The year is 1997, and a new videogame developer has entered the scene in Copenhagen, Denmark. Then named Reto-Moto, this development studio consisted of seven developers eager to prove themselves to the world. Through trial and error, they eventually settled on the idea of making an action shooter mimicking the style of popular Chinese filmmaker John Woo; as such, the story of IO Interactive begins. Although the game that they would end up making would hardly resemble the one they envisioned, they still made their mark on the gaming world and started their own unique personal history.
As development continued on IO Interactive’s first game, new ideas and technology began to brew in the studio’s labs. The developers wanted to make the act of killing feel special, so they developed a system of inverse kinematics that allowed them to implement one of the first uses of ragdoll physics into their engine. Such an important milestone caught the eye of the game’s publisher Eidos Interactive, and things wouldn’t be quite the same after that. Jonas Eneroth, the producer of the game, imagined a far more inventive use of the technology that the team at IO Interactive had created. What if they could use the ragdoll technology for more methodical gameplay? What if instead of letting the bodies drop, you were supposed to hide them instead?
Jonas Eneroth was no stranger to more methodical simulation games. As he worked on greatly influential titles such as Thief: The Dark Project and Deus Ex, he influenced the team at IO Interactive to continue developing something that was truly unique. It was these ideas that gave birth to the Hitman franchise, forming the genesis of a whole new type of stealth game.
The Hitman series operates on a niche type of stealth genre that entices only its most dedicated fans. Much like games such as Thief: The Dark Project, Hitman isn’t a series for the most casual of players. Though it doesn’t offer the twists and story of Metal Gear or the shadowy stealth of Splinter Cell and Thief, it introduces something that’s not seen anywhere else. It is a type of game design that’s more methodical, slower and far more immersive than anything else on the market, even since its inception. Instead of blending in the shadows and taking down obstacles, the Hitman series asks the player to understand their environment, become a part of them, and use them to their advantage in order to achieve the perfect kill.
By having such an inventive draw and style, the Hitman series has created a whole new subgenre for stealth. This “social stealth” subgenre is influential enough to influence successful game series like Assassin’s Creed, which far surpassed the level of commercial success of Hitman. Regardless, the Hitman series still stands out on its own for all its unique quirks and idiosyncrasies that make it so enticing. These elements could be anything from a deeply cynical and dark world, a goofy sense of humor that puts the player through awkward situations or a personal journey through the mind of a contract killer.
However, the Hitman series didn’t reach its peak right from the get-go. There were many trials and tribulations to get Hitman to where it is today. Different developers came and went, iterations and identities were discarded, and the series has gone in a multitude of different directions. When we look at it, IO Interactive’s story presents a unique narrative. From the series’ humble beginnings to its more advanced future, the studio is always looking to improve upon the core concepts established in that first installment trying to define what the series’ core identity is all about.
The story of the Hitman franchise is also the story of its developer, IO Interactive. It is the story of a studio that started out small, making games that were ambitious but ultimately flawed; it’s the narrative of a studio that continuously faced the challenge of iterating on new ideas to evolve the series and settle on a solid identity in order to find massive success. At the same time, it also tells the story of a developer who wants to get away from those core ideas, forgetting the things that made this series so unique. From rags to riches; from peak to bottom; from death to resurrection.
And so, let’s take a look at the first chapter of this long story by taking a look at Hitman: Codename 47. The very first game in the series and by far the least accessible, being available only on the PC platform. Let’s analyze the odd, complicated and confused first entry that created the Hitman franchise.
As mentioned before, Hitman: Codename 47 did not start life as the inventive game that we know today. The game’s whole conception was a compromise from the studio, who wanted to work on more ambitious titles, but felt limited by their size and ability. By making a John Woo action game, the team could limit themselves to making something simple and easy. However, that doesn’t mean that the game wasn’t going to be special. IO Interactive used their technology to create something that they felt distinguished their Hitman shooter from the rest.
