Hitman: Blood Money
Sitting On The 8:41 train on my way into work, I glance over at the teenager who ruins my otherwise peaceful journey every morning. His particular favoured brand of obnoxious grunge music blares so loudly from his headphones that people in the neighbouring carriages are in danger of getting tinnitus. Every day for the last couple of months. I've responded to the situation by calmly turning up the volume on my iPod and concentrating on the scenery rushing by, but today my thoughts turn to darker avenues. If I could just follow him home, mug a passing electrician for his clothes, pose as a meter reader to get into his house, rig his CD player with tiny microwave chips and his earphones with a specially conductive material, then the next time he turns up the volume on the train, the resultant sparks will travel along the headphone wire and take him out without anyone being any the wiser.
My new habit of plotting people's deaths via supremely inventive accidents' is all thanks to Io Interactive's fourth outing for slap-headed assassin, Code 47 Far from Contracts, where you could happily blast your way through any opposition without fear of consequences, Blood Money has put the emphasis right back on melting into the shadows again.
The Price Of Fame
It's achieved this via the clever use of the titular blood money and the notoriety system. While each hit grants you a fee, if you should manage to complete it without anyone noticing your presence, this cash sum will be increased. However, get your bald mug on camera, leave corpses out in the open or just leave plenty of witnesses in your wake and you'll soon find your notoriety rising. Finish a level and the next day's papers will report on the deaths (featuring such information as your favourite weapon, number of people killed, accuracy and more), and may even feature an appropriately accurate photofit of who the police are now looking for.
It's a novel way to present the information and one that works extremely well, allowing you to review your mission progress by way of something that's easy to digest and fun to read. Should your notoriety level get too high, you can choose to spend some of your hard-earned cash on bribes to lower it. Don't do this and your face becomes increasingly recognisable, thus making further levels even harder to pull off without everyone running screaming from you at first sight. Money can also be spent on a series of weapons upgrades, which givt yet another incentive to keep your head down. It's a streamlined system that once again places the emphasis exactly where it needs to be: on stealth.
Now that sneakiness is again a priority, Io have introduced 'accidental' deaths to help you fulfil your contracts without a trace. These unfailingly inventive and often hilarious ways to bump off your targets range from rigging someone's barbecue with lighter fluid, to dropping a suspended piano on their heads - but by far our favourite 'accident' is rigging a pyrotechnics display used by a dancer in a club.
When the dancer comes out, the flames set her on fire and she rolls over until dropping straight into the shark tank below, where one of the oversized fishes promptly gobbles up its impromptu meal. It's completely twisted yet utterly brilliant and brings a whole new dimension to the game. Finding out just how to pull a complicated accident off effectively can take hours of observation, but once you've seen one targe pop their clogs without anyone even suspecting you, it soon becomes quite addictive and you'll find yourself resorting to weapons less and less.
Three S A Crowd
Where Blood Money really shines is in Io Interactive's amazingly inventive level design. Gone are the drab confines of Contract's levels, to be replaced with gaudy and flamboyant levels bursting with colour and activity, from casinos through heaven-and hell-themed nightclubs to Mardi Gras festivals. The latter two levels deserve a special mention as both feature literally hundreds upon hundreds of extras, giving 47 a potential wardrobe choice egual to Paris Hilton. It may not be the most graphically intense game on PC, but the very locations themselves still have a definite wow factor. Each level is well laid out with many different areas: checkpoints and guards that should keep your killer instinct in good shape working out how to avoid being spotted.
Playing the role of hired killer is now more joy than chore thanks to the new moves that 47s picked up. He can turn weapons upon their owners, use human shields, push people over ledges and stash bodies to make them harder to find. Put together, these new features cause the game to flow more naturally than its predecessors and really make it a joy to play.
The only niggles are that of the traditional but unwieldy inventory, and the context-based button presses which can often find you swapping outfits when you really wanted to haul the dead body away. They're minor complaints, but right in the thick of things, choosing the wrong option can mean the difference between life and death. Enemy Al has also received a boost and with guards following blood trails, talking on their radios and searching you for weapons when entering restricted areas, it's harder than ever to get away with murder.
