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Hitman: Blood Money

Agent 47's so deadly he can deflect bullets with his bald, shiny head - or so we've heard...

This time it's going to be a little harder for Agent 47. The bald sneaker has got himself caught up in a war between two rival spy agencies, pushing him underground, off the record, into the shadows and making Blood Money a much meaner game. This isn't just about infiltrating posh dinner parties any more. In Blood Money your main task is staying alive. It's all gone a bit gangsta.

The training mission will have you stuck if you're not familiar with the Hitman way, but it's one hell of a good sign of the new, more action-packed direction the series has taken. Within minutes of starting the first mission you're expected to throw coins to distract gangsta guards, spy through keyholes and stealth-kill blokes from behind by sneaking into position and sawing away at their necks with your fibre wire.

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Then, right, you're dragging bodies and dumping them in chest freezers and hiding in a cupboard. For a stealth game, Hitman: Blood Money looks like a whole lot of fun. And it's also very easy to get around. Agent 47 is now an extremely user-friendly stealth operative. Lots of his moves are automatic - he can leap across gaps all on his own just by you pressing the stick in sort of the right direction, and he locks onto ledges and pipes, cutting out the pixel-perfect nonsense that makes so many of these games such tedious chores to play. You look after the planning, shooting and staying unnoticed. He does the holding on bits himself.

Clicking the right stick makes it all easier still, thanks to Blood Money letting you chose between first- and third-person perspectives, switching at will when the situation demands it. Shoot-outs are best played using Agent 47's eyes; stealth sections benefit from zooming out and getting a good look at your surroundings and cover options. As you'd expect from a game that's in its third sequel, it's all polished and very easy to use.

We also had a lot of fun with the sexy secretary. The real aim of the mission she stars in is to secretly poison her drink, so you can silently break into her boss's office without anyone hearing. However, impatient souls that we are, we went in all guns blazing and decided to shoot up her boyfriend right in front of her instead of going down the stealth route of pushing him out of the window.

So instead of going casually about her business she lets out a hideous scream and runs off. Everyone's alerted to your presence now, so you're left with no option but to keep on shooting. And that's pretty much what happens all the way through, with Blood Money letting you decide how to progress through the levels. And yes, you can just shoot the hell out of everyone.

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Of course, there's new stuff in it for fans of the series. You might like to hear there's a shotgun in it nowadays, ideal for the nastier, grimier levels that dump you on the streets
of America. Weapons are customisable too, with faster fire rates, accuracy and zoom enhancements available to buy - and speaking of money, Agent 47 is now rewarded financially for taking people out in style. Do it properly, quietly and unseen to earn yourself the big bananas.

There's also a lot more to do in this new Hitman world as well. Agent 47's obviously spent the last year at home playing other stealth games and learning from them, with coin-tossing enemy distraction moves, body disposals and the ability to grab innocent bystanders to use their flabby bodies as human shields.

During one close-up fight we panicked, pressed something (dunno what) and elbowed our opponent in the face. We also stripped him of his gun in the same motion, and left him standing there, confused, with his gun in our hand and pointing at his head. So we shot him, and made a mental note to read the manual and work out what button it was we pressed so we can do that kind of cool thing more often.

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