Thanks to Jonas Eneroth’s influence on the game’s development, we could see this materialized into something that truly stood out from the crowd. Hitman was a game where your goal wasn’t to kill discriminately, but to make sure that every kill amounted to something. Every corpse you left behind had to be hidden away from the naked eye. Even though IO Interactive’s team was small, and they were limited in the execution of their ideas, that didn’t stop them from having big aspirations with this game. Hitman: Codename 47 was a big risk for the studio to take, and they certainly tried to do their best to make the best they could out of it.
However, the reality is this. Hitman: Codename 47 is comprised of only 40 percent good ideas. Its basic concepts are definitely unique, and there are times where the level design and gameplay definitely show promise. Unfortunately, most of the game does not meet those expectations. Its focus is greatly misguided, designing missions around that highlight the game’s weaknesses instead of the other way around. Even when it’s trying to do the right thing, Codename 47’s execution is very unskillful and doesn’t quite capture a decent level of execution.
When it comes to establishing the general feel and aesthetic for the franchise, Codename 47 sticks out like a sore thumb. There are glimpses of what the series would eventually become, but they’re overshadowed by an abundance of things that feel out of place in retrospect. The game doesn’t have a strong direction of where it wants to go and what it wants to be. It stumbles around looking for new things to try out and experiment with that are ultimately underwhelming.
One thing the series got right from the get-go was the character of Agent 47. The stoic bald assassin in a suit is still the perfect fit for the series. Considering the cynical and procedural style of the franchise, its very suitable to have a character that is not only apathetic and edgy, but also a blank slate for the player to project their actions into. At the same time, there’s also kind of a goofy side to the character that comes in his complete lack of self-awareness and conversational skills. This aspect of the character creates levity and makes it easier for the player to connect with him, even though he is a despicable murderer.
There’s no complicated character arc to Agent 47 in this installment. His very basic personality traits are all he ever displays, and that’s completely fine. What Codename 47 lacks in giving the Agent a compelling character arc, it more than makes up for in terms of characterization. The character has plenty of unique lines of dialogue and reactions that establish his character in a memorable way, like a violent shudder after receiving his first kiss by a stranger. It could also be a deadpan one liner or a goofy line delivery that make the character as charming as he is cold and threatening.
The game’s cynical, awkward and deadpan sense of humor is one aspect that would later become one of the staples of the series. Another aspect that works very well in retrospect are the implications of a larger world and conspiracy. From the shadowy ICA organization that handles contract killings around the world, to the strange and mysterious institution that holds the key to understanding the truth behind 47’s past. These aspects are key in establishing the kind of obscure and underhanded tone that the series would also embrace in later titles.
At the forefront of this strange and uneasy tone is Jesper Kyd’s electronic score. Being one of the early works in his career, the soundtrack of this game doesn’t yet feature the orchestral chops that Kyd is usually known for. However, he compensates this by using synth to create an uncanny, desolate, creepy and foreboding atmosphere that is the highlight and strongest point of the game’s identity. This soundtrack very well influences the kind of systematic mindset that the player is into when playing the game, as well as the morbid quality of their criminal activities.
For all it does to introduce dark content and an uneasy tone, the subject matter itself is never really taken seriously by the game’s story. The game’s plot does try to set up mystery and intrigue for some of its pressing questions and conspiracies. Unfortunately, the presentation can only be described as B-Movie tier shlock, and the game knows it. In fact, the game revels in its own shlock and stupidity. It enjoys cramming as many stereotypes, movie clichés and silly dialogue into its villains and situations. So much so that its hard to take anything else seriously after that.
Codename 47’s attempts at establishing an identity or a brand for the series are held back by its origins as a simpler and more straight-forward run and gun action game. Though it sometimes tries to have a more involving world, a dark tone or a morbid subject matter, it still has to deal with the baggage of a story that reads like a bad 80s action movie. It is a clash of tones that doesn’t work very well for the game in the long run.
