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Hitman: Blood Money

"No women, no kids. That's the rules". French tough guy Jean Reno's words as the assassin from the movie Leon are echoed by Rasmus Højengaard, game director at Io Interactive, when we ask if there are any taboos the studio won't touch for Hitman: Blood Money. "First of all, we won't have kids in the game - and we don't have any female targets," explains Højengaard. "Otherwise, I'd have to say there are no taboos."

So there you have it - Io Interactive is a studio that isn't afraid to take on the excesses of the tabloid press, portraying as it does the grim life of the contract assassin, complete with brutal killings, a dark and seedy underworld and a higher than average count of doubled-over men that have been stripped down to their pants.

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The Hitman series has been taking out ne'er-do-wells for the past five years now and although the previous games have always offered an intriguing and novel subject matter - along with the chance to take on the role of a cooler-than-ice character - we can't help but feel that Io hasn't quite managed to hit the nail squarely on the head yet. However, the team has been busy eavesdropping on the Hitman community, as well as adding a host of new ideas and PC ZONE has been invited to its studio in Copenhagen, Denmark, for a glimpse at the next instalment of a day in the life of a cold-blooded killer.

SETTING THE SCENE
Io is keeping determinedly tight-lipped about the story, the only thing it's letting slip being a Yoda-style "time-wise, they connect". As the lights go down in the presentation room, Højengaard sets the scene: "Contracts was very dark and gritty, but in Blood Money, we want you to play out the violent missions in more colourful and artistic environments."

As he finishes, the Casino level springs to life on the massive screen and we finally get to see just what Højengaard means by 'colourful'. As Agent 47 stands outside the casino entrance, gaudy neon-lit buildings tower over the Las Vegas sidewalks, impressive fountains shoot jets of water high into the air and a spectacular display of fireworks decorate the evening sky overhead. Stepping through the massive front doors brings us to the exquisitely detailed lobby, milling with a throng of guests, security and staff. Workers diligently scrub the floor and a man trying to hit on a particularly inebriated woman shows off the new animation system to great effect.

The Glacier engine - which has provided the backbone for the series - has been heavily tweaked, and this time around it includes a new system that allows for separate effects to be applied to each platform. Put simply, this means that you won't have to put up with a lazy console port - the PC version really shines with its DX9 soft shadows, normal mapping and water reflection.

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Next up, the Paris Opera level offers Højengaard the chance to show the assembled crowd a thing or two about how to carry out a mission Silent Assassin-style. Justice is dealt swiftly and inconspicuously, utilising a combination of the now familiar clothes-swap, a quick substitute of real for prop weapon and a handily placed loose chandelier. The level finishes with a very brief glimpse of a Playboy mansion-style level featuring some more lovely water effects (unfortunately slightly obscured by a gaggle of scantily-clad models) and a brief hark back to the seedier locale of Contracts.

OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS
After we've finished admiring the scenery, the first thing that's instantly noticeable in Blood Money is 47's raft of new physical abilities. From pulling himself up through roof access panels in lifts, jumping from ledge to ledge and sliding along narrow walkways, the bald one's new moves are a match for Sam Fisher (well, almost). More exciting by far though are the close combat moves, from headbutting an opponent to stripping an enemy of their gun and turning it back on them in retribution. An especially handy technique is the ability to use unsuspecting passers-by as human shields, thus providing you with some much-welcomed cover when things really start to go tits-up.

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