay feature that tracks the player’s discretion in earlier missions, or lack of it. This in turn affects the difficulty of missions down the line.

The player can be reckless, such as alerting guards and civilians to the presence of Agent 47 as an assassin. The player can also fail to conceal traces of Agent 47’s presence, such as leaving weapons that he has used behind, not hiding bodies and, curiously enough, leaving his original signature suit behind. (The last bit can be amusing to fans of the series.)

All these will be noted in the mission debriefing and they contribute to an unseen notoriety counter; surviving witnesses contribute even more, and even dead ones still tell tales, apparently. Although the rating of the counter cannot be immediately known, it can still be gauged from the media articles that the player can read before and after missions.

The different difficulty options determine the proportion of the total contribution that will go into the counter. There are options that completely eliminate the contribution, while the less forgiving ones require the player to be very discrete.

The rating of the notoriety counter determines how easily civilians and guards can recognize Agent 47, including when he is in disguise. It may also cause more guards to be spawned into the map when the player starts the mission.

The player can spend money to reduce notoriety to zero before every mission, but this is a costly choice. Moreover, it may seem too much of a convenience that the player can just spend money to silence the rumours about 47’s involvement.

Other than this dubious design, the notoriety system provides the difficulty settings with sophistication beyond merely tweaking the ratio of damage that Agent 47 can take and the damage that enemies can take.

There are also other things about the difficulty settings that concern other elements of the game, which will be described shortly.

SAVING GAMES:

Perhaps not without some contention, Blood Money continues the series’ policy of tying the game-saving feature with the difficulty settings. Moreover, it continues the series’ limitation of only one temporary game-save for the current mission in play, which is lost if the player quits the game.

The freedom to save and reload a game anytime is associated with the lowest difficulty setting, “Rookie”; this can give off a condescending vibe. Any higher difficulty setting limits the number of game-saves that the player can make in a mission. The last one, “Pro”, takes the convenience away altogether.

The notion that the convenience of being able to save and reload games constitutes a reduction to the challenge of a game is not without reason. Yet, this convenience is irrevocably still tied to the perception of user-friendliness on the part of the game. Besides, simply bad luck, e.g. power outage or application crash, can ruin a hardcore fan’s attempt at playing missions at the “Pro” setting.

INTEL & HINTS:

The difficulty setting that is chosen also determines the amount of hints and intelligence on the target that the player receives before a mission. Playing at the lowest difficulty setting reveals all of them to the player, whereas higher difficulty settings gradually reduce them, up to nothing at all at “Pro”.

At the higher difficulty settings, the player can choose to spend hard-earned money on revealing these hints and intel. This may seem pointless if the player is already referring to third-party sources, of course. However, there are certain things about most missions that have randomized elements.

For example, certain secondary objectives require Agent 47 to retrieve objects from the mission area, such as film reels or sometimes cases of cash or gold. These items may be stashed away in one of a few locations, and which one happens to be randomized from playthrough to playthrough. Purchasing the intel for the location of the object anchors the item in place.

AGENT 47’S PHYSIOLOGY:

Agent 47 is still the tough and durable genetically-engineered killer that he was in the previous games. One of the traits that he has is that he can run for unlimited distances, whereas certain guards cannot. This means that he can outrun most pursuers, though if the player has to resort to this, he/she may have already blown Agent 47’s cover.

On the other hand, this is handy when the player needs to have Agent 47 backtrack. Of course, running about increases Agent 47’s profile, if he is within the sight of others.

If push comes to shove, and there are certain missions that will shoe-horn the player into a violent confrontation, Agent 47 happens to have a terrifically tough body. Headshots are barely an issue to him, and he can take wounds without much of a loss in his performance.

It is only when he is close to death’s door that he might exhibit weakness. This is where the health syringe item, which is new to the series, comes in handy. He can only have one – and only one in any mission – but it restores much of his health.

DISGUISES:

Like in the previous games, Agent 47 can don other (male) people’s clothes to obtain disguises, even if they are of different sizes. This is a quirk of the series that has yet to be reconciled, and probably never will be.

However, he is still irrevocably bald, pale-skinned and tall, so certain disguises do not work so well, such as clothes that are worn by dark-skinned guards. Fortunately, Blood Money is a lot more forgiving than its predecessors with regards to disguises.

To elaborate, guards that are at ease will not heavily scrutinize Agent 47 when he walks by with a disguise. There are exceptions of course, such as guards that patrol restricted areas. Elite, professionally-trained guards will also discover the ruse quite quickly if Agent 47 tarries around them for too long. (On the other hand, they are not like the very inquisitive guards seen in the second game, Silent Assassin.)

Certain clothes happen to be completely ineffective disguises. Learning which ones are can be an amusing experience. (These are usually the clothes that a target wears.)

