Life is cheap - unless you're Codename 47, in which case it comes at a very high price. Phone up the agency, place an order and the stain on your life will be taken out in a jiffy.
Just like its slaphead anti-hero, the Hitman series is a bit of a stone-faced loner. It sits uncomfortably in the stealth genre because hiding in dark corners and climbing through vents just isn't cool enough for 47. On the other hand, Blood Money isn't really a third-person shooter either - although you can play it that way if you really want to.
What you have here is actually more of an adventure game than anything else. Figuring out how to reach your target and eliminate them without causing a ruckus is both challenging and highly rewarding. It's also done in such a way that you won't have experienced in any other game.
The key to success is being patient and learning patterns. All of the AI characters in Blood Money follow a routine which they repeat every couple of minutes. Once you've worked out what your targets are going to do and which routes the security patrols take, things really fall into place and you can start to have sadistic fun with near impunity.
To achieve the highest possible rating, you'll have to both avoid being seen and make the targets' deaths seem accidental. Developer IO Interactive has gone to impressive lengths to give you a startling number of choices. More importantly, though the vicious little tricks you can use are brilliantly conceived. A great example is the Paris Opera House level. You're given some subtle hints at the start that an execution scene will take place in the third act. By sneaking into the actor's room, you can swap his prop pistol for the real deal. Then all you have to do is take a seat in the auditorium and enjoy the bloody operatic climax.
Another particularly fun execution involves finding some lighter fluid and sabotaging the mafia boss's barbeque. When his wife goes to grill some sausages, she ends up being cooked alive - extra crispy. It takes some serious exploration and a lot of thinking to work out the sneakiest ways of killing your targets. They're well hidden but thankfully you can purchase some clues from the briefing screen.
There's always a way that doesn't involve pulling out a gun and massacring everyone. In fact, you'll only really be able to get away with playing the game like a shooter on the easiest difficulty setting. On most levels, the number of guards is too great for you to stand a chance of fighting back. You're also penalised quite heavily for killing unnecessarily. The more bodies lying around, the more you'll have to pay for the clean-up operation.
Even worse, a new notoriety game effect means that your actions on one mission affect your status through the rest of the game. Massacre everyone in each level and by the end of the adventure, people will see through your disguises and even the smallest action will be treated with instant suspicion.
The game does cater heavily though for those who don't mind infamy. This time round all of the weapons, from the trademark hardballer pistols to the sniper rifle are upgradeable. It's a sweet little system although it can be extremely difficult to smuggle weapons into some locations. In these cases you'll often have to rely on whatever's to hand: kitchen knives, fire pokers, garden shears or even a poisoned sausage. It's extraordinarily brutal, although the game's ocean-bed deep streak of black humour goes some way to compensate.
While many of us gamers will have become desensitised to violence over the years, there are a few extremely uncomfortable moments in Blood Money. The one that really springs to mind is the murder of a fairground owner on the first level. Unlike most of your targets, he really doesn't deserve it and at this point the amoral tone of the game is firmly established. Perhaps the killing of 'Swing King' Joseph Clarence is so nasty because he's so lifelike. Blood Money is rupturing with eye-catching and arresting characters, from the would-be assassins dressed as carnival crows to the wheelchair-bound senator who wants you dead. The graphics aren't awesome (they're on a par with the PC version), but the real beauty is in the design. Very few games have such consistent originality and freshness.