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Hitman: Blood Money

So hey, remember when I talked about how I want a game about a hired assassin? Well, a few of you recommended the Hitman games. Truth be told I already owned Hitman: Blood Money when I wrote that post, but I’d forgotten about it. I had never actually gotten past the tutorial level.

People complain that the tutorial was too linear, but I don’t have a problem with that. They did that so they could gradually introduce the player to each of the game mechanics, and like I said before, handholding is important in the beginning when your player hasn’t been taught how to play yet. So I think that aspect of it works. What put me off was the fact that things constantly went wrong. I would follow the game’s instructions and somehow the coin wouldn’t distract the guards, or Agent 47 wouldn’t use the guy as a human shield, or the secretary would freak out and run away instead of drinking the water. Whatever it was, I could never really tell if the game was bugging out or if I was just screwing up in miniscule little ways, but I got sick of it and stopped trying after awhile.

Well recently I decided to pick the game back up again, since a few people recommended it to me. And now that I’m past the tutorial level I have to say thanks to Nick Bell and Duncan for reminding me of it, because in terms of story and thematic elements this is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

(Before I go on, I want to clarify that I’ve only gotten to the fourth or fifth mission so far.)

The story and setting are about as dark as it gets. You’re an assassin who deals with gangsters, drug dealers, all sorts of criminals. Everybody in this game is a jerk or a snob, and if you ever see people with friendly faces it’s probably because they’re high on cocaine. The protagonist Agent 47 comes off as completely amoral and uncaring. He kills whoever he has to, and he doesn’t think twice about it. He never has pretensions to being righteous or heroic, and the game never tries to make you sympathize for him.  It works pretty much perfectly with the gameplay.

As for the gameplay itself, it sort of feels like a much more sophisticated Deus Ex, except without the RPG elements. You’re dropped in open-ended levels with open-ended mission objectives, and you figure out for yourself what to do and where to go. You can charge through the front gates and gun down everyone in your path, but the game tends to encourage smart and sneaky tactics, like disguising yourself, poisoning foods and beverages, disabling electrical devices, etc.

Many people call it a stealth game, but I’m not sure if that’s how I’d classify it. It isn’t really an action game if you’re playing it properly, and I definitely wouldn’t call it an “adventure” game, but it doesn’t really feel like any other stealth game I’ve played. Most stealth games involve staying out of the enemies’ sight, a la Thief or Metal Gear Solid, but this one is mostly about disguising yourself and hiding in plain sight. I suppose games like Assassin’s Creed and even Team Fortress 2 have similar stealth mechanics, though, so stealth is probably the best label for Hitman.

Whatever it is, it certainly feels unique. And interesting. I’m glad I got myself to the actual missions.

Here’s the problem, though. Either I just really suck at it, or it is way too hard to play the game properly, because I’ve tried the first few missions (excluding the tutorial) something like ten times each and every damn time I play them I somehow always get stuck in a gunfight. In worse cases I’ll end up having to gun down every guard in the area. Something always goes wrong, every time. It’s ridiculous.

I switched down to easy mode since easy mode has “accommodating AI,” and I never noticed any difference between that and the regular AI. I still end up having to kill a bunch of people in every mission. I suppose I could always just disregard the whole stealth thing and gun everyone down if that’s what I’m going to end up having to do anyway, but that just turns the game into a shooter, and a pretty mediocre one at that.

Also, the game’s saving system is absurd. You can save permanently between each mission, and the game does include a quicksave function during missions, but for some reason the number of times you can quicksave is limited based on what difficulty you’re on. On easy mode you can save as many times as you want; on normal mode you can save 7 times; on hard mode you can save 3 times; and on the hardest difficulty you can’t save at all. So apparently Io Interactive thinks that being able to save when you want just makes the game easier.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t just make the game “easier,” it makes the game better. You might as well make the controls clunkier and less intuitive in higher difficulty levels if you really think that’s what we want. Sure, it makes the game harder, but for all the wrong reasons.

So yeah, I’m kind of ambivalent towards this game right now. Really cool concept, but it also seems screwy.

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6 responses

  1. JPH, have you watched Hitmas these past few days?

    The idea behind limiting mid-mission saves is that it limits the amount of errors you’re allowed to make. If you choose to play on ‘Pro’, the game basically folds its arms, sits back and goes ‘Oh, you’re a Pro, aren’t you? Well, Pros don’t make mistakes. So just show me you can complete these levels without making any mistakes!

    Whether or not it’s a good design decision I can’t really comment on, because I’ve only ever had second-hand Hitman.

    July 2, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    • Sumanai

      I would’ve just attributed it to the thinking of “quicksave/load spamming ruins the feeling, so instead of showing or asking for self-restraint we’ll just prevent it”.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:50 AM

  2. Littaly

    Hitman: Blood Money is a bloody brilliant game if you ask me. Sure, it’s a far from perfect, and it doesn’t let you improvise quite as much as it wants you to believe. But just the way it makes you plan your moves and take in your surroundings makes it a pretty engaging game. It will test your patience more than a few times though, and not always on purpose either :-/

    The limited amount of saves feel logical to me, if you could save your game after every step, that wouldn’t just take the challenge out of it, it would take a lot of the tension out of it as well. It increases the stakes, puts more pressure on you to plan more carefully, keep your focus and not screw up your next move. But yeah, as far as a way of increasing difficulty it’s a bit cheap.

    July 2, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    • JPH

      It doesn’t just make the game more tense when I know that if I screw up now I’ll have to go all the way back to the start of the level. It makes the game annoying and frustrating for me.

      It also must be hard on people who don’t have time to sit down for an hour or two to play a game and can only play games in bite-sized chunks (there are a lot of people like that, you know). Especially since even if you’re playing on easy mode, your saves will be deleted if you exit mid-level.

      So yeah. I still think it’s a bad design choice. I’ve never been happy about a game not having quicksaving, but in a lot of games I can begrudgingly accept it. It’s harder to forgive Io Interactive when they clearly designed a quicksave function, and then made sure you can’t use it properly. It’s almost like they were trying to spite me.

      July 3, 2011 at 1:20 AM

  3. With Hitman, you have to expect to be doing things over and over as you repeatedly fail miserably. Unlike with most games, I find it works here as finding out a sneaky way to carry out your objectives is great fun.

    July 2, 2011 at 12:24 PM

  4. Well to be honest, I really think you just suck at the game, because I´ve been playing hitman since the second game (silent assasin) and if you think BM or Contracts are bugged, try to play this. I mean it:D anyway with some training, you would be possible to get 99% of the missions without a single bullet shot.
    I really like your blog (discovered it today) but thing that drives me crazy is how you sometimes judge games just after four missions, two hours and stuff. I don´t blame you that you don´t like Morrowind for example – your choice of course!
    Anyway, good luck and keep the page on!

    September 4, 2012 at 4:59 AM

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