Monday, March 2, 2015

VGR Hitman 1

The original and often underappreciated Hitman - Hitman: Codename 47!

VGR: Hitman: Codename 47 or simply just Hitman aka Hitman 1
From IO Interactive/Eidos Interactive
Played on PC
Also available on /

Type Third Person Shooter/Action/Stealth
Year 2000

Developed by the then-young Danish developer IO Interactive, just founded in '98 in Copenhagen. Hitman: Codename 47 was this independent studio's first title in 2000.

The game was published through the British game publisher Eidos Interactive (now sadly defunct and merged with Square Enix). It would help both establish IO Interactive, broaden Eidos' catalog as a video game company (they were mostly known for Tomb Raider back then and didn't really cater to a much mature audience) and launch the now-cult Hitman series.

Hitman: Codename 47 was running on their own engine, the Glacier engine. This first episode would receive a lot of positive praise not only for the game itself but for the engine and its sense of realism and really smart AI at the time.

Our main protagonist, only known as Agent 47 was actually models after his voice actor, David Bateson.

The game begins with a very unique training facility implement into the storyline. The goal is simply to get familiar with the controls first... and then escape this strange compound. Failing to do so will result in having to repeat the entire process "another day" (in-game).

Once 47 finally escapes, it turns out this was some kind of sanatorium in Romania...

Not much is known about our protagonist. Only that he's probably had some pretty unnatural childhood hinted here and there at first, and that's he's pretty quiet and shows very little emotion through the game.

After that the structure of the game follows a pretty classic mission-based approach.

A few years later, our Agent 47, going under the alias Tobias Rieper these days, has ended up working for the International Contract Agency (ICA), or simply "the Agency". A mysterious shady contract killing organization. He only knows his handler through the name Diana Burnwood. She gives him targets, and he takes care of the rest. He's been doing several jobs for them all over the world, from Europe to Asia and back.

At the beginning of the game he's sent to assassinate several hits, a few wealthy corrput officials, some drug lords and other international criminals.

His first mission takes him to Hong Kong to instigate a war amongst the triads. He's then sent to Colombia, Rotterdam and Budapest.

Through the game the player is able to collect these letters that seem to tie all these different targets together. Are they possibly all somewhat connected?

Apparently 47 had been working for the same client all this time. Diana Burnwood finds out they all seem to have one mutual acquaintance - this very same client, a man named Ort-Meyer.

The last mission is to kill Odon Kovacs, a doctor at a sanatorium in Satu Mare, Romania. The very same place our Hitman escaped all those years ago...!

The gameplay of the game is a pretty standard third person shooter common back then. And since that was a few years prior to RE4, it still played very much like your regular first person shooter. You can swap weapons with the keyboard easily, you can even strafe left and right, and peek around corners.

Run, crouch, aim and shoot!

Our Hitman can interact in all sorts of way by simply pointing the cursor at an element, a prompt will then show the possible actions. You can equip stuff, attach it, action interuptors, grab documents (with more of the backstory regarding the people you're after), climb. And there's also the fun ability to jump from one nearby balcone to another.

The levels take place in these small but open enough set environments. Populated with NPCs both civilians and enemies.

Each new level the goal is to complete a select few objectives. Most of the time getting something somewhere and taking care of your principal target by any means necessary. Despite the game always suggesting you one main path, it's not really that linear. Most of the times it's always possible to complete your missions in various ways. The game might offer you a couple of principal paths to take down your hit, but you can try going in guns blazing or using the backdoor silently. You can even purchase a sniper and try doing your business from afar - if you can afford it. From how you approach a situation to the way you will proceed to reach the main target, there's often several ways to complete each level. Also, once your target killed it won't necessary be over, for most of the game levels you will certainly still have to find a way to leave the scene for the exit point.

The original Hitman has a pretty difficult learning curve.

Things get quickly complicated. Even if the game itself is quite basic (a lot of features would only be added in the subsequent sequels), the concept is well implement enough you can often try to be creative to accomplish the various contracts.

It usually involves taking care of a target while creating a diversion or stealing something. 

Using stealth, deception and gadgets to your own gain.

The game also uses a scoring system, in the form of the money you make from your contracts. To get the entire reward you need to do these missions the best possible way. Putting an emphasis on stealth as much as possible, the goal is to avoid raising alerts. Money will be deducted if you kill any civilians and also if you're able to avoid killing any guards.

Said money can be used to purchase gadgets, weapons and ammo before each mission (only if 47 is not able to take a break from the current location, more on that right below). You can purchase a pair of binoculars, a silencer for a couple of guns or even an armored vest to add a defense health bar.

