In spite of releasing with little to no hype surrounding it, the Hitman: HD Enhanced Collection is one of the more intriguing port collections released in a while. Containing the excellent and highly lauded Hitman: Blood Money and the slightly less popular Hitman: Absolution, the collection provides an enjoyable but fairly mixed offering from Agent 47’s back catalog.
Hitman: Blood Money
Hitman: Blood Money was initially released on May 26, 2006, and has appeared on systems spanning a total of three console generations, the game was received favorably and is now widely regarded by fans to be the best in the series. Remarkably and in spite of its age, this can still be considered broadly true.
Likely a port from versions released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Blood Money plays just as it ever did, it is an imposing and often unforgiving game in which you are thrown into an arena of flagrant safety violations and gun-toting security, forcing the player to move carefully and attentively to pull off the perfect hit.
For those who haven’t played it, Hitman: Blood Money follows Agent 47 via flashback as FBI teams attempt to close in on the assassin once and for all, all whilst a political coup and conspiracy begin to rear their ugly heads. It’s pretty transparent stuff and serves fairly loosely to connect the events of the in-game missions together, but Blood Money redeems itself almost fully through its gameplay.
For a title released during 2006, I am still floored by Blood Money’s ability to provide meaningful and diverse choices in spite of the technological limitations of the time. During the mission ‘Curtains Down’ for example, 47 must infiltrate a Parisian opera house to assassinate the famous Tenor Alvaro D’Alvade. Assassination options are numerous and range from replacing a prop gun with a real one (essentially having an actor assassinate for you), or masking the sound of your own shots in time with the opera. Impressive stuff.
This is true of most of the levels in the game which are varied enough to be satisfying and though they are certainly nowhere near as impressive as those to be found in the recently released Hitman 2 (confusing isn’t it), the distinction made between them ensures that you’re never bored. One mission may take place on the quiet streets of suburbia whilst another takes you to a casino on the Las Vegas strip, the diversification of geographies alongside your rapidly expanding arsenal strongly communicates that feeling of being a powerful assassin and it is one that the series hasn’t quite nailed since.
However, Blood Money hasn’t aged perfectly. It is quite obvious for example that this is a game that was initially released in 2006 and when closely expecting certain textures and character models they do reveal their latent ugliness. As well as this, frustration can arise from the nebulous notoriety system when you are suddenly gunned down for what you perceived to be a fairly minor transgression. There is also some argument to be made that the aiming in these games is archaic and too sensitive, however, this is likely here to discourage shooting sprees, a feature contrary to the interest of the game’s social stealth features.
For Hitman purists I still very much suspect that Blood Money will remain a favorite for some time to come and it remains the example upon which the series can continue to learn from and this is even without considering the excellent soundtrack from Jesper Kyd. In spite of its success and critical achievements, however, Agent 47 historically wouldn’t have another outing for six years, that is, until the 2012 release of Hitman: Absolution.
Absolution is similar to its beloved predecessor, in that it is very much the game that it has always been. It remains a curious departure from the slow, methodical gameplay that at that point had come to define the series and instead opts for a more grounded narrative experience which attempts to revitalize the franchise. It does this with mixed results.
Working as a direct follow-up to Blood Money, Absolution’s story begins with 47 attempting to assassinate his ex-handler Diana, who has supposedly betrayed the International Contract Agency. Before he is able to finish the job, however, Diana reveals a conspiracy and instructs 47 to watch over Victoria, an agency asset and genetically engineered assassin who will suffer his fate if not protected. Again, this is pretty insipid stuff, but the core weakness of Absolution is that it relies too heavily on this plot in order to inform the actions of the player.
As 47 no longer works for an overarching network of assassins, everything feels a little bit aimless. The minute-to-minute gameplay lacks the intentionality that it did before and this can be felt even down to the level design. We are no longer given large maps with branching paths and areas to infiltrate but a series of interconnected areas in which we often don’t even have targets but must simply move through unnoticed. It shows a fundamental lack of understanding as to what made the series interesting in the first place, that being your ability to triumph over a monstrous individual with the perfect hit.
Though the changes to the formula are irritating, however, the game does at least work proficiently. 47 is just as menacing as ever with more weapons and brutal animations to ensure that you feel like a trained assassin, even if you don’t often get to be one.
There are also new abilities to add to your arsenal which have clearly been designed to negate the frustration found in previous games, this is where the instinct mechanic comes into play. Instinct essentially affords you with greater tactical awareness, when triggered it allows you to see things like the future pathways of enemies, objects of interest as well as a mark and execute ability pulled straight out of Splinter Cell: Conviction. The instinct mechanic will prove contentious depending on your preference and if you would like things to be that little bit more challenging; you can always turn it off on the higher difficulty settings but this does feel like a betrayal of the original Hitman titles and marks a turning point in the series, where IO Interactive would start to provide experiences for wider audiences.
In spite of its misgivings, Hitman: Absolution certainly isn’t a bad game; it just doesn’t feel a Hitman game. It’s a strange, tonally inconsistent addition to the series which doesn’t capitalize on the promise of its predecessor and as a result, it is viewed generally as the weakest of the series.
Overall, the Hitman: HD Enhanced Collection compiles the best and worst of the Hitman series. It is a compilation which provides greater insight into the more modern Hitman tiles but with bizarre omissions, if for example Hitman Contracts, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin & Hitman were contained within the collection then it would be an essential purchase for both fans and newbies alike. As it is, it is hard to recommend the Hitman: HD Collection to any other than the staunchest of fans or to those that have played these older titles.