This contract is legit.
Despite having recently completed the last Tenchu game, my thirst for assassinations is still unsatiated. Lucky for me, everyone's favorite contract killer, Codename 47, is back, once again sporting the shiniest pate in the business - complete with signature barcode.
Developer I/O Interactive and Eidos serve up the third game in the Hitman series with Hitman: Contracts. Unfortunately, this installment is doesn't improve upon the second game like that one improved upon the first. To its credit, Hitman: Contracts delivers some great stealth moments and decent open-ended gameplay, but the previous problems nipping at the heels of Hitman 2 keep right on nipping at Contracts.
The game opens in the Sanitarium, the birthplace of our genetically engineered assassin. For reasons yet to be revealed, you are cast back in time to the events at the end of the first Hitman game, right after you take out the father figure/scientist who created 47. You must escape this asylum just as the boys in blue arrive, but how you do so (guns a blazin' or finding a sneakier, more circuitous route) is largely up to you, a gameplay concept that pervades Hitman: Contracts from start to finish.
This flashback story theme is essentially what you will find in over half of the missions in Contracts. It slowly becomes apparent that Codename 47 is currently lying on the ground dying and his life as a contract killer is seemingly passing before his eyes. Hence, you will play many variations of previous missions found in the original PC Hitman. While this may cause some veteran assassins to cancel their contracts, I found it rather interesting and enjoyable to play some of those cool Hong Kong bits without the painful control scheme that plagued the original game, and the same can be said for several other deja vu sequences.
Each mission begins with a brief introduction to the person you need to hit and the area in which they should be found. Sadly, the cool video footage surreptitiously acquired to aid you in identifying your prey is gone. It is missed and seems like a step backward in terms of atmosphere and immersion.
From there, you pick from a selection of weapons you feel would best assist you on your morbid foray. More are offered as the game progresses and ultimately include several pistols, submachine guns, automatic rifles, shotguns, sniper guns, poisons and your tried and true garrote to lovingly strangle the life out of anyone who stands between you and the almighty dollar. Knives and other objects such as cleavers, meat hooks and pool cues can be found in the field and used to great effect. In fact, the weapons really help make the game. They're fun to use and even more enjoyable to experiment with.
Your areas of engagement include Russia, Britain and many places in between, most of which are quite huge. The size leads to some replay value " you might first try a certain route with only a few guards to knock out, then try it with a little less subtlety by gunning down anything that moves. A lot of forethought is required to effective carry out a hit successfully. Props to the designers for creating interesting levels.
I should extend those props to the team behind the graphics as well. This is a dark, mature game and the developers cut no corners to get that idea across. Lights are mostly dimmed for a more pulp film noir theme. Many areas feature great mood-enhancing atmospheric conditions like heavy rain and fog. The lay of the land is well detailed and the textures are sharp and clean with just a few jaggies on the character models.
Moreover, the game does not shy away from the blood and gore. Bullets rip through victims and splatter blood from exit wounds all over environment. A decent use of ragdoll physics leaves bodies slumped in an expanding pool of their own blood. It's great stuff, but unmistakably mature, so you might want to keep this away from the wee ones.
Exceedingly less great is the enemy A.I. Considering this is Hitman's third time out, I was hoping for advanced enemies that would dodge and weave, work together and duck for cover. Forget about it - these dimwits just plan to overwhelm you with numbers, especially on the easier difficulty setting where the save-anywhere feature is disabled. It's not impossible to find a nice shady spot, like a room with only one entrance, and simply lay waiting as they all pour through to be mowed down by machine-gun fire. This is an area fans of the series have been patiently waiting to see cultivated as it massively detracts from both stealth and action gameplay styles.
I also take issue with the disguise system. No matter the nationality, weight or height, Mr. 47 can slip into just about anyone's outfit and parade around undetected by the local rabble. White, bald and bar-coded should be a red flag to triad gangs in Hong Kong. "Hey, that ain't Chan!" Codename 47 must know some Jedi mind trick that goes with him playing dress-up. Lame.
The list of flaws may not be long, but they are extenuating. Moreover, on Normal difficulty the game can be completed in about 10 hours, which is on the short side. Still, the game does serve up a solid, well-balanced action adventure filled with plenty of cool, brutal style. Contract renewed.