Just like the developers struggled with establishing an identity for the game, they also struggled with creating a gameplay flow. Both attempts are met with mixed results of course. At its core, Codename 47 at least lays the foundations for the gameplay structure of the Hitman series. What sets this game apart from other stealth games at the time is that it didn’t focus on hiding from enemies or passing by them unseen. Instead, Codename 47 focuses on a type of “social stealth”, where the player is asked to use disguises and hide bodies to do socially unacceptable and criminal actions in a public environment without having their crimes noticed.
Unlike other stealth games at the time, the levels in Codename 47 are not designed as obstacle courses. Instead, levels are designed as open sandboxes, which was an impressive feat at the time. The varied sandboxes have plenty of interactive elements, pieces and people that help contribute to your overall goals. Every person, opening, entrance and exit is just one of the many building blocks to your performance in the mission. How you choose to use them is what will determine how well you do along the course of the assassination.
This approach to level design gives the player a great deal of freedom to approach the mission in any way they want. You are free to choose what route you take and which people you kill along the way. How much noise you allow yourself to make in order to accomplish your goals is something you must determine yourself. For as long as you get the job done and you escape with your life, you can succeed, and the key to succeeding is systematically planning out your approach to circumvent any opposition that comes your way.
Hitman’s disguise mechanic is your finest tool when it comes to committing crimes unnoticed. By taking the disguise of the people you kill, you can essentially take on their role in the world. Once you embody the role of another person, you are allowed to do everything that they can, like entering restricted areas, carrying weapons in the open or even attending private meetings. This mechanic creates an intricate system of socially acceptable and unacceptable actions that the player must adhere to in order to carry out their objective safely and efficiently.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to steal disguises without killing someone. So, if there’s a certain disguise you need to complete an objective and the only person that holds that disguise is an innocent civilian, then you’re forced to pay a penalty by killing them to obtain that disguise and there’s no other way around it. The player is simply not allowed to pacify or stun any character to take their disguise. This seems like a major oversight in the development, and for a game that relies so heavily on stealth and disguises, it seems strange to not allow the player to do things efficiently without also taking a penalty for doing so.
A common trend in Hitman: Codename 47’s game design is that experimentation is punished. The game has a very strict set of rules and consequences, and once you break them there’s little else to do but to try again from the very beginning. More often than not, trying to do things creatively will either result in a penalty or failure. This manifests in the game’s lack of mid-mission saving. Every time you die or fail, you must restart the mission from the very beginning. A first-time player that wants to try a creative strategy to do things their way might be discouraged from trying to do something creatively when the consequence is losing all previous progress in the mission. A returning player might also want to avoid experimentation, since new approaches are more likely to fail and require restarting the mission compared to the tried and tested strategies.
Another inconvenience with the gameplay mechanics of the game is the lack of proper means to distract people. It is not uncommon to find a group of people standing around in a place where you’re supposed to do an illegal action. In cases like these, you have little choice but to dispatch them, often incurring a penalty. Alternatively, your only other option is to draw attention to yourself in some way, like firing a gunshot, which is often too dangerous to be worth doing. Without having the option to distract and move guards around, you can’t tinker with the world in any way you want, thus reducing the chances for experimentation and creative problem solving.
Of course, the game’s terribly unpolished nature doesn’t make the player want to experiment either. AI exploits, glitches and poor animations run rampant across the game, making things very unpredictable. It’s not uncommon for the player to lose a mission because the game stops working right, or for them to get lucky and win entirely because the game messed up. It is particularly frustrating when the player loses progress once the game randomly crashes and forces the player to start up the application again.
AI routines in Codename 47 are also bewildering and strange. Most of the time, you can have a semblance of understanding of how things are expected to go and perform in the game, but its more common for the game’s AI to act in clunky and unpredictable ways. Since most of the player’s strategies rely on understanding the moving parts of every mission, the game’s AI behavior keeps the player from making truly infallible and logical strategies. It’s not uncommon to lose one attempt at assassinating your target because one of the game’s AI enemies acted unpredictably.