While the training level in an abandoned funfair is a fantastic introduction, there's still a pretty steep learning curve to be crossed when you head over to the first proper level. We reckon it's one of the most unforgiving in the game, but don't let that put you off, as you'll soon settle into your assumed assassin role. With its amazing sets, inventive ways of killing, solid storyline with a great twist at the end and more emphasis on stealth, 47's latest is not only the most accomplished Hitman title ever, but a serious contender in the world of stealth gaming.
Download Hitman: Blood Money
No Women , no kids. That's the rules. French tough guy Jean Reno's words as the assassin from the movie Leon are echoed by Rasmus Hojengaard. game director at Io Interactive, when we ask if there are any taboos the studio won't touch for Hitman: Blood Money. "First of all, we won't have kids in the game - and we don't have any female targets," explains Hojengaard. "Otherwise. I'd have to say there are no taboos.'
So there you have it - Io Interactive is a studio that isn't afraid to take on the excesses of the tabloid press, portraying as it does the grim life of the contract assassin, complete with brutal killings, a dark and seedy underworld and a higher than average count of doubled-over men that have been stripped down to their pants.
The Hitman senes has been taking out ne'er-do-wells for the past five years now and although the previous games nave always offered an intriguing and novel subject matter - along with the chance to take on the role of a cooler-than-ice character - we can't help but feel that Io hasn't quite managed to hit the nail squarely on the head yet. However, the team has been busy eavesdropping on the Hitman community, as well as adding a host of new ideas and has been invited to its studio in Copenhagen, Denmark, for a glimpse at the next instalment of a day in the life of a cold-blooded killer.
Setting The Scene
Io is keeping determinedly tight-lipped about the story, the only thing it's letting slip being a Yoda-style time-wise, they connect". As the lights go down in the presentation room, Hojengaard sets the scene: Contracts was very dark and gritty, but in Blood Money, we want you to play out the violent missions in more colourful and artistic environments." As he finishes, the Casino level springs to life on the massive screen and we finally get to see just what Hojengaard means by colourful'.
As Agent 47 stands outside the casino entrance, gaudy neon-lit buildings tower over the Las Vegas sidewalks, impressive fountains shoot jets of water high into the air and a spectacular display of fireworks decorate the evening sky overhead. Stepping through the massive front doors brings us to the exquisitely detailed lobby, milling with a throng of guests, security and staff. Workers diligently scrub the floor and a man trying to hit on a particularly inebriated woman shows off the new animation system to great effect.
The Glacier engine - which has provided the backbone for the series - has been heavily tweaked, and this time around it includes a new system that allows for separate effects to be applied to each platform. Put simply, this means that you won't have to put up with a lazy console port - the PC version really shines with its DX9 soft shadows, normal mapping and water reflection.
Next up, the Paris Opera level offers Hojengaard the chance to show the assembled crowd a thing or two about how to carry out a mission Silent Assassin-style. Justice is dealt swiftly and inconspicuously, utilising a combination of the now familiar clothes-swap, a quick substitute of real for prop weapon and a handily placed loose chandelier. The level finishes with a very brief glimpse of a Playboy mansion-style level featuring some more lovely water effects (unfortunately slightly obscured by a gaggle of scantily-clad models) and a brief hark back to the seedier locale of Contracts.
Old Dog, New Tricks
After we've finished admiring the scenery, the first thing that's instantly noticeable in Blood Money is 47's raft of new physical abilities. From pulling himself up through roof access panels in lifts, jumping from ledge to ledge and sliding along narrow walkways, the bald one's new moves are a match for Sam Fisher (well, almost). More exciting by far though are the close combat moves, from headbutting an opponent to stripping an enemy of their gun and turning it back on them in retribution. An especially handy technique is the ability to use unsuspecting passers-by as human shields, thus providing you with some much-welcomed cover when things really start to go tits-up.