SUSPICION:

The suspicion meter in the previous game returns in Blood Money. Like it did in previous games, this visual indicator displays the amount of suspicion that Hitman 47 has drawn from people around him. It also indicates if there are any people that have Hitman 47 within their sight, because the indicator will always bob about when other people are around.

This visual indicator is perhaps an ever-present reminder that the player is playing a game, but it is a handy tool to have.

Anyway, Agent 47’s mere presence would already arouse suspicion, as depicted by people who stare at him when they come close enough. However, this is the most that they would do if Agent 47’s notoriety level is low and he is not doing anything terribly conspicuous.

Speaking of conspicuous actions, there are many. In fact, the most that Agent 47 can do without appearing odd to others is to just stand or walk around. Even opening the wrong doors can tick off any nearby guards that are watching. Such limitations can seem stifling and even make Agent 47 look awkward among other people.

The game would have been more entertaining if Agent 47 can perform some frivolous activities to quickly suppress the suspicion meter. Unfortunately, the only way to reduce suspicion is to have Agent 47 walk out of sight of other people.

Interestingly, Blood Money does a more convincing job of simulating suspicion than its predecessors. In previous games, alarmed civilians would alert nearby guards almost immediately, regardless of line of sight and logical difficulty of hearing. In Blood Money, the player still has a chance of silencing them before they get to a guard, unless they happen to scream at the top of their lungs of course (which occur if they realize that Agent 47 is chasing them).

MISSION PERFORMANCE & REWARDS:

At the end of every mission, the player’s performance is measured. As mentioned earlier, the game prefers that the player be as discreet as possible.

The score that the player gets also happens to determine the amount of monetary rewards that Agent 47 gets. Reductions are incurred if the player has been engaging in wanton violence, whereas being discreet grants bonuses. The player can then use the money to purchase intel (as mentioned earlier) or equipment for the next mission.

Unfortunately, much of the money that comes Agent 47’s way would be quite useless if the player is going for very discreet and stealthy solutions for eliminating targets with minimal casualties (preferably only the target dies). Such solutions are possible, but most of the tools and equipment that Agent 47 can buy are useless for them.

This can seem rather ironic, because Agent 47 cannot use most of the money that he gets to better perform his work as a silent assassin.

EQUIPMENT - OVERVIEW:

One of the most interesting differences that Blood Money has compared to its predecessors is its system of gear for Agent 47’s perusal. There is equipment that he has by default, gear that he has to purchase from mission to mission (and these are not always believably disposable) and gear that once bought, he always has. There is also equipment that he cannot obtain other than to pilfer them from the mission areas.

DEFAULT EQUIPMENT:

Most of the equipment that Agent 47 has by default would be familiar to veterans of the series. One of these is the perfectly concealable Fibre Wire, which is still Agent 47’s preferred method of silent, bloodless death. He still uses it in discreet and brutal manners, which can be seen via his animations.

There are some relatively new additions. Chief among these are the night-vision goggles. Turning on the goggles switches the game to first-person mode. This is perhaps in order to hide the fact that Agent 47 does not appear to visually wear the goggles. Still, the goggles are still useful for moving through dark areas. On the other hand, anyone that catches Agent 47 while the player is in first-person mode would be alarmed.

Then, there is the coin. On paper, the coin is supposed to be a distraction item, which Agent 47 tosses to distract nearby people. In practice, it is next to useless because the A.I. scripts for guards and civilians have not been designed to consider coin-throws in a believable manner. In fact, no person would seem to regard or pick up the coin; they merely move over to where the coin landed. The coin could have been replaced with some other object that makes noise when thrown.

PURCHASEABLE EQUIPMENT:

Unlike previous games, the player cannot unlock a piece of gear for use and then use in later missions for free. In Blood Money, the player has to not only unlock a piece of gear for use, he/she has to purchase it for use in any mission. Such pieces of gear, usually weapons, cannot be carried to the next of mission, because the Agency that 47 works for insists that they have to be disposed in order to minimize evidence of 47’s involvement.

Incidentally, failing to bring anything that Agent 47 brought into the mission when he does extract causes the player to incur a penalty to the monetary rewards.

Most of these kinds of “disposable” (in a fashion) gear happen to be weapons, which is perhaps understandable because murder weapons would be troublesome to keep.

PERMANENT EQUIPMENT:

Then, there is gear that the player can purchase and have Agent 47 use indefinitely. These are usually things that he wears, such as a bullet-proof upgrade to his suit. Before missions, the player has to swap between these pieces of equipment, because their usage happens to be mutually exclusive.

CONCEALABLE EQUIPMENT:

Part of the gameplay, regardless of the player’s preferred play-style, is determining which equipment is concealable or not. This is made a bit easier by the convenience that any concealable item can be stuffed somewhere inside Agent 47’s spacious suit.

