Tuesday, August 4, 2015

1PanelReview Hitman 3

There's a bullet for everyone. And a time. And a place. Yes... maybe this is how it has to be...
Time to dig out the past, M. 47! Reviews of the Hitman series:

What it is: Hitman: Contracts also known as simply Hitman 3

Which is: A Third Person Shooter/Action/Stealth game
Created by: IO Interactive/Eidos Interactive
Year: 2004
Available on: PC, Xbox, PS2, PS3 & Xbox 360 (HD version)

The third installment in the Hitman series, Hitman: Contracts was released in 2004 - two years after the last game Silent Assassins. Once more developed by IO Interactive, published by Eidos Interactive.

Hitman: Contracts wants itself different from the two previous more story-driven stealth action games to go back to what the fans wanted to see - focus on big open levels to solve however you please. Thanks to a newfound bigger audience following the release of Hitman 2, the game can be seen as a sort of "best of" the series so far. The story takes a backseat this time. It all begins with our favorite mercenary Agent 47 wounded in a dark hotel room... He starts having flashbacks to previous memories, stages that original took place in Hitman 1 (and 2) and now taking place in 47's broken memories. The levels from the first game were completely remade from scratch, from the ground up, while the stages from the second game are more or less the same. 47 has some new moves which at least help make the whole experience feel fresh and slightly updated. The game is about 12 fairly complex missions-long. It is raining throughout the entire game to represent 47's distorted memories.

What's Good about it: I had forgotten how good Contracts really was until I replayed through it in this new PC compilation.
Hitman: Contracts is simply a great game. It's pretty dark. It has a great gritty tone.
And the game plays great too. This was at time where the Hitman gameplay had been refined at its finest and in its purest form, no silly additions or gimmicks. 
The game isn't exactly a proper new installment when you get right down to it. It's more of a best of the series by this point. Combining the best idea from the previous two episodes.
Thanks to the lack of a cohesive storyline (yes, it's a thing), the game can let loose from its narrative to have the player jumping around from one place to another, getting to be dropped in the middle of all these diverse, different and exotic locations. You get to visit places like the United Kingdom, Rotterdam, Budapest, Hong Kong and even France for a little while.
There are a ton of creative ways to get rid of your assassination targets, from guns to all the different "tools" you will find. Older stages recreated in Contracts also received a lot of upgrades in this aspect. I would suggest always avoiding using firearms for more, say, creative ways to dispose of your kills. Strangulation, poisoning, not counting all the "accidents" you can orchestrate inside a sauna, at a table in a restaurant, etc.
Playing Hitman is still pretty fun.
The main gimmick of the franchise never gets hold. Hiding bodies, finding outfits to blend in. To avoid suspicious behaviors you need to take care where each disguise will take you and avoid restricted areas, don't get where you shouldn't be expected. Take notice of patrol routes. Use the same weapons as the guards you're disguised as.
Contracts improves upon the refined controls IO Interactive developed over the years. Contextual actions are more diverse, from lock-picking to peeping into keyholes or jumping from one balcony to another.
This is perhaps the Hitman game with the most weapons available.
Hitman 2's ranking system returns. Ranking your performance depending if you go guns ablazing  like a "Mass Murderer" or "Silent Assassin" style. Always avoid killing NPCs as much as possible. 
Most of the stages from this game are either reimaginings or remasters from Codename 47 levels, only played in complete reverse order (it's really weird trying to make sense of the ingame story from the various briefings). There's a handful original stages like the now-already iconic slaughterhouse stage. The game starts from 47's revelation at the end of Hitman 1 only to end with that same game's first few triads Kowloon stages mashed together at the end.
It kinda makes you see that first game in a whole new light, that first level revamp of Hitman 1's first stage post-story is easily my favorite one even if it's super short and easy. It's Contract's best recreation, getting a glimpse of the bad guy Dr. Ort-Meyer and what happened afterwards escaping the asylum.
The same goes for that final mission in Paris, in a street under attack by GIGN officers surrounding the hotel where 47 was hiding, wounded, now having to make way to the airport to escape.
The game gives you rewards for completing the missions on Silent Assassins, special weapons!
Finally let's mention the great music, thanks to returning composer Jesper Kyd. As always, Jesper Kyd did some really impressive work on this game, going for an odd mix of choral arrangements remixed through electronic samples for a final much more darker score unlike the epic atmosphere he had explored in Hitman 2. It makes for a far less complex score but making the music of the game more psychological and oppressive.

What's Bad about it: Sadly, Contracts is not without its share of little issues. Nothing on the gameplay side, rather concerning the entire purpose of the game itself.
It doesn't feel like a proper new installment, it's just a "best of" the series.
While some of the revamps of older stages are quite impressive, some of the later Hitman 1 missions you get to do all over again feel pretty lackluster and simple. Some are just mere remasters, barely updated and not as polished as the rest of the game. 
In my eyes they should have waited to reach at least the third game before doing this sort of "best of" revisiting of past Hitman games. The experience doesn't warrant this flashback-filled game, not a lot of time had passed and there was simply no nostalgic values to warrant this game.
AI patterns act far less random than they used to in Silent Assassin, and even the level design seems much more straightforward and contained.
In the end we're left with a game that feels far less creative than the past two games, with a much more forgettable story (which used to be one of the strong points of the previous two episodes). Even the kills don't seem that great nor unique.
The game ends abruptly as you expect one final mission. Why the cliffhanger, you ask? To be followed upon throughout the storyline of its sequel, Hitman: Blood Money! Of course! That last level (and the entire present day story of Hitman Contracts) would be intertwined between two missions of the fourth game.

Overall: Hitman: Contracts is a great solid stealth game. Moody, dark and mature.

The game itself looks great, nice and detailed. It can even be brutal at times. The improved controls are really nice. They tried making the game more accessible with an increasingly difficulty system.

The game is a lot more action-packed. The only missing thing is an actual suspenseful storyline.

I still like the game very much, mind you. But I also expected a lot more from it.

At the time the game was also ported to Xbox and PS2. It remained mostly faithful to the PC release. The game was also made available on GOG and along the other console Hitman games it was re-released as part of a remastered collection, the Hitman HD Trilogy available on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2013 as well as bundled with the entire series in the PC compilation Hitman: Ultimate Contract.

All in all the game feels like a quick refresher before the actual next episode, Hitman: Blood Money which would follow Contracts in 2006.

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