Precision, audacious courage, elegance of execution. If cinema's taught us anything, these are the hallmarks of the successful hired assassin. Sadly, they're also the exact things that are lacking in Hitman: Contracts, which is defined more by mediocrity, repetition and a saddening lack of ambition.
Indeed, rather than the bold new direction we were promised, what we have is a mixture of rehashed missions from previous games, obvious filler and only a scant few levels that recall the series at its best. The stealth dynamics still rely mainly on stripping unconscious men and stealing their clothes, the Al is still laughably forgetful and the characters and plot uninspiring.
On this last point, Contracts is particularly guilty. Much of the game is told through a series of flashbacks as our hero, the coldblooded 47, passes in and out of consciousness. It may have seemed clever at the time, but the result is a fractured, incoherent structure that feels more like Hitman: The Lost Levels than a proper sequel always a kind of 'ideal path' if you look hard enough). And the various killing techniques you can employ are both numerous and occasionally hilarious.
But in many ways, Hitman's brand of stealth is one that's barely evolved since Goldeneye. Steal the pass-key, hide a few corpses, lay a bomb on a submarine - it's all stuff we've done a hundred times before.
To Kill With Intrigue
Saying all that, the game retains much of the charm of the previous titles. The stealth dynamic is still pleasingly different from the competition, being all about balls-out brashness as you parade around in broad daylight wearing someone else's identity. The tension this creates is very different from lurking around in the shadows, and allows you to feel like even more of a smart-arse when you finally pull the trigger on someone.
There's also a huge degree of freedom available to you, and you can generally accomplish a mission in any number of ways though there's Even the outfit-switching idea is starting to wear thin. Worse still, you don't actually have to be stealthy. You can just run through most of the levels mowing people down and the only penalty will be a 'Mass Murderer' rating on your score screen (rather than 'Professional' or the ultimate 'Silent Assassin'). The fact that you can get away with this is symptomatic of the sloppy PC conversion, where the difficulty level hasn't been ramped up to accommodate mouse and keyboard control (see also the crap physics, dodgy animations and awkward inventory system). Sure, it's more fun to do it the stealthy way and get a nice rating, but there should be more incentive to make you want to do this than a few new weapons.
As for the Al, it's embarrassing. While all stealth games are guilty of fudging reality a bit, Hitman borders on ludicrous. You can go on a murderous rampage, then change clothes and lie low for a while, and all the inhabitants of the world simply go back to their business, stepping through mountains of bloody corpses as they go.
Clearly, Hitman: Contracts is no Splinter Cell. There's still fun to be had here, but it's tempered by frustration and repetition, and it may only be the frequent and unalloyed pleasure of garrotting people and leaving them naked in a closet that saves this game from being a total disaster.
Download Hitman: Contracts
Having Just Slagged off a muchloved title and accused its defenders of being misguided fools and fanboys, I'm about to spin the wheel of hypocrisy with the Hitman series. Personally I think it's da bizniz, and that people who reject it are simple-minded fops who haven't given it enough time.
However, I'm not so blinded by my faith that I can't see their point. Yes, the control system could use some work. Yes, the game mechanics perhaps never quite live up to the potential. Yes, he's got a bald head and is about as convincing a master of disguise as Vai Kilmer's Saint, Bruce Willis's Jackal, or Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau. But I love the Mode-wearing slaphead and always wilt Contracts is a neat re-telling of the series to date with plenty of nice touches, providing solid entertainment for your money. So there.
Agent 47's first console foray, Hitman 2, grabbed our attention with its third-person stealth/shooting gameplay, creative assassinations, and the importance of the right outfit for every situation--long before the clotheshorse gals of Final Fantasy X-2 made it trendy. Hitman: Contracts feels similar to its predecessor, which, while disappointing on the innovation front, still means we've got a whole lot of assassinatin' to do, for both fun and profit. Contracts starts with ol' baldy in a dingy apartment with some lead in his gut. During his recovery, he has flashbacks of his most memorable hits, which is when you take over. You're given objectives, as well as the freedom to accomplish them as you see fit. Want to bump a guy off the old-fashioned way and poison his drink? Or steal a guard's uniform and walk right past security? You can do it. And if you choose to play through that mission again, you can pick none of the above and do something totally different. Decisions, decisions. As amazing as this open-ended gameplay is, the poor enemy A.I. quells the thrill somewhat. CPU characters often do strange things like ignore gunfire in the next room or give up on a chase far too quickly. Also, as brilliant as the first seven levels are, the last five--some of which are remakes of original (and PC-only) Hitman missions--seem much less inspired. But the good stuff more than outweighs the bad; Contracts is clever, brutal, and ultimately satisfying.