Blood Money's Al is also much improved, with nosy civilians and guards alike following blood stains and investigating items that you've dropped, some even utilising them for their own purposes. All of the characters in the game will have various jobs and routines to give a sense of life," explains Hojengaard.
The previous outing's combat Al saw guards simply rushing at you, shooting rather than using cover - but Io assures us that it's putting its experience to good use. We haven't made a tactical shooter, but we had experience of combat when making Freedom Fighters, so we've put a lot of that into the game. You're able to pin down characters who'll use different kinds of cover.
Shoot To Kill
Although Hitman was always intended to be open to different styles of play, the ability to simply run rampage through the level killing every person who dared to get in the way without suffering any real form of penalty (except for the guilt-inducing Mass Murderer' rank) negated some of the desire to stay stealthy. Far from removing this way of playing altogether, lo's inserting its own form of rough justice.
"You'll be punished economically for doing stuff you're not supposed to do, continues Hojengaard. It's our way of saying you can choose to butcher everyone, but you'll pay for it and get really bad publicity." Slaughter your way through the level without a care in the world, and your new notoriety level will increase, in turn affecting the likelihood of being noticed by guards and even casual civilians wandering about.
And what if you do end up with a high notoriety? You'll just have to mercilessly kill your way through the level," says Hojengaard, reassuringly. If your notoriety's at maximum, then there's a great chance that everyone will recognise you straight away and just alert the guards. The way to fix that, of course, is with your money.
Ah yes, the blood money of the title. Of course, loveable old 47 doesn't just throttle people for kicks - at the end of each mission you're rewarded with a payout. How much depends on a number of factors including your rating, and now with a massive 128 of them up for grabs (compared to the previous title's 30), there's real incentive to experiment.
Hojengaard: Each of these (ratings) either adds to or subtracts from your score. This is totalled up from each hit, which gives you a certain amount of money, and each objective of retrieving something gives you money and then your rating is factored in. Of course, getting the Silent Assassin rating gives you a huge amount of money."
Ways to splash your cash are set to include bribing officials to reduce your notoriety, buying hints for the forthcoming level or upgrading your arsenal of deadly weapons. Yep, that s right - Agent 47's already impressive weapon-set can now be tweaked to your heart's delight, from different silencers and better scopes to double magazines and weapons that can't be scanned by metal detectors.
Io Interactive has definitely been hard at work since Contracts and there's a strong chance this will be the Hitman title that pushes 47 into the A-list of gaming stealth killers, sharing the (blood) red carpet with Sam Fisher and Solid Snake. That's if he doesn't garrotte them both and leave their corpses in a rubbish bin first...
He Might Have been last in the queue when god was dishing out hair, but Hitman's Agent 47 is one of the most ruthless assassins around - and after his fourth (and best) outing, we decided to find out more about him. After taking out a security guard and making our way into Io Interactive's offices, we cornered game designer Rasmus Hojengaard, held a syringe to his neck and threatened to steal his clothes to get him to explain some of the finer points behind Hitman: Blood Money. He took it surprisingly well...
"Initially, we just wanted to create a character that had a little more grittiness and edge than most of the characters you see in computer games. Then came the thought-provoking idea of trying to fulfil the fantasy of being an assassin which was a really cool thing, but on top of that it's something that's hard to admit that you think is cool because it's basically about being evil. The inspiration was from a lot of things - Hong Kong movies, comic books and all kinds of stuff.
"We decided to make him a clone early on. I guess there was just something cool about him not having any roots, so by being a clone, he can be shaped into any form by the people who made him; they decide everything about his future fate, so making an assassin a clone would seem like the ultimate way to make the ultimate ( assassin. It evolved with the character before the first Hitman was even done."
