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Hitman: Blood Money

Splash the cash - Blood Money's brilliant

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And a good thing too, because there really isn't another game experience like Hitman out there, even among sneak-'em-ups. Metal Gear Solid has camouflage, but Blood Money's disguises make for a much deeper (and often hilarious) way to throw others off the scent. How much harder is it to invisibly cap a Mafia snitch in bland suburbia than take out soldiers in a war zone? Plus, where else would you neutralise targets dressed as a children's party clown, a giant red budgie, a hillbilly-wedding guest, Santa Claus or the devil himself? Splinter Cell has its light and sound meters, but Blood Money's suspicion meter trumps them both. It's less clinical for one thing, and it relies on you giving 47 the appearance of unhurried normality to everyone else, while secretively planning focused moments of calculated violence. If there's a more satisfying payoff in a game than calmly strolling through the aftermath of fl awlessly executed hit right in front of your enemies with the suspicion meter barely even flickering into green, then we'd certainly love to hear about it.

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However, the trade off for that immense satisfaction is a lot of initial trial and error. But don't worry, this is how Blood Money is supposed to work - dying a lot and restarting on your way to flawless kills, although admittedly occasionally wearisome if it happens too often, is all part of the enjoyment. Baby steps. AI is, with very few exceptions, scalpel sharp and virtually every mission has at least one difficulty bottleneck that will try your patience as you repeatedly test alternative approaches. In a brilliant later mission set in the White House, for example, we spent a good half an hour simply working out how to get past initial security at the front door. (In case you're wondering it involved getting a tourist carted away with our Silverballers in her briefcase, blowing up a remote mine on an alarmed display case in the White House museum, stealing a guide's uniform in the staff showers and then sedating a marine, stealing his uniform and heading for the roof. Still, no doubt you'll find scores of other ways to do it, and therein lies Blood Money's genius and immense replay value.)

CASHING IN
Stuck? Then why not use some of your dirty money to buy Intel on the mission at hand? Hmmm, that chandelier is hanging in a useful spot. Why would I care that the First Lady meets her lover in the East Wing drawing room? Oh, right. The unknown target has a booming voice, you say? Interesting.

In fact, Blood Money is a very appropriate subtitle, because this time around, your money works a lot harder for you than ever before. Not only can you buy sly pointers on how to complete your mission in unexpected ways, but you can also splash the cash on a world of upgrades for 47's core arsenal, including laser sights, accurate flechette rounds for shotguns, silencers, armour piercing rounds and carbon fibre barrels for your W2000 sniper rifle. And there's a final use for your money that's tied into the new, superbly conceived, notoriety system.

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At the end of each mission you get a breakdown of your performance that shows how many witnesses clocked you, headshots, close kills, innocents slain, that kind of thing. All of these factors can affect your notoriety in subsequent missions, and the results are displayed in the form of the front page of a local newspaper on the day following your job. There, among clever side stories that reveal plot details, you'll find the press report of your mission woven into a unique news story that reveals either how professional or idiotically ham-fisted your performance was. Trust us, it's not long before seeing the words 'amateur' or 'lunatic' will have your cheeks burning with shame. See what we meant about pride in your work?

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