There's definitely a renewed sense of optimism about the famous bald assassin if our vigorous hands-on with Agent 47's latest adventure, Hitman: Blood Money, is anything to go by. And that should come as a big relief for fans left disappointed by the lack of focus and innovation in his previous outing, Hitman: Contracts.
Although the principle behind the game remains the same - as 47 you must travel the world, bumping off unsuspecting punters to order - the totally redesigned interface ensures that Hitman: Blood Money now plays like an entirely different game. This is a much slicker and altogether more accessible murder-simulator. One that, courtesy of a new controllable camera, allows a freedom of movement and vision that's long been lacking from the series. It's a small thing perhaps, but being able to position the camera so that you can see Agent 47's face really adds a whole new level of immersion to the game.
What's really interesting about Hitman: Blood Money is that it takes a far more organic approach to design than the previous Hitman games, which had a tendency to start with the target, then proceeded to build often contrived levels around them. By creating real-life locations filled with people going about their daily routines first and then inserting 47's targets, the result has been a far more realistic, free-roaming game. No longer are you simply forced to work out the best way to kill your victims; now you're free to roam and experiment as you see fit. In effect, you're discovering how best to make your victims (and the surroundings) work for you.
Take, for instance, the level set inside a Vegas-style casino. Here 47 has three targets: a white supremacist, a wealthy sheikh the supremacist plans to exchange DNA samples with in return for cash, and a scientist employed by the sheikh to verify the sample. Upon arrival we were greeted with a wealth of potential schemes. Do we wait for the meeting to take place and hit all three at once, or take out the targets separately? Do we steal a bellhop uniform from supplies, or simply strangle one as he goes by and take his clothes? Will our sheikh disguise fool the supremacist? How are we going to get our guns past security? Can we really hide them in a suitcase, leave it in a suspicious spot and wait for security to take it in, bypassing the metal detectors? (Answer: yes, we can).
Because all three targets follow their own routines (as does every other person on the level) the trick is to carefully observe and pick your moment. While you can still just bowl in and start randomly shooting your way through the level if you want, not only does it make things harder thanks to the additional firepower that's called in to stop you, but doing so adversely affects your mission rating. And that can have serious repercussions later in the game. This means that, more than ever before in the series, the key to successfully completing your mission is careful planning.
And that's what makes Hitman exciting again. There's a real buzz about exploring your
surroundings and experimenting with what's on offer. You can literally spend all day dreaming up convoluted or just plain bonkers methods of assassination. It's not just more of the same. Hitman: Blood Money takes the series into amazingly inventive new places it's never been before. To be honest, if this doesn't rekindle your love affair with sponsored homicide, you must be dead already.