Gett White He President:
"We included the House because it hadn't been done before and it's a little unorthodox. It's something we have to be careful with because there are certain boundaries that you shouldn't cross, and also it's one of those locations that everybody has seen-but-not-seen, if you know what I mean. You've seen it 10,000 times in movies and stuff like that, but you still haven't really seen it because that's now a staging as well; it's just a set that resembles the real thing. We can build something and make people believe it and still morph it to fit into the game without anybody really noticing. So it's a really cool thing, because we can make it feel totally real, make the gameplay fun and provoke people a little with a location like that. What's more, most of the game was in the States, so doing the White House was a no-brainer."
Thinkinc Of Death:
"When we have to think up accidental deaths, I guess we just squeeze our sick little brains and then the ideas just pop out. The people who work on these games are very visually creative people, so when you put a bunch of people like that together, you're just going to have ideas like this swilling around; it's inevitable. The only difference between us and other people is that we can actually use these ideas. If you put a bunch of 50-year-olds together and ask them to brainstorm on crazy stuff, they're going to come up with the same things but they just don't have any concrete use for it, so it just becomes these thoughts. We can actually put it into a product and sell it, so I guess that makes the situation different more than the ideas."
"It seems like we've been building up CIA Agent Smith (who you've just saved so many times that he owes you big time), so if at some point we need somebody to help you in the game, we have this character who hasn't played a big role but who has a lot of goodwill in him, so maybe you can use him later on. As far as I can remember, he wasn't really planned to be in the game at all because everybody hates him a little bit because he's just so lame, but he pops in there anyway. I think if we're going to use him again, we'll probably use him in a more serious way -if he's going to pop in, he'll need more gravity next time."
A World Of Contrasts:
"Usually, Hitman's always been up the social scale in terms of location, with Contracts being the odd one out. For Blood Money, we wanted to do more picture-postcard locations because it just works more efficiently if you do some really cool stuff in a location that's the opposite. So if you take a peaceful suburb with sprinklers, barbecues and Martini-soaked housewives going about their business and you put a guy into a garbage truck and crush him to pieces, it's going to work a lot better than if you do it in a location such as a dark and abandoned warehouse which just screams horror. We wanted the game to be a little more hardcore too, and you can see this in the training level when you have to execute a guy who's actually begging for his life."
"Initially, the Mardi Gras level was going to be a PlayStation 2 showcase. We wanted to see if we could do this on PS2 because at that point, everyone was hyping crowds on the next-gen consoles, so we knew that if we cduld get in and make a pretty decent crowd system on PS2 it would provoke a reaction. So we decided to put the crowds in, and it actually turned out a lot better than we'd hoped for. Realising it on PC and Xbox 360 is a bit of a no-brainer, but realising it on the lower-end platforms at almost the same quality was something that I'm really proud of - and I know that the same goes for a lot of the programmers who worked on this thing."
"The controversy around the ad campaign was good - if you don't get some sort of reaction like that, you haven't made a good campaign. It's a fine line you've got to walk, but I don't think they were that horrific; when you compare them to what movies are doing nowadays, it's nothing. Most of the really horrific things came out of people's heads; for example, a lot of people applied a sexual perspective to the lady lying there dead, as in necrophilia and so on, but none of that was ever the idea of the adverts. It's totally people's minds that come up with these things and that's more worrying than the ads themselves."
"I think that Blood Money's got a successful soundtrack because the man behind it, Jesper Kydd, makes a really tasteful blend of electronic and symphonic music. It doesn't become too disturbed or too subtle and it changes dynamically with the Al in the game in a way which is pretty pleasing. You don't really notice the music until you remove it and that's how it's supposed to be; I think it stresses a lot of the situations and things that you do in the game, so together with the Freedom Fighters soundtrack, it's the best soundtrack to any game we've developed."
Though last summer's Hitman: Contracts was a disappointment in many ways, it did establish one fact pretty decisively: the Hitman series makes no apologies. Where Splinter Cell slaps you on the wrist you for taking lives and Thief is just plain jolly, this game is dirty. Filthy in fact. This is the game where you infiltrate S&M blood orgies and hack people up with meat cleavers. This is the game where you garrotte middle-aged women in the shower and dump their bodies in a ditch...
