The bald-headed contract killer known only as 47 is in good form, primed and ready for more work in the latest installment in the dark, stylish Hitman series. Though very similar to the last two games in the series, the open-ended stealth action gameplay offered by Hitman: Blood Money is still just about as tensely exciting as ever. A few new twists to the formula, an intriguing story, and a memorably diverse, cinematic sequence of missions further make Blood Money worth it.
More bad people in high places need to be murdered in Hitman: Blood Money.
This is the fourth game in the Hitman series, but previous experience with the past games isn't assumed or required. In fact, you'll probably be more impressed with the game if you've never played one of these before. Returning players will be in for a comfortably familiar experience. The previous games' stories are alluded to during the course of this one, in which 47 discovers that he and his employer are being threatened by some other mysterious agency. He'll learn more of the rival agency's motives as he completes his own jobs, all leading up to a surprising and climactic conclusion. The starting mission leads you by the nose through one of 47's typical assignments--to eliminate a shady theme park operator, whose negligence once cost the lives of many innocent people. This man, called the Swing King, even entered the drug business in the wake of his theme park's collapse. 47's employer has asked that a photo of a deceased loved one be the last image that the crook ever sees...but when you finally reach him, he's just this sad worm of a man who grovels at 47's feet. Despite the number of armed thugs you'll need to get through before putting the Swing King out of his misery, this mission is easy, provided you follow the step-by-step instructions you're given. Subsequent missions are substantially tougher and less linear, but this first one still is representative of the types of moody, affecting scenarios you'll encounter in the game.
There are more than a dozen missions in all, and most of them are set somewhere in the United States, such as a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, an Egyptian-themed Las Vegas casino, a rehab clinic in Northern California, a stately riverboat traveling the Mississippi, a posh Los Angeles suburb, and more. The game does a great job of realizing each of these different settings, making them feel appropriately large, complex, and alive. Mardi Gras is particularly impressive, its streets jam-packed with people partying. All of these places tend to be filled with armed guards as well as civilians, so you'll need to exercise caution in order to take out your targets and escape undetected. However, if you slip up (or deliberately blow your cover), you can always try to shoot your way out. As in the previous games, Hitman: Blood Money rewards stealth and careful planning, but if you want to try to run and gun your way through the levels, you have that option. You can instantly switch from the default behind-the-back perspective to a first-person viewpoint if you prefer, and the game lets you use a whole bunch of different, realistically modeled real-world pistols, rifles, and submachine guns against your enemies. Of course, it's possible to finish most missions in Hitman: Blood Money without squeezing off a single round, if you're careful and observant.
Codename 47 is once again in the starring role, but the game's beautiful environments steal the show.
You don't need to shoot your victims, because you have access to poisons, explosives, knives, and other means. In many cases it's possible to avoid getting blood on your hands altogether, by arranging an accident for your target--say, by causing something very heavy to drop on his head. Figuring out these trickier, cleaner kills is naturally gratifying, and it also tends to earn you a higher ranking (and more money) once you've escaped and your mission is accomplished. As in the previous games, planning your strike is easy thanks to a GPS-style real-time map that's accessible at the touch of a button, which shows you all other characters in the vicinity at the normal difficulty setting, including your targets. Tougher settings show you fewer characters on the map, make enemies more lethal, and also limit your ability to save your progress during a mission. Even so, between the map, your objectives list, and the ability to purchase more intel if you need it, even the most intimidating missions become solvable. It helps that 47 is much tougher than an average man, and can withstand a lot of gunshot wounds before finally succumbing in a red-tinged, slow-motion haze.
As in the previous games, your enemies' artificial intelligence unfortunately doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, but at least it puts on a good show if you don't start messing around. When you're just observing, you'll find that the AI in Blood Money does a convincing job. You'll see characters chatting or lounging about, while guards casually patrol the premises. Someone might stop for a bathroom break or go outside for a smoke, not realizing the danger of splitting off from the crowd.