The summer of 2006 saw the Xbox World team in especially violent form. A typical Monday morning natter around the water cooler went something like this.
"So, I was at this party at the weekend. The first thing I did was choke out this drunk who was dressed like Santa.
Stripped him naked, I did, then bunged his limp body into the freezer. They'll be thankful I took the time to do that when they discover him in a few days.
Then I nipped to the bar, slipped an aphrodisiac in a drink while no-one was looking, and delivered it to my target.
Naturally it wasn't long until he clambered out of the pool for a bit of whoopsie with the first broad that made eyes at him. I waited patiently outside the guest room until he finished, then ran over and tipped him over the balcony.
Took ages, but no-one suspected a thing. Well, a few people did, but they're dead now. How about you?"
"Oh, I went down to the basement and shot the bottom out of the swimming pool".
"Yeah. Glass-bottomed, innit? Then I had enough time left to make myself a nice sandwich."
The above exchange might sound like it's from a house party for FBI's most wanted, but it's actually describing a scene from Hitman: Blood Money - the game where you're free to make any choice you like, as long as the outcome is MURDER.
BALD AS BRASS
Few games are as misunderstood as Hitman. It's commonly mislabelled as a 'stealth action' game, but it doesn't deliver on either of those two promises unless you're playing it the wrong way.
We'll concede that it's a stealth game in as much as you play the part of an undercover agent, but there's rarely any need to sneak about.
Agent 47's appearance is tailor-made to blend in; you're free to roam wherever the public might without raising suspicion.
You can physically brush past your assassination target in the street. Hell, in some missions, you can even cop off with your target.
As long as no-one notices you fiddling with something you shouldn't be (or creeping up behind them with a syringe full of poison, naturally), you're free to stomp around to your heart's content. No air vents, no Sam Fisher impersonation required.
Different costumes award you different access levels across the map and the priority at the beginning of each level is to get yourself as high up the costume food chain as possible.
It's not uncommon to find yourself guarding the very person you're trying to kill, but suits are rarely found neatly folded for your pleasure, which leads to lengthy sidetracks as you move away from your main objective to stalk janitors, clowns or - oh yes! - even Santa Claus.
By the time you're finally ready to bump off your target, the hard work has arguably already been done.
But why spend ages injecting sedatives into doughnuts when Agent 47 has a gun in his back pocket? You could technically shoot your way blindly through the entire game, but thanks to an inspired (but often misconstrued) design decision, the gunplay is infamously clunky and awkward.
Everything about Hitman: Blood Money is purpose-built to steer you away from confrontation, from the level design to the Notoriety system to the very interface of the game itself.
So it's not stealth, and it's not action. But what it is is some of the very best real-time puzzling you'll ever encounter on Xbox. It'll test your planning skills, your spatial awareness and your ability to devise new, increasingly unorthodox gameplans under pressure.
Play it, love it and whatever you do, keep your gun in its holster (unless you're staring at the underside of a swimming pool).
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