It's one of the reasons we still love Agent 47, despite his patchy track record, and one of the reasons why his next outing -now apparently delayed till Christmas - is still on our list of prime targets. Already, there are some great indications that this will be another brutal, unrepentant affair. I mean, for god's sake, the first official screenshots showed 47 pushing Santa Claus off of a balcony!
Of course, this was merely to demonstrate one of the cool new features - using gravity and the environment to make deaths look like accidents. We've just been shown through another new level - an Opera House in Paris - and there are some other great examples of this device to be found. Our favourite (if the insinuation of the developer is to be believed) involves planting a remote bomb on the anchor of the Grand Chandelier and waiting until your target wanders beneath before detonating. With carpentry work already going on all around the building, we think you can safely pass that one off as shoddy workmanship.
If you do things the old-fashioned way, there's yet another new feature to contend with -incriminating blood stains. Now, if you shoot or chop someone carelessly, the claret splatters at the scene; and if you drag the freshly punctured corpse away it leaves a sanguine trail for guards to follow. As such, cleaning up after yourself is a grisly new part of your assassination duties.
Perhaps even more welcome is the way money is better incorporated into the game. Rather than just assuming 47 splurges all his earnings on scalp wax, the new game gives you a chance to spend your ill-gotten gains on mods and upgrades for weapons.
So, think silencers, night vision scopes and so forth, as well as bribing corrupt cops and buying the silence of witnesses. This, combined with a plot that sees two rival assassin agencies at war, should give a much greater feeling of involvement in the world of contract killing, something strangely absent from previous outings. Clearly, there are some great ideas at work here. Let's just pray that Eidos gives the game enough time and support to see them come to fruition and that the Hitman series might once again be able to mix it with the best.
Just Like Beer-Testing and plywood manufacturing, the contract killing industry is a highly desirable yet difficult line of work to get into. So, in a world of over-educated and under-skilled university graduates, where can we turn to find the next Agent 47 - an Agent 48, if you will? You can't kill a man with a BSc in Media Studies; you could probably give him a nasty paper-cut which might become infected, but that's merely an amputation at best. So for all you budding hitmen out there, here's everything you wanted to know about contract killing, but were too afraid of being garrotted at a urinal to ask...
- Where should I practice?
Anywhere with people will do just fine. Depending on your moral fibre or skill level, places like schools, churches and Battersea Kitten Orphanage are all fair game. In this particular example, we've chosen an institution for persons of erratic mental disposition, also known as a rehab clinic. All of the residents here are on a significantly lower rung of society than you or I, so this is an ideal setting for gratuitous violence with very few pioral repercussions. Jiffy bags of talcini powder can fetch quite a bit of extra dollar here too, but do try to focus on the task at hand.
- What should I wear?
Most of your clothing can be acquired on-site, but always wear the obligatory black suit and tie until you find a betterfitting alternative. Above is an errant drug-abuser hiding behind a dumpster in the grounds outside the clinic - he's not exactly using his clothes, so by all means take them from him. With the right garb you can fit in pretty much anywhere, despite your blatant slap-headedness. Indeed, if you hope to get inside the clinic at all, you'll need fthat white bathrobe and blue-stripe pyjama ensemble.
- He says he won't give me his clothes, what am I doing wrong?
People don't simply hand over clothes, except of course to Oxfam. and even then those clothes are generally horrible and wanted by nobody. No, if you want to dress to impress you'll need to forcefully remove this man's clothes and bundle him in the very dumpster he was trying to hide behind. Ignore the vague sexual connotations and wrap your piano wire around his neck, applying pressure until he slumps to the ground. As somebody probably once famously said, dead men don't need clothes, so don't be shy. Dead men don't need glasses either, by the way.
- Right, I'm dressed, but now there's a guard coming towards me!
Remember rule seven in the Dummy's Guide To Contract Killing (funnily enough also rule seven in the Dummy's Guide To Cottaging) - play it cool. It's not enough to look the part, you also have to be the part. You're a recovering alcoholic, not quite famous enough for Betty Ford's but still willing to reform. Avoid doing anything suspicious like climbing fences or brandishing heavy weaponry and you'll be fine. That 24-esque picture-in-picture shows one of your targets swigging away at a secret stash of booze in the clinic, something you'd do well to note.