On the topic of technical blunders, the game’s default controls haven’t aged well at all. Codename 47’s atrocious default controls continue to mystify players to this day. For once, they are terribly convoluted and require many different key bindings to do the simplest of actions. They are also placed in weird and unconventional places that are hard to get used to, even when retooled to become more playable. It’s worth mentioning however that Codename 47 came out in the year 2000, a time when most PC games had already figured out the most optimal bindings for comfortable keyboard and mouse gameplay. This shows that the developers were not experienced in developing games for the PC platform, and the control setup was ill suited for the platform.
Setting up a good foundation is about as much as Codename 47 gets right. For as many good ideas as the game has when it comes to creating a new type of stealth sandbox action hybrid, it also introduces double the amount of putrid nonsensical ideas that don’t contribute in any way to a more enjoyable game. For whatever reason, Codename 47’s level design plays against its strengths and creates gameplay that is too focused on action or exploration to be enjoyable with the mechanics that the game itself has established.
Speaking of Hitman: Codename 47 in a broad way is difficult, because the game doesn’t fail in just one consistent way. Every level of the game succeeds and fails in unique ways, which showcases the developer’s ambitious work ethic. IO interactive was definitely concerned with packing as many ideas as they could into this title and making every level feel unique in some way, but ultimately this failed because their ability to execute them just wasn’t up to par. For every level that attempts something unique, there could be a variable amount of both good and bad, but when looking at the game overall the bad tends to outweigh the good.
One of the first highlights of the game is Lee Hong’s assassination, which comes after a series of introductory levels that ease the player into the flow of the game. This mission is both good and bad in many ways. It highlights some of the strengths of the game’s concepts, showing a dense and highly detailed locale with plenty of components to learn and plan around. However, it also highlights some of the worst aspects of the game’s core design and the oversights that make the game a little frustrating.
For once, there are far too many convoluted steps to safely approach the target. Sure, it is possible to make up your own approach and take him on more directly. To do that though you need to compromise on your own safety and on your ability to approach him stealthily, meaning that it would take many tries before you get it right. Not to mention, doing that also involves skipping out on other objectives that are necessary to end the mission. Instead of risking yourself, you could follow most efficient way to do things would be to do it the “intended” way, and perform several steps which involve rescuing multiple characters, stealing one idol, poisoning a bodyguard, infiltrating a compound, killing the target and THEN escaping; all without getting caught once.
It’s not unlikely for a player, particularly someone who’s playing the game for the first time, to mess up somewhere along the line. When this happens, the player needs to restart the level from the very beginning. This leads to hours spent trying over and over to get everything right through a long series of steps and requirements. The inability to save mid-mission or load any checkpoints leads to constant tiresome repetition as the usual strategies required to beat the level fail because of small problems in the player’s execution. This isn’t an issue in most other levels in the game, because they’re either short or approachable enough to be completed in a fair yet challenging manner.
Alternatively, these other missions can offer new and different ways to get to the same objective. Losing incentivizes the player to look for new ways to succeed and learn. However, Lee Hong’s assassination has no such reasonable alternate approaches. As the player indulges in the trial and error process of trying out new strategies and being forced to restart the mission from the very beginning because they ultimately don’t work, the game becomes more frustrating and annoying to play. After a while, you don’t want to experiment anymore, and you just want to get done with it. This only gets worse when you realize that one particular aspect of the level is completely randomized, meaning that careful planning and knowledge of the map isn’t nearly enough to guarantee success.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the mission is bad, it only means it gets worse as it goes on. That’s not something that can be said about the series of missions set in Colombia. They are widely agreed upon to be the worst series of missions in the whole game, perhaps of the entire series, and their failures are almost completely unique to them.