However, compared to the stupendously spacious suit that Agent 47 had in the first game, the suit in Blood Money is more believable. Agent 47 can no longer conceal submachineguns, and he can only keep a couple of handguns in his suit. On the other hand, he can still stuff any small item into his suit.

Chief amongst these are two particularly useful items. These are syringes of chemicals that 47 can use on unsuspecting victims, and only unsuspecting ones, because for whatever reason, he cannot use them while they are alarmed or from the front. (This would be addressed in a later sequel.)

Anyway, there is a poison syringe for eliminating the victim with, while the sedative syringe knocks out the victim indefinitely. The use of either is incredibly silent, and near-instant.

For the latter case, the victim can actually be roused if someone else comes across him or her, which of course means trouble for the player. Yet, the sedative syringe is still more reliable than other methods of knocking out a victim, such as pistol-whipping them (more on this later).

Considering the usefulness of these syringes, Agent 47 can only have very few of them. Indeed, if the player wants to achieve the highest rating of “Silent Assassin”, the player needs to use the syringes on the right victims.

COLLECTIBLE EQUIPMENT:

Perhaps in an attempt to inject some semblance of replayability into the game, certain pieces of equipment have to be unlocked by retrieving them from mission areas. Most of these happen to be guns.

Players who happen to be gun nuts or completionists may want to track them down, but players who prefer discretion – and thus eschew the use of guns – may consider this aspect of the game to be rather frivolous.

UPGRADES:

Certain pieces of equipment can be upgraded so that they perform better. Upgrades require purchasing, but once obtained, they permanently alter their associated equipment. In the case of equipment that has to be purchased from mission to mission, the upgrades do not alter their costs, conveniently.

Most of these upgrades improve the versatility of their associated equipment. The most common examples are adding scopes and silencers to weapons. Unfortunately, gear that is oriented towards stealthy solutions has very few upgrades, if any at all. This makes money even more useless for play-styles that lean towards discretion.

OTHER MENTIONS ON GAMEPLAY:

Part of the gameplay of many missions is working around guards that frisk people for contraband or weapons. There is usually at least one way to go around, and this one usually involves a disguise and a container that the guards ignore. Finding these and exploiting them can be quite fun.

Continuing something that started in the previous game, Blood Money allows Agent 47 to surprise an unsuspecting target from behind by grappling him/her. This allows the player to use him/her as a human shield. 47 can proceed to either murder them outright with neck-snaps, or if he is holding a small gun, knock them out with it (or shoot them). This knock-out is not permanent though, because they will eventually wake up.

Unfortunately, that they will soon wake up from this highlights a hole in the game’s designs: Agent 47 cannot restrain them by tying them up. The player may be able to stash them inside a room with a lockable door or inside a dumpster, but such a convenience is not always available in every mission.

On the other hand, the game does discourage knocking out too many people, in addition to discouraging the act of killing them outright.

GRAPHICS – LEVEL DESIGNS:

Continuing the tradition of the series, Blood Money has Agent 47 trotting the globe looking for various targets. The different locales are starkly different from one another. The place for the first mission is perhaps one of the most memorable, because it is a run-down place that has become the hideout for people that are engaging in very illegal activities.

This dilapidated place is contrasted by tropical villas, seedy nightclubs and theatres in later missions. Indeed, most players would not find the aesthetic value of Blood Money’s locales to be wanting.

Meticulous players would appreciate the effort that went into designing the layouts of the levels. The first level happens to have more linear layouts, mainly because it was designed as a tutorial for the game.

However, the later levels are much more labyrinthine in design, which is to the player’s benefit. There are many routes that 47 can take to reach his objective(s). For example, the aforementioned theatre has backstages and walkways at the top that allow the player to circumvent guard posts.

These sophisticated designs also happen to make the levels seem more visually convincing.

GRAPHICS – ANIMATIONS:

Having access to later graphical technology allows Blood Money to have more animations than its predecessors could. These can be seen in the behaviour of NPCs in the various levels as they go about their business.

For example, there are people dipping into pools, waitresses serving drinks and such other miscellaneous characters. These enhance the character of the levels, further differentiating them thematically.

The most impressive of such animations can be seen in a level where there are crowds of people. To the credit of the developers, they have utilized techniques that allow the efficient generation and animation of crowds. It is actually graphical trickery, but it would be hard for a player that does not already know this to realize that.

On the other hand, the lively animations that are seen in the levels make the socially inept Agent 47 stand out even more awkwardly.

That is not to say that Agent 47 does not have many animations of his own, though his animations mainly concern the deed of killing.

Watching Agent 47 choke a victim with the Fibre Wire by heaving him/her over his back is still satisfying. However, the animations are practically the same for any victim, which means that they can get tiresome quickly. Moreover, the animations can take a while, during which Agent 47 can be caught red-handed.

