Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hitman HD Trilogy review

    This is something of a cheat because, when I tend to review older games, I generally review them individually as opposed to all in one go but I decided to do it this way because, why the hell not? Besides, there's the simple fact the Hitman games are not exactly dripping with elaborate story. There's Agent 47, he's a genetically engineered superhuman, he kills people for money. Each of the games has something more going for it but this pretty much covers the basics of the franchise premise.

    The Hitman HD Trilogy is a porting of the original Xbox games (Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman: Contracts, and Hitman: Blood Money) to the Xbox 360 and, really, they've done a decent enough job cleaning up the graphics. There's only so much which can be done, though, and the games definitely show their age. That doesn't mean they're not something gamers shouldn't give a try, though. There's much fun to be had if you're willing to deal with the somewhat dated controls as well as the fact things like the disguise mechanic are constantly changing.
Russia is my favorite part of these games.

    It should be noted the original Hitman game was not converted due to an odd quirk about the franchise: Hitman: Contracts is a something of a remake of the original Hitman: Codename 47. When the Hitman games first moved to console, they quickly outsold the original PC games which they were based on.

    As such, the vast majority of Hitman fans had never played the original. Hence, the developers decided to redo the missions for Contracts, doing so in a backwards mission order with 47 having a flashback to the events of the first game while seemingly dying from a gunshot wound. Hitman completitionists aren't going to be missing anything by just playing through these three games as a result.

    The chief difference in the games is, essentially, how forgiving the games are in regards to having 47's cover blown and how valuable a disguise is. In general, the more the games progress toward Blood Money, the more forgiving they are with the option to shoot your way out of a problem. Likewise, Disguises become more and more troublesome to use so they are less of a gamebreaker if you know what you're doing.

Well, except for this part.
    Even so, the disguise system was more enjoyable in the original games than in Absolution where there were numerous plot holes generated by its usage (does every cop in New York know every other cop?).

    In the original games, disguises can be busted by running or hanging in front of a person for too long or, well, seemingly just because sometime. Still, they're the primary method for the Hitman to reach his targets and the tension while waiting to see if a disguise will hold up or not is immense.

    Of the three games, Blood Money remains the best in the franchise by most gamers' reckoning for its expansive levels, enjoyable story, polished game mechanics, and operatic soundtrack. I'm not entirely on the Blood Money train because I actually feel the game suffers for its depiction of 47 as well as its poor action mechanics. 47 is at his most cold and inhuman in Blood Money, which is not a character direction I particularly like and much prefer the more conflicted 47 from Silent Assassin.

    Indeed, 47's portrayal in the three games is something of a sticking point with me as he's only allowed to show his more human side in rare instances. His attempt at redemption by serving as a gardener in a Sicilian church, his absolute anger at Doctor Ort-Meyer, and a few other small scenes are all the humanity the Hitman is allowed. There's also a few oddball scenes like 47 going ballistic on Agent John Smith over meeting him in person when this has never been shown as an issue with him.

And this part.
    The villains are a mixture of the very enjoyable and the somewhat silly. The original villains who were Agent 47's clone donors are lacking in depth and personality while the sequel ones are a steady improvemewnt.

     There's not that much in the way of a supporting cast but there's some interesting characters nevertheless. I'm a big fan of Diana, the closest thing Agent 47 has to a friend, but I also love the other members of the cast.

     Agent John Smith is a delightfully awful CIA agent and I would love to see more of Lei Ling, the prostitute who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was particularly fond of Father Vittorio and hope he makes a return in some future game.

    The best character in the series is probably Blood Money's Mark Parchezzi, who comes in threes. As the evil(er) counterpart to 47, it's interesting to see our hero faced with someone every bit as dangerous as himself. This isn't the sort of game where Bosses are fought, however, so a headshot will take care of him as easily as anyone else. The game breaks reality a bit by having its most important characters take numerous bullets otherwise but, honestly, I think we can overlook that in favor of being more enjoyable.

    The level design of these three Hitman games are quite impressive, especially for their time, with Hitman: Blood Money being an especial triumph. The massive levels are places where discovery is constantly a risk and there's multiple paths to each objective as mentioned. The ideal way of playing the game is to go in, not be seen, and arrange some terrible accident using the weapons inside.

A difficult shot but most satisfying.
    Ironically, the tutorial of Blood Money is about the only place where this isn't possible. There, the game forces you to murder about a dozen of a Snoop Dog-analogue's gang to give you insight into how the combat and assassination techniques of the game work. Figuring out what you can and cannot do in a level is often one of the best parts.

    Special mention should go to the soundtrack with the games having a selection of opera and choir-influenced scores which are unlike anything else in playing. It's slightly blasphemous to do "Ave Maria" to a murder spree with a hammer on a bunch of mob bosses but, really, mobster movies have been juxtaposing the two for a long time. Either way, the Hitman games are still one of the few franchises which I purchase the soundtracks for automatically.

    These three games are enjoyable more for their playability, presentation, and atmosphere than storytelling. They are excellent sandboxes where there's any number of fascinating and hilarious ways to kill your target. If you're willing to put up with the dated controls and gameplay shifts, these games are still a great source of "do it yourself" murder simulation. The story and characterization is low, however, with only Silent Assassin really leaping off the screen. Overall, though, I give this a stamp of approval.


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