Review: Agent 47's mastery in hunting is the reason he's now a target himself.
Hitman: Blood Money is a suave game that rests on the laurels of its predecessors. As a paid assassin, you can navigate areas and complete assignments at your own pace. Not only that, you can finish a mission any way you see fit--whether that's taking a tactical approach or provoking an all-out firefight. Either way, the open-ended exploration and number of creative nuances meld to create a challenging adventure that'll have players on edge from start to finish.
The story is told in aberrant fashion, with the actual gameplay acting as recounts of past events. As you progress, two men continue to converse about various stories that had garnered heavy media attention. Playing the role of Agent 47--the underlying star of these tragic events--you are an employed killer, and how you go about it ties directly with the story, though somewhat confusingly. A newspaper article is written about each of your escapades, and the manner in which you go about your business will influence various details of the write up. The articles describe your actions pretty accurately too, mentioning even the most minor details of your endeavors. If you methodically carry out your assignments, for instance, the newspaper report may lean toward a freak accident. On the flipside, mauling everybody in sight will result in an entirely different editorial. Your actions also have a direct effect on your notoriety and paycheck. If you go on a killing splurge and pay no mind to witnesses, your notoriety will increase, making it harder to blend in with your surroundings in subsequent missions. Not only that, your dividends will undergo some deductions, which means less money to spend on weapon upgrades and bribes.
Fans of the series should feel right at home with the layout, as Blood Money controls very naturally in its PC-derived setup. However, initially it may feel awkward to newcomers. To control 47, players must use the left and right analog sticks in unison. The left analog controls your movement while the right analog swivels the camera angle and aiming crosshairs--the same way a first-person shooter's controls are mapped. This allows players to run for cover and fire back simultaneously--something you'll find yourself doing quite often. The controls are very user-friendly, and they complement the game's option of toggling to a first-person perspective anytime during play.
Unlike most games, there are three main action buttons with no set commands. Instead, each of the three buttons takes on a specific response in relation to 47's environment. Walk up to a dead guard, for example, and one action button lets you strip him of his ensemble, while a different button gives you the option to drag him. Of course, each action is displayed at the top of the screen next to its corresponding button, so you'll always know your options in a given situation. Besides taking clothing from enemies, you can also take their gun and dispose of the body, preventing any unwanted suspicion.
The fiber wire is another way to avoid creating a stir, as you can strangle enemies without worry of making noise. Contrarily, you can pry a weapon right from a foe's hand and have him meet his fate with his own gun. Needless to say, the latter approach is more attention grabbing, as gunfire is a quick way to alert reinforcements. For those a little more altruistic, you can always skip the bloodshed and use a syringe or stun gun to sedate any threats.
Those wanting to play Rambo will have an agglomeration of differently shaped weapons to do such, including a W200 Sniper, SMG Tactical, and M4, but jumping into every scene with weapons drawn and bullets blazing will often lead to an untimely death. That's not to say the run-and-gun approach is a complete waste, but more times than not, blending in with your surroundings is the wiser choice, especially on the harder difficulty settings. Not to mention, there aren't any health trinkets scattered around to bail you out. Besides, successfully completing an entire mission without ever having to fire a shot has never been more satisfying--it'll just take a little longer, as the locales are fairly immense, from a cocaine establishment hidden within a massive mansion to a Paris opera house chock-full of corridors and rooms. It's really quite easy to lose your way. Thankfully, you can access comprehensive maps of your surroundings. Depending on the difficulty, the diagram details where your targets are located as well as additional pinpointed information, and on the easier settings, you can save your progression during a mission.
Since the locales are so large, you'll encounter different levels of security personnel, and each rank has a distinct uniform. Roaming around in one disguise works within a limited range, but normally won't get you past an entire mission unnoticed, thus encouraging players to swap attires as they progress. Again, all this can be avoided in exchange for a more straightforward method of attack, which evokes a relentless ambuscade of guards. They approach in swarms and are fairly accurate marksmen too, even on the rookie setting. Fortunately, they are all rendered at the beginning of a level, so even when you are bombarded, you'll know they aren't just endlessly warping into the level. As fun as it is to take on a whole gang of soldiers, you can't necessarily experience the game's full potential until you stealthily approach matters.
Although not much of your surroundings are susceptible to gunfire, there's still plenty of interactivity. Dumpsters and freezers can be used to conceal corpses, but if none are in sight, hiding bodies in nearby foliage works just the same. There are a number of closets to pull a disappearing act of your own if needed, and as a final measure, you can always turn the lights off. The amount of options during play is incredible and really encourages players to rely on their undercover skills. You can even suit up as a worker, hide your piece in your handy toolbox, and pass a metal detector with flying colors.
The game's artificial intelligence is pretty intense, with attentive guards standing post at every corner. If you aren't donning the correct threads, forget passing a restricted area--some of which are even protected by a metal detector. However, as alert as the guards are, oftentimes they aren't the most sensible. We encountered one instance where the metal detector caught us and we were simply told that we can't enter the area, nothing more. Realistically, more security measures would've been taken, as concealing a weapon should arouse some concern. Unfortunately, security measures aren't always so relaxed. Triggering an onslaught of reinforcements is sometimes as easy as looking at an enemy the wrong way or ignoring orders. Sneaking behind targets to strangle them seems to be the safest approach, but doing so without being noticed can at times be an arduous task. Although as alert as they are, they aren't the brightest group of guys, as merely throwing a coin or dropping a weapon is enough to distract them momentarily.
Visually, the game has moments where the 360's capabilities are able to submerge. As previously stated, the diverse environs are rather deep in scope, with each level boasting its own motif and distinct characteristics. You'll encounter everything from the insides of an insane asylum to crisp outdoors that overlook the water. Little intricacies thrown in throughout help craft a lively atmosphere, from pigeons flying off as you breach their comfort zone to water realistically motioning and casting reflections of the scenery above it. The backdrops are full of depth and color too, which makes it all the more surprising that the shrubbery in the game lacks that degree of polish. Trees and bushes are pleasing to the eye from afar, but you'll come within arm's reach only to discover they are flat paper cut outs. And as sleek as some areas may look, most interior textures and character models come off as generic and bland--the same problem found in the game's menus.
The CGI cut-scenes aren't nearly as dull. You'll notice a boosted polygon count and characters that talk with adequate lip-synching. Speaking of dialogue, the voice actors deliver a lively performance, although the brevity of the segments often creates more questions than answers. The very generic menus are accompanied by a soundtrack equally as uninspiring. In addition, there are no other modes other than single-player and hardly any options or extras.
Throughout single player mode, your female assistant--with her clich? foreign accent fully intact--informs you of your next targets as well as results from prior endeavors. The in-game sounds play a prominent role in determining how others view you. Letting off a round, for example, will instantly give you the notoriety you don't want, with bystanders running amuck and nearby guards closing in to deal with the commotion. Once your notoriety is high enough, the background music catapults from a calm melody to an intense, upbeat score. Making noise can have its perks too, however, such as throwing change to create a temporary diversion.