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SummaryThere's nothing quite like a perfect hit, and this game is filled with opportunities to pull them off
The GoodThe Hitman series has proven itself to be a delight over the years. Sometimes impossibly hard, oftentimes impossibly gratifying, the games have pretty much carved out their own genre. The tall pale man with the bar code on the back of his head is a character you learn to respect even as he performs his deadly tasks of assassination and subterfuge. 47 is the same killing machine as in the previous games, and that's a very good thing.
The graphics have improved from the previous games quite a bit, and with all of the graphical options on, it's a delight for the eyes. The game is just a treat visually, and the developers made very good, subtle use of the fact that these are missions going on in 47's head, and as such could make sometimes eerie changes to the original missions. An interesting design touch is that it's raining in all of the missions, and considering that the game consists of flashback missions, it's a suitable ambiance.
The atmosphere is often exceptional. From fierce snowstorms at a submarine base-turned-bomb-factory to energetic raves in meatpacking plants, eerie music in important rooms and fitting music in others, the levels are varied and filled with life. The actual process of assassination is still the same through it all, and the hits are all the better because of it.
Finally, the Glacier engine is still kicking ass. All of the elements are strengthened in Contracts. The AI has continued to be perfected, the 3D renderer optimized while adding more eye candy, and the sounds are ever more convincing, the physics more immersive. There are still flaws, but they are steadily disappearing, much like actual glaciers today.
The BadHitman: Contracts is basically the first game redux. The missions are prettier by far, they're more fleshed out, and in a lot of ways they're perfected, and feel as new as the actual new missions in Contracts. But without having played the first game in the series, there is essentially no storyline as to why you're doing the missions. While there are a few paragraphs explaining the story, you don't really get a great sense for why you're doing the hits. They feel disjointed, even when you HAVE played the first game in the series.
One of the most enjoyable features of the previous two games has been in weapons management. With the first game's monetary pre-mission purchasing menu, and the second game's continuous gun-collection method, the third game abandons both ideas. This is mainly in part because the game is taking part in flashbacks, and in general sets it up so you don't need more than the same set of weapons common between all of the missions. Ideally, you won't need to touch any of the big guns you find in the mission anyway, since if you're going for stealth you'll never need to fire a single bullet. This is still an area where both of the previous games outdo Contracts, however.
A couple of the remade missions have lost their focus in this transition. Nothing that is too distracting, but when you merge two missions from the first game together to form one mission, you'll lose elements from both, even when it results in a good mission in the end. Some of the cleanest ways to end those individual missions return in the resultant mission, and some don't, but in the end, the missions proceed smoothly.
Finally, the game is still all about trial and error. In the quest to achieve the 'perfect hit', you'll stumble around the missions for a while looking for the right combinations in order to achieve that Silent Assassin rating. This has been the weak point of the Hitman series all along, at least in my view, but it's a small weak point. When you do hit the right combination of events, luck, and planning, it's as sweet as gaming gets.
The Bottom LineIn every new version of Hitman, the game mechanics and flow just keep getting better and better. The first game was a refreshing new experience, and pulling off a perfect hit just felt great. The second game refined every aspect of the first game. Contracts, the third game in the series, seems like a transition from the second to the fourth games in the series, providing just enough story to serve as a tantalizing preview and mental motivation for the upcoming Blood Money game.
Contracts is extremely enjoyable, especially if you've played the first game and enjoyed the missions there. Even if you haven't, Contracts provides a solid single-player gaming experience by itself. The missions chosen to be remade were arguably the best of the series, and the new missions accentuate the design style that the developers decided to run with in this game. Simply put, assassination never had it this good.