SummaryClose, but no cigar
The GoodA garrote may not be the best way to a man's heart, but at least it's clean and quiet.
The BadHow do I save this thing? Oh, wait... I don't.
The Bottom LineHitman: Codename 47 is a game that created a bit of a controversy when it first arrived on the scene. While the idea of killing people had been part of the computer game experience for a very long time, HC47 went a step further than your average man-shooter. Here was a game where you weren't just killing people because they were your enemies, in kill or be killed scenarios. No, you were performing carefully planned assassinations because that was your job. It was a distinction that struck a chord with some gamers.
I'm not about to start arguing whether this was indeed a step too far in the wrong direction, but I am going to say that, personally, I don't have any moral qualms regarding this game. Partly it's because I simply don't let works of fiction, regardless of the medium they're in, get to me in such a way. More importantly, it's because, as far as I recall, the game doesn't actually reward you for killing civilians or police officers. In fact it penalizes you for it. What's more, your targets are very much of the criminal variety.
The missions you're presented with as 47, the titular character, aren't just individual set-pieces that you have to figure out and then perform to a certain degree of excellence in order to succeed in killing your target. They also form a narrative that slowly unfolds, shedding light on 47's mysterious past and origins. Without spoiling anything, it's enough to say that, while the story isn't terribly original, it proves to be mildly satisfying. And, hey, you get to visit quite a few countries not often portrayed in games.
Speaking of visiting... while good for the time, the graphics haven't exactly aged well. However I find that this to be true for most 3D games of this era, late 90s - early 00s, so you can't really fault the game for being a product of its era. The sound design is pretty good overall, though the voice acting is pretty insipid.
The levels themselves are well thought out, for the most part, and present all sorts of challenges for you to overcome. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately... more on this below) most levels aren't exactly long. As you might expect, as a hitman, it's best to kill your targets as quietly as possible, so the gameplay rewards being able to accomplish the task with as few "incidents" as possible. Any sort of extended firefight is counterproductive in this game.
The AI is good: civilians alert guards if they see something suspicious, enemies react to gunshots or to dead bodies, they call for backup etc. The game combines scripted sequences with reactive elements quite well. In it's day the AI would've been all the more impressive.
Unfortunately there is one major downside to this game and it pretty much ruined my enjoyment of the game: there are no saves in this game during missions. Not even checkpoints! You go in, you screw up... you start over. Slowly finding your way through a level, making a mistake near the end and having to repeat the whole thing... that to me is frustrating. I'm sure there are some gamers out there that enjoy this sort of challenge, but to me it quickly becomes an exercise in tediousness and repetitiousness. It's not a good sign when you start hoping that the next level will be a short one (they usually are). Even though this was obviously an intentional design decision, it's hard to forgive a PC game that doesn't have any sort of in world save.
The problem is compounded by the control scheme and the inventory system which often feel like they're forcing mistakes on you. One particular thing that irks me is that the game treats walking and running as two different things; in most games you use a key to alternate between walking and running. In HC47 there are two separate keys for walking/running, so if you're walking and you want to run, you must first release the walk button and then switch to the run button.
Worse than this is the inventory system which uses scrolling exclusively. There are no hotkeys for different weapons/items. This makes access to your inventory both slow and imprecise. You can get used to it, but it's still a bad system in a game where you have to be quick to react to changing situations.
If you can look beyond these problems, there's a good game underneath that can be very rewarding to people with plenty of patience. However, if you can't get past these things or if you're not a patient sort, you'll probably just quickly get frustrated with the game.