- He's got a squeaking wand machine! WHAT NOW?!
Any excuses about accidentally swallowing a penny or having three metal rods in your spine due to a horrific tiddlywinks accident just won't fly with these guys. A real hitman doesn't need a gun anyway, or indeed any sort of weapon, so when approaching a metal detector you should leave your guns elsewhere (or perhaps arrange for them to get to wherever you're going by some other means, preferably inventive). Death can come from any direction, not just the barrel of a gun, so use your surroundings to kill your targets, like Jackie Chan.
- So how can I kill this guy without anybody noticing?
Well, let's review what we know about this guy so far. He likes pink bathrobes, he doesn't cross his legs when he sits down and he hides a bottle of Jack Daniels inside a globe from which he routinely swigs when the doctors aren't looking. You, on the other hand, are a contractual murderer with an array of poisons at your disposal. Put two and two together and you get a convulsive coma and cardiac arrest resulting in death. Watching the poor sod wretch and keel over is what being a hitman is all about. That, and the pension scheme.
- Everybody. Is. Staring. At. Me...
If you've done everything right nobody will suspect a thing. You've got a white bathrobe, respectable spectacles and a general air of intelligence about you, and while that's a rare thing in a rehab clinic, when's the last time an intelligent person ever did anything wrong? Yes, people are staring at you but they've always done that: you're bald, well over and have the emotional range of a comatose Keanu Reeves. Review your objectives, stop feeling so guilty and remember why you're here. Or follow the man who rather disrespectfully drags the corpse all the way to a makeshift morgue.
- This is all far too cerebral, I'll just takeout my sub-machine gun here...
Probably not the best thing to do»when you're a hitman, as while you do have gun skills far superior to the security guards dotted about the clinic, they'll eventually overcome you as there are just too many of them. Not to mention the fact that it's extremely unprofessional. You're not a murderer, you're a businessman (whose business happens to be murdering people). So play it safe, fulfil your contract and try not to get your bald barcode-head noticed.
Sneaking into the heavily guarded compound and eliminating one of the guards by knife was fairly easy. As was putting on his uniform and hiding his body. But getting close enough to kill the intended target without raising any suspicion? Now that's tricky.
Welcome to the fourth installment in the Hitman franchise, but with its new, fresh, wrap around storyline and completely engaging gameplay, you will not have needed to play any of the other games as this one is the best of the bunch and does in fact stand on its own merits.
From the get go, you can tell that this title is a slightly beefed port of a lesser system. True, the game is available on the PC, the PS2 and the Xbox, and they all look decent. But you can tell that this isn't a 'true'? 360 title. The game doesn't have that next generation sheen that other 360 titles have and while you probably won't mind since the game is too good, you will notice it from the get go.
But that's really the only blip on otherwise clear radar. The game controls incredibly well and has a keen way of letting the action play out; meaning, that when you finally do accept your assignment (hit) you are encouraged to use the natural items that are all around the huge levels. Barbeques can be rigged to explode when your target is near. Chandeliers can be dropped on them from above, they can be lured out to a balcony and then shoved off. Or you can walk up behind them and slit their throat with a knife. But since it is a mature title, the very bloody means are certainly up to you. But be careful, the franchise has introduced a notoriety gauge that you must try and keep low as the game progresses. If you are witnessed, if you are caught on camera then your notoriety begins to gain momentum and pretty soon your description will be all the place and that makes things tough when you are trying to sneak into a guarded compound. Fortunately you don't do all this killing for free and you can use that money to pay off those witnesses, effectively dropping your notoriety score.
Hitman: Blood Money is a sweet game. The slick gameplay, the innovative assassinations and the fact that between hits you are dealing with a rival agency that is eliminating your contacts and coming after you, makes this a first class action title.