Tonight is a dark evening, the streets of Chinatown are cold and crowded as I make my way to a nearby Apartment building, the fourth floor though I could be wrong. Streets are filled with the sounds of commerce as I snake my way past a small crowd into a near by building. Carefully positioning myself in a window overlooking a Chinese ornamental garden. In hand an attaché case, it’s contents both as cold and calculated as the world they inhabit. From within the confines of this room I assemble my messenger of death and move toward the windowsill. Placing the rifle down I align myself with the sights and hold my breath as a shot is squeezed off into a local businessman. Within seconds I’m running through the building, down the back alleys and eventually to my escape. Real life this was not, it was the world of Agent 47.
It’s late 2000, around December from memory and the above was my first experience with Hitman: Codename 47, the game from creators IO Interactive. I liked it, a lot, and while it may have been a little rough around the edges and the AI was average at best; it held so many ties to the staples of Genre cinema and French Film that I couldn’t let go. Sometimes suffering under it’s own attempts to be something wholly substantial and yet so stylish that the later out weighed the former. Its story, while interesting, can be a tad on the convoluted side. Your handler Diana could be both frustrating and engrossing in equal parts. There were glimmers of genius hidden within this beast, yet it struggled to escape. This was the first point in my gaming life where I felt freedom to decide my path of choice, do I take the role of the aggressor, do I stealth in and let no one know or do I only take out my target of choice and negate all other casualties. It was up to the player to initiate acts of violence; the provocation was solely yours.
It’s ideals were as sophisticated as they were crude. Yet out of this mixed bag of gaming we saw an anti-hero of a man whose origin we had yet to experience. He was the figure of the cold and calculated man he was Agent 47. With his uniform of Black, Red and White and his branded neck, he was the constant within the ever-changing worlds of Hitman. From the first game on we were given a character that would not be redefined from game to game. He would be the pillar of stability in an ever more traumatic and crazed world and he would stay true. The symbolism of this was not lost, as there are few games where the character has not received visual upgrades from game to game. The shortcoming of his first foray was to be easily overlooked when the challenge of the hit was at hand. The rewarding experience that was learning the maps, hunting your prey and finishing the job were just so satisfying.
The other stand out was the often dark and suitably subtle score of Jesper Kyd. Now if you don’t know who Mr. Kyd is then you need to really 1) do your homework and 2) get every soundtrack he has ever worked on (Assassin’s Creed, Borderlands, Hitman series, Forza etc.), as few other sound designers are able to draw comparisons to both Vangelis and a gamut of classic composers in one fell swoop. He cemented the character, made him whole and made the world that much more confronting with his dark electronic score.
After two quiet years 47 returned in 2002’s Hitman: Silent Assassin. While the previous game had suffered from various glitches and some lack luster reviews, it was soon to be overlooked when the sophomore effort from IO Interactive was unleashed. This was a true masterstroke of gaming; the controls while still stiff had somehow been tightened up. The levels while previously diverse and creative were now artistic and intense both in design and mass. This sequel placed 47 as the now retired killer, now settled in a humble lifestyle in a monastery. Soon to be pulled back into the seedy underworld by villainous figures. This game rang true with me, from its epic scope to its pseudo Django Strikes Again inspired warrior monk story. A true homage to the work of both Puzo and Corbucci. This was a refined and beautiful ode to both it’s predecessor and to what many had desired from the original. The brilliant thing was IO’s ability to retain the no hand holding approach of the original, yet add more dynamic options to reach your outcomes. The dark electronics of the original had also now been replaced with a soaring and grandiose score again provided by Jesper Kyd. It’s classical inspirations as well as cinematic score influences were an audio delight. This still holds as the greatest adventure of Agent 47.
The next release would be Hitman: Blood Money in 2006, and before you get all upset and say what about Hitman: Contracts from 2004. Well I’m going to cover those two together as Contracts was essentially a remake of levels from the original and some new levels. Though I’m not going to lie, it was nice to see The Meat King. Its story took place between two levels of Blood Money. 47 is out cold and Contracts plays out as a video gamers best of in his head while tying up some loose ends from previous games and creating new open ones. Blood Money on the other hand was a true sequel progressing 47’s gameplay further with the addition of the Tension meter as well as a larger agility set for the player. It’s colours more vibrant along with it’s locations; the streets of New Orleans a standout for sure. The Tension meter was an interesting concept and added that much more challenge to the 47 gameplay formula. It’s implementation meant that guard and civilian awareness carried into your next mission thus intensifying your experience if took the run and gun approach. The question was were gamers willing to go that extra step and man up to it? Sadly I don’t think many people bought it.
It wasn’t until late 2012 when we would find out how 47 had fared from his previous adventures. The character was back finally in Hitman: Absolution, the dynamic elements were intensified from previous experiences with a now more versatile and reactive game engine. This was a brilliant return that rode the knife edge in it’s difficulty levels, if you took the easier road you had a Batman Arkham Asylum style detective mode that would help you in your quest for vengeance. On the harder side you had a no holds barred, hands on experience where you could approach the game as if you would one of the originals, just you, your suit and your twin ballers. The only element that really stuck as lame with me was the lack of Jesper Kyd’s score, who sat out on this affair. This was a just and fare return for the hitman and hopefully it’s not so long before we see him again this time.
In an era where everyone is used to the slap dash release schedules of the latest Call of Duty or Zombie inspired shooter. It’s refreshing to know that within the gamut of sequels there is still a few series waging a war on ever simplified gaming and I’m glad to call Hitman one of them.
– Col B.