Interestingly, close-combat weapons with faster killing animations produce undesirable consequences. For example, kills with knives always leave behind a pool of blood that would alarm any passer-by.

In some of the previous games, frisking by guards was a process that was not animated at all; they merely stood where they are, looking at Agent 47. In Blood Money, their frisking animations are much more detailed, and both models of the one frisking and the one being frisked partake in these animations, which make the act more convincing.

GRAPHICS – CHARACTER MODELS:

Agent 47 has changed little in appearance over the years, perhaps with the exceptions of more nooks and crannies to his head, which is otherwise still bald and pale-skinned. There are more parts of Agent 47’s body that can be seen when he switches disguises, but one may notice that for certain disguises, the model parts for the character that originally wore those clothes are used instead, albeit upsized to fit 47’s tall frame.

There are plenty of models in the game; there is a thematically matching set of models for each level. Some of them also happen to be a visual reminder that the game is certainly not for kids. These can seem rather outrageous, but they do happen to fit into the adult settings of the Hitman franchise quite well.

The models do appear to lack convincing decals though. This can be seen when someone takes an injury, usually inflicted by 47. Although decals for what seem to be wounds do appear on their bodies where the injury was inflicted, they do not stay on the bodies and will disappear after a while.

GRAPHICS – WEAPONS:

All of the weapons in the game are based on real-world ones and are mostly modelled quite accurately, at least to someone with mere trivial knowledge of firearms.

Of course, Blood Money is not the first game to feature such weapons, so players who are already very familiar with such games would not find anything excitingly new. On the other hand, Blood Money’s access to graphical technology that was better than the ones that its predecessors had does allow it to have more detailed models for guns.

Some of the weapons also have special animations that are associated with them. Chief amongst these is the Dragunov sniper rifle, which remains Agent 47’s favoured sniper rifle due to its ability to be broken down into portable parts that can be reassembled later. In the previous games, the assembly process was not shown and they resorted to obscuring it to hide their graphical limitations. In Blood Money, this process is almost fully shown via an in-game cutscene, which makes the prelude to sniping scenarios quite exciting.

AMBIENT SOUNDS:

The ambiance of the levels in Blood Money is provided by their background noises, in addition to the characters that populate them. This was nothing new in video games at the time of course, but this happens to be an improvement if Blood Money is to be compared with its predecessors, which did not have enough variety in their ambient sounds to make their levels more believable.

In Blood Money, there are a few levels with noteworthy ambient sounds. One of them is the aforementioned seedy nightclub, which is convincingly noisy. Another example is the level with the aforementioned crowds; it depicts an atmosphere of festivities quite well.

VOICE-OVERS:

In the previous games, 47 is mostly silent, with very few lines that the player will hear him utter. In Blood Money, he is still as taciturn, but there are more cutscenes in which the player can hear him talk. Unfortunately, in these cutscenes, he is usually in some sort of distress, so his choice of words is not exactly pleasant.

The player does get to listen, or more precisely, eavesdrop on the conversation that other characters are having. These conversations only play out when the player reaches a location for the first time, and do not seem to repeat. In addition to making the characters that are involved in the conversation more convincing, the voice-overs also happen to impart some information that may be useful to the player, such as rumours about a hidden stash of money that the target has.

The most memorable voice-overs are perhaps those for the targets, though not because they are stellar. Rather, they are more talkative than the targets in the previous games. Indeed, followers of the series might have been surprised and amused when the targets let more than the players thought they know. To elaborate this any further would be a spoiler of course.

MUSIC:

The composer of the game is Jesper Kyd, who has worked on the previous Hitman games before (and is now well-known for having worked on many high-profile games). Veterans of the series would know that he composes tracks that are ominous and suspenseful. However, this time around, the tracks do seem a bit too forlorn to fit the themes of the Hitman franchise. Still, they are fresh tracks, so for players who want to hear something new, they may be pleased.

SOUNDS – OTHERS:

Depending on the player’s play-style, gunfire may be either commonly heard throughout the player’s experience, or not at all. In the case of the former, the gunfire in Blood Money is perhaps of more importance to those who are gun enthusiasts and are thus able to know which gunshots are authentic and which are not.

SUMMARY:

Blood Money is in many ways the continuation of the design policies that had been set for the series since Contracts. It may have a seemingly better reward and performance measurement system, but like its predecessors, its encouragement of discrete solutions for assassinations reduce the value of its content that does not adhere to this, especially the guns.

Nevertheless, causing elegant deaths for targets and having Agent 47 walk out of the would-be crime scene with anyone else none the wiser is still very satisfying. Blood Money retains this hallmark of the series, and with its better presentation, is convincingly better than its predecessors.