Plan missions carefully, often through trial and error. You often get a set of missions levels per new setting. Whenever you get to a new location, a few levels will take place in said setting (except Budapest, which is only 1 single stage). Since the game aims for realism, all the weapons will be carried over from one mission to the next in these situations. Would you expect Hitman to make a trip back and forth once in Colombia just to purchase a couple of guns?

Most of the gameplay revolves around the disguises you can get 47 to put on. You can either steal clothes from guards or sometimes find a costume waiting for you in a closet. A specific disguise will only get you so far, depending on the "rank" said clothes will give our character. You can't go anywhere you want if you dress like, for example, a cook amongst the triad HQ.

It makes you take each set piece as a puzzle to solve, giving a thinking approach to this action game.

There's a few ways to dispose of enemies bodies if you don't want to raise any alarm. You can drag bodies around - which was quite an innovation for the time. You can crouch to move stealthy. There's also an alternate camera mode where it's easier to control your precision with the mouse.

The game is not without several flaws of its own, mostly due to the rigidity of its old school gameplay. The game gets rapidly really difficult. You really need to explore these levels all the way through to be able to understand how to solve them, planning in advance with the map doesn't really help much.

And let's not forget this random jungle level that IO seemingly recycled from some other project, I'm pretty sure. The missions don't really seem to stop and stretch forever. Plus it really forces you to ditch the stealth at one point or another. It simply doesn't work as well as the city/building settings.

Thankfully the game offers you a pretty wide array of weapons and gadgets to equip. You can always find some additional weaponry in a few drop points on the map. From the very useful knives you can use to stab foes silently or the wire (which would get much better in the sequels, but in this first episode I really prefer using the knives over it anytime).

The game also features some pretty impressive visuals. But the real impressive feat is without a doubt the series' very unique gameplay. Specially once you compare it to its contemporary like the Tomb Raider series (also from Eidos). Not only the game feels and plays much more realistic compared to other 3D action-platformers at the time, but the AI was also so much smarter and reacts quickly, passing along alerts and whatnot.

At first, not much is known about Agent 47. He's quiet and keep to himself. He's the player avatar, completing these missions to advance through the game.

The game starts more or less about playing as an hitman, killing all these targets. But then the story slowly starts forming up in the background, offering you pieces of information bit by bit until it comes back on center stage for the end of the game. If anything, compared to later entries this first Hitman has a really strong and captivating narrative.

There's some really fun twists for the end, most gamers are familiar with by now. It all turns out Agent 47 was really a clone, a genetically-enhanced human clone, the 47th genetic clone. Breed to be the ultimate killer, the perfect human killing machine! And it appears all hits until this point have really been 47's "fathers"! In the final lab you are greeted by these "Mr. 48" clones, an army of "Class 1 clone - series IV" like their predecessor 47, only superior models since they don't possess any free will!

Codename 47 really impressed for its time. For several reasons. The game was the first title to actually properly use the now-popular ragdoll physics, and even some pretty impressive cloth simulation that allowed foliage of the models, like real clothes! (A feature Splinter Cell would only bring to mainstream attention a couple of years later in 2002.)

Finally the game features a pretty modest (specially in comparison to the later entires) but memorable soundtrack, composed by Jesper Kyd.

Overall, this first Hitman was such a unique game at the time. Playing this sort of mission-based stealth game set to a very intriguing backstory and tone.

Just like the original Max Payne game, it is another underrated classic that shouldn't be dismissed because the visuals are kinda dated. It would launch an entire franchise and is mostly forgotten for its more complexe and better-balanced sequels. But make no mistake, this is were it all began! Such great inventive ideas, a fun classic older game that has now aged a bit, but it comes Highly Recommended and it's well worth a look! 

It's certainly not refined enough, kinda difficult and there's no in-game saves! They only give you some checkpoints occasionally, which you are only able to use three times before getting the Game Over screen, and having to redo the mission all over again. But those nitpicks aside, it was pretty revolutionary and quite challenging if like me you like some old school gaming!

Thanks to the great reception it received at the time, Hitman: Codename 47 would spawn an entire series which is mostly known to this day thanks to the much improved upon sequel, the now cult classic Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, released in 2002. Not only did the sequel improve the entire game engine but it also reimagined a couple of elements of the gameplay mechanics, allowing a much more open nature how to approach missions and better replay value. It also gave Hitman a better broad appeal. And the fact the series would now be released on console as well along PC from that point forward also definitively helped establish the Hitman series as another cult iconic gaming series.

To this day, the first episode remains an exclusive for PC. It was never released outside its original release, and since it's getting a bit dated, I doubt they will ever bother upgrading it to HD. The recent console compilation Hitman HD Trilogy was only missing this episode, and only the recent European Hitman: Ultimate Contract finally bothered bringing it back. It's also available on Good Old Games.

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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