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SummaryIt's a good game, so why don't I love it?
The GoodI've had the opportunity to play previous games in the Hitman series, and though each of them have their faults in places, they seem to be pretty solid entries into the gaming pantheon. So, I was pretty happy to finally get the chance to play Blood Money. And I was satisfied with the result. And yet, I wasn't.
But, this is The Good, so let's take a look at that, starting with the visuals. It's been a few years since Silent Assassin and Contracts came out, so the graphics have been bumped up accordingly for 2006 sensibilities. What I'm most impressed about regarding the game are not the shader tricks employed (although the Shader Model upgrades are nice, of course), but the detail in the level environments. The levels in Blood Money are very dense on the detail front, and that goes a long way to making the game a lot more immersive than previous entries. They also put a lot more polys into the character models for this release, which was something that desperately needed to be done.
But really, where Blood Money really shines is on the sound front. The audio engineers working on this went to bat on this one, and have come up hitting over .500 here. The sound sampling is drastically improved for BM, and ambient sounds are very intelligently placed. Of course, Jesper Kyd is also definitely one of the top (if not the best, and at this point in time - 2010 - I would argue that he IS the best) composers in the industry these days, and his productions on this outing are a rather excellent pastiche of new themes, rearranged themes from old (pre-Hitman) games, and songs that take elements and leitmotifs from all the previous Hitman games into account. There are some non-Kyd songs in the game, but they are all integrated into the title seamlessly. They even had the balls to pull off a tone-deaf rendition of one of these songs as a plot element for a level in the game, which was an amazing idea on the creative end of things. Whoever thought of that little turn certainly has my appreciation. I predict that in the near future, I will be on eBay or Amazon looking to add this game's soundtrack to my collection.
Regarding the gameplay, I will say that while it wasn't perfectly implemented, there were a lot of nice new features tossed into this game. One thing I really like is the accident system, which is really something they should have added some time ago. Also, the close combat system is another welcome addition, although it does make 47 a little overpowered at times; instead of knocking out or killing an enemy with stealth, as per the older titles, you can just smash their nose in and bop them on the head if you get them in an amenable situation to do so. I know that does sound like a complaint...but on the whole its better than not having an unarmed game at all, so I'll rate it as a positive for now, as well. I have no problems with the "human shield" system, though, in fact I think it's the best addition to the game - certainly a lot quicker than the sedative syringe.
As a side note to the gameplay, the new control system is generally an improvement to the older one from Hitman 2. Of course, it does take some getting used to.
The BadHowever, one thing I couldn't get used to is the plot. Blood Money suffers the same problem that Hitman 1 & 2 have; the plot is great on paper, but becomes confounding when executed. You can follow what's going on just enough to get the general gist of how the story line develops, but nothing you can really sink your teeth into. Actually, to be totally honest with you, this has the least satisfying plot to the series as of the date of publication, and towards the end of the game it feels like a real slog to get through the last few levels just to see things wrap up.
Another thing that bugs me is that the realism of the setting has also been compromised a bit in this release. While one could argue that the Hitman universe arguably has never really strived for a great deal of "real-realism", and has generally been more in favor of "movie-realism", this release doesn't even reach that level. On the whole, the game universe in this outing feels like a dark cartoon with really goofy, unrealistic supporting characters. It's less "The Professional", and more like a dark version of "Batman: The Animated Series" with Batman replaced by a bald guy with a barcode on his head, armed with bombs and a Walther WA-2000 sniper rifle, and the villains only look slightly less dorky and swear a lot more.
Other problems could be found in the levels themselves. While they were very detailed and great to look at, they suffered from inherent design problems; in many cases, they were way too linear and scripted. Even though the empathsis is on stealth with this release, in it's own way you have a resurgence of the "Hidden Valley-style" mission where there is really only one way to go about things. Case in point; the ways that you can approach and pass both Las Vegas missions are very limited, and if you want to go for Silent Assassin then you are only looking at one or two viable strategies. This also affects many of the other level sets in the game, although some missions are more flexible than others.
Gameplay-wise, while the accident system and the other new gameplay features having been implemented presently is a step in the right direction, you do seem limited insofar as to how you can employ that system. For example, there are some ledges in the game were you can push people off, and those kills are counted as accidents. The same thing can also be done on staircases. However, in some cases there are some ledges you can't push people off of, even though there is no reason why you couldn't. Even worse, if you push someone down a flight of stairs at an angle that would most certainly be fatal, invariably it seems that some NPCs are only ever knocked out by said shoves, no matter what the circumstances are. These new gameplay features are not as solidly coded as one would hope, and I would definitely like to see them cleaned up in a sequel.
Speaking of solid coding, there's a distinct lack of it in some parts of the game. One really buggy mission is New Orleans during Mardi Gras. You are lead to believe that the targets in this mission are psychotic and will react badly to their plans being disrupted, but they actually react very little to anything you do at all. This makes the mission artificially harder - at least on the first playthrough - than it should be, since you are on a time limit and your intel would probably lead you to do a lot of unnecessary sneaking around. Furthermore, I encountered one situation where I was denied entry into a bar because the cop said I wasn't in a costume. The only thing is, is that I was dressed up as a big yellow bird. I don't know about you, but I generally consider that to be a costume. And why the N.O.P.D. would prevent you from entering a bar during Mardi Gras is beyond me, by the way, as is the fact that if you go into said bars dressed as anything other than a waiter, every cop in the city will try to kill you. And that's just one mission.
*sigh* I don't know. I really like the Hitman series, but there are just so many little things about this title that bug me, enough that I almost don't even really feel like playing it again now that I've beat it. Which is really odd, as I can replay the older titles like crazy. Just give me the Maylasia missions from Hitman 2, for example, and I am a happy camper. Not so much here. In fact, I very nearly replayed the whole of the 2009 Ghostbusters game again after taking a break from Blood Money during my first playthrough of it. While GB:TVG is fun and massively entertaining, its very linear and I've already beaten it. That it can pull me away from a much less linear title, let alone a game that I hadn't even beaten yet, is not a good sign.
One last thing; when I tried to fire the game up for the first time, the Blood Money executable file said that I was missing a DirectX 9 file. Now, I will admit that I am using Windows 7 64-Bit, and that I did fix the problem by downloading the DirectX 9 redistributable pack of .DLL files and throwing the correct .DLL in the game's primary directory. But come on, this game is only four years old. I have games from the late 90s that use DirectX 5, 6, and 7 calls that run flawlessly on my box as-is. I will freely admit that this is in part the result of the OS breaking support with the old DX9 API...but it's also something that game developers should be on the ball about as well. Heck, Windows Vista (which is pretty close in functionality to Seven) was released only a few months after Blood Money made its debut, so its somewhat incredible that IO Interactive couldn't have future-proofed things for impending DirectX updates a little better, either during the initial release or through a patch.
The Bottom LineAll and all, I still think this title is worth picking up. It's generally fun for the first playthrough. Certainly, if nothing else, give it a shot for the scenery and - especially - the music.
But I still can't feel that I am rating this release a little highly to be honest with you. Individually, the parts that make up this game are pretty high quality. But they just don't come together very well, and this bothers me quite a lot.
But, since I should sum it up in a line or two, "Hitman: Blood Money" a good game in it's own way, but it doesn't really stack up well to the other games in the series, sadly. Hopefully IO will make Hitman 5 a little more flavorful than this game turned out to be at the end of the day. In the mean time, pick this one up if you find it at a good discount.