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Hitman: Contracts Review

ON OTHER PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox
GAME INFO
publisher: Eidos Interactive
developer: IO Interactive
genre: Sneakers

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 800, 256MB RAM, 2GB HDD, 32MB TnL supported video card
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.hitmancontracts.com

release date: Apr 20, 04
» All About Hitman: Contracts on ActionTrip


Over the years the Hitman series has enjoyed a steady evolution from a rather unpolished stealth action hopeful to a mature top-selling franchise for EIDOS Interactive. I've been a long-time fan myself and I was the first to applaud the many positive changes that IO Interactive introduced in the sequel.

So the real question now is does the third title in the series, Hitman: Contracts, successfully follow that natural progression.

The game begins with our favorite baldheaded contractor, #47, lying in a pool of his own blood and trying to figure out what the hell went so horribly wrong that he's now battling to stay alive. In Hitman 2, #47 went through an amazing transformation from ruthless hitman to a peaceful gardener and then back to somewhat ruthless hitman. While it was apparent that in the second installment EIDOS tried to put a positive spin on the character (yeah he's a murderer, but he's like the angel of death - only killing those who deserve it), in Hitman: Contracts they try to do no such thing. Although I'm yet to figure out the meaning of the game's opening sequence, and actually piece together any parts of the plot, I can tell you right now that in this part Hitman is back to being his old brutal self, killing anyone who has a big enough price tag pinned on their privates.

About the narrative, I was reluctant to actually read the background story on the official site as I figured I would just follow the events in game. Though the cut-scenes are very moody and excellently directed, I'll be damned if I could understand what the hell was going on. You're laying there dying, but then you're patched up by some guy, or are you patched up? And then WHAM! You're in Romania, in a nuthouse, and Romanian SWAT troops are looking to end you right then and there. I guess the events unfold in retrospective as the missions are actually leading up to what has actually happened, and while I have no problems with such a concept, I do object to the fact that the cut-scenes that are supposed to tie the story together don't gel well with the in game missions, leaving you with that old familiar Rainbow Six feeling of getting a briefing, accomplishing the objectives and getting the hell out of Dodge. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the story is indeed in there somewhere; you'll just have to actually concentrate to piece it together; it doesn't come naturally to the player in due course.

On a more positive note, the dark and sinister mood of Hitman: Contracts is really its greatest asset. The game world is brutal, direct and authentic in a weird artsy kind of way -- think Tarantino's work mixed in with some John Woo photography, but not choreography. The locales you'll be visiting are pretty damn bizarre, ranging from biker layers to medieval Scottish castles and so on. The prevailing feeling I got from roaming around these settings is that the levels are fairly large and abundant with neat, gory details that generate a very unique and interesting in-game ambience. "Contracts" has a lot of style because of it, and it's really a joy to play in that sense. In addition to paying a lot of attention to detail when designing the levels, the programmers at IO Interactive have really outdone themselves with marvelous sound effects and great background music. Combined with the effective use of pixel shaders to put certain in game objects in and out of focus, and the soft bloom and weather effects, the outstanding sound design creates what is an exceptional cinematic experience. Sure, the 3D code used to power "Contracts" is simply a revamped version of the old stuff, but the addition of the aforementioned visual perks, along with support for soft-body physics and some groovy dynamic shadows ensures that Hitman: Contracts looks very good if you are running a powerful rig. I played it on an AMD 3GHz, RADEON 9800XT, 1GB RAM, with all the details maxed out, and it ran fine in 1024. Higher resolutions, however, did cause a few lag issues. Naturally, people with less powerful rigs will have to scale down the graphical details which will considerably lessen the moody, visual impact that IO was going for. In all honesty though, in terms of the sheer quality of the 3D code and physics, Hitman: Contracts looks too dated to justify such steep hardware requirements. Max Payne 2, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and other such games look technically superior without putting so much strain on your hardware. In terms of art design, however, IO Interactive has done a terrific job.

Although Hitman: Contracts has managed to advance the series in some ways -- like in the art design department -- it also takes it a step backwards with some inexplicable design bloopers.

As you all know, the core gameplay in the Hitman series is mostly about stealthy kills and figuring out the neat ways the developers have laid out for you to dispose of the targets. Ironically, Hitman: Contracts -- while still having the capacity for such gameplay - doesn't deliver in those regards. I made the mistake of playing the game on Normal level of difficulty; big fucking mistake. Sure enough, you can still take the back route -- poison your target's drinks, disguise yourself to get closer to it, etc. -- but in all honesty, you'll rarely be required to be creative while playing Himtan: Contracts. Most of the time, you can simply walk in all guns blazing and rack up the body count until your target reveals itself on the map. It's just so easy to forgo the stealth option completely and simply fire away with your Steyer AUG or AK-74 that Hitman: Contracts makes the absurd mistake of morphing into this arcade action game rather than the well thought-out stealth shooter it's become famous for. And to make matters even worse, it doesn't matter which gun you use. You can be equipped with a pea shooter or a golden Desert Eagle; it won't matter as you'll be able to drop the bad guys without too much effort. Simply make sure that you have your back to the wall and fire away, baby! The only way they can really get to you is if they flank you or gang up on you. Granted, that has happened in a few missions, but not nearly as often as it should have, given my style of play. (Sometimes I really hate the fact that multi-platform titles even exist. DOWN WITH THE CONSOLES! - Ed)

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HIGHS
Great art design and ambience, sound effects, musical soundtrack, plenty of things that were good about the previous games, potential for clever assassinations;

LOWS
The core technology looks dated, certain design blunders make some of the game's biggest advantages almost redundant.

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