Not much has changed since they gave Agent 47 a number and took away his name, but committing the unconscionable for cold hard compensation ain't quite the crapshoot it was in the last Hitman. The A.I. is still iffy, mind you--your cover remains blown even after you blow away your only witness, and whether they're spotted or not, bodies left in the open automatically alert guards--but you won't scratch your bald head as much after inadvertently tipping off a target. And even though it's easier than before to bail yourself out with plan B and a submachine gun if you do get caught, the subtler assassinations are usually worth the trying and dying. Anyone can put a bullet in his quarry, but it takes a true artist to drop a gas can down a fireplace and into a kidnapper's face.
For those who haven't skulked a mile in Agent 47's bloodstained shoes, this is probably the best place to start. But for experienced assassins, Contracts feels more like a coolly refined expansion rather than a wholly new game. Super old-school fans may or may not be excited to see larger and more open-ended versions of classic missions (such as Traditions of the Trade and The Lee Hong Assassination) recycled here. And though these reworked levels vary in quality, Contracts is still filled with some excellent assassinations (Deadly Cargo, Rendezvous in Rotterdam, and the awesome Beldingford Manor stand out). Even with occasional A.I. goofs and graphics glitches, as well as not too much revolution over the previous games in the series, Contracts is well worth the time if you fancy yourself a "professional," a la Jean Reno.
Being a hitman is no easy job. Being a bald hitman whose last assassination outing had the Sikhs up in arms makes matters even worse. Brutally murdering people--even the scum of humanity--has a way of taking its toll on the body and mind. But the hits must be carried out, and the following tips help make your job easier.
Unlocking normal weapons
Upon completing a mission, all of the weapons in your possession are automatically unlocked and stored in your weapons cache. When replaying a mission you've already cleared, you're able to access the weapons cache and choose from the list of weapons you've collected up to this point. You can bring as many weapons as you wish into the mission to help you attain a higher rating.
Unlocking secret weapons
There are also hidden weapons for you to unlock in each of the 12 missions in the game. You automatically unlock a mission's secret weapon if you're able to achieve the Silent Assassin rating at the end of the level.
Becoming a silent assassin
No matter which mission you're playing, earning the Silent Assassin rating is always a challenge. To achieve this coveted rating, you must fulfill all mission objectives without killing anyone except the specific target(s) you've been hired to assassinate. You're also restricted to one silenced bullet per target. (Of course, you may also use stealth-kill weapons, like the classic fiber wire.) Furtherrtiore, you cannot earn the Silent Assassin rating if you receive too many alerts during a mission. They don't call it "Silent Assassin" for nothing!
Most missions don't start you off with a silenced gun, but one can usually be found somewhere in the level. Even if you never have the option, there's always a way for a silent assassin to make the hit.
Using the environment
Some hits are best made using no weapons. For example, in Traditions of the Trade, one of your targets occasionally steps into a sauna to enjoy the steam. You can get close to him if you're wearing the proper disguise and trap him inside the sauna, which suffocates him. The hit is easily carried out without firing a shot or raising suspicions. Environmental objects can be useful as well. If you stumble across a package of rat poison, for example, then you know you're able to somehow poison at least one of your targets. A bit more recon, and you'll know how the hit should be made.
Stealth and deception
Stealth kills aren't always easy, but they're often necessary when attempting to earn the Silent Assassin rating. To perform a stealth kill, you've got to sneak up behind an inattentive target when no one's looking and make the hit with a close-combat weapon, like a kitchen knife, meat cleaver, meat hook, or 01' Reliable (the fiber wire). You begin each mission with the fiber wire and never need to drop it, so stealth kills are always an option--provided you're able to get close enough to the target without raising suspicions. This task can often be simplified by disguising yourself as somebody else--a police officer, a bodyguard, or anyone who's allowed access to the areas surrounding the target. Once you're in disguise, there's nothing stopping you from moving in for the kill.
Syringes are your friends
While a change of clothes can be found in several of the missions, you sometimes need to locate a person and steal his clothing in order to disguise yourself. You can't kill anyone except for your contracted target(s) if you want to achieve the Silent Assassin rating, but you can use a syringe to silently disable others.
Syringes can be used only in a stealth-kill fashion. Sneak up behind a person, pump him full of drugs, then hide the unconscious body. Your path to a target is often complicated by some sor of human obstacle, be it a watchful bodyguard or whomever. Syringes are ideal for these situations as well. Try knocking out the guard with one to make your approach easier.