The most readily apparent problem with the Colombia series of missions in the game is how much of it is pointless filler. Hong Kong also started out with multiple missions building up to the assassination of Lee Hong, but these missions worked because they eased the player into the gameplay of the game while also raising the narrative stakes for killing Lee Hong. Colombia’s missions on the other hand all happen sequentially and add nothing of value to the gameplay, story or tone of the game. The build-up to the assassination could generally be cut entirely from the game and it wouldn’t even make a difference.
For as much as Hitman: Codename 47 loves to make missions that lead up to every assassination, later games in the series would prove that these are totally useless. The game’s build-up missions contribute nothing to the gameplay formula of the series and serve only as further padding to make the game longer without actually adding meaningful content to justify its already short length. What makes it worse is that these missions are the ones that focus most on the weaknesses of the game’s systems, such as its aimless exploration and clunky gunplay. It is no surprise that the best mission of the game would be the one that completely disregards build-up and lets the player engage with the assassination right away.
The first mission, where you have to retrieve an idol and rescue a native, is a complete nightmare to traverse through. For once, the game’s render distance is incredibly low and the environment is incredibly repetitive, meaning that the player will be completely lost trying to figure out where they are in relation to everything. Thankfully, there’s a map that can tell you where you are and where you’re supposed to go yet having to constantly take out the map to do anything breaks the flow of gameplay. The entire mission involves going from point A to B with only cumbersome exploration in between.
The next mission is not an improvement either, as it involves doing basically nothing. The objective in the mission is to distract a dangerous lion that is blocking your path. That’s it. To distract it you must drag either a dead body or an animal from all the way across the map, a process that’s very slow and will take you at least ten minutes or so. Once again, the mission offers absolutely nothing worth noting gameplay wise and could have easily been cut out of the game.
Pablo Ochoa’s assassination is also the worst assassination in the game. After two painfully boring missions, the game returns to being painfully frustrating. The problem with this mission is that the level of difficulty is too great without resorting to very out of the box strategies, like bringing a sniper-rifle from another level or managing to bug the target’s AI into not being able to attack you. If you try to kill Ochoa the “intended” way, then you’re met with an incredibly difficult boss fight that’s even more frustrating to take down considering the game’s already clunky shooting. Aside from the frustration of killing the target, the mission itself is completely barren and devoid of any interesting interactable elements, which is the complete opposite of the next mission in the game.
Traditions of the Trade is the best mission in Codename 47. It is perhaps the only mission in the game that holds true on the promise of the game’s gameplay systems. The mission creates a highly enjoyable sandbox that rewards experimentation, problem solving and knowledge of the map’s layout. Out of all the missions in Hitman: Codename 47, this is the one that predicts the direction that the series would take in the future.
It accomplishes all this by simply choosing to focus on the things that make the Hitman formula work instead of extraneous diversions like combat or exploration. The mission is open ended, and all the objectives can be done in any order the player wants. There are multiple objectives that give the player plenty of challenges to solve and overcome. Having to perform multiple kills in a large environment also gives the player a fair challenge, asking them to prioritize and strategize to accomplish their objectives in succession without compromising on their own safety.
The Thermal Bath hotel feels like a simulation of what could be a real place. There’s plenty of detail put into every room, how everything connects to each other, which purpose their serve and how the player can use that to their advantage. Experimenting with the many pieces offered to the player is the key to solving this larger puzzle, and there are multiple approaches to accomplish the player’s goals. The player can steal the master key from the bellboy and break into a room adjacent to the target’s room to reach them. Alternatively, the player can steal the bellboy’s outfit and use that as an opportunity to get inside the target’s room. There are many ways the player can carve their own path through this mission.
And unlike Lee Hong’s assassination, which shares a lot of similar qualities in terms of level design, Traditions of the Trade is much more straightforward and liberating. Gone are the laundry list of steps required to reach the target. Also gone are the randomly spawning locations for the required items the player must steal. What the player knows about the mission is what they get. The challenge doesn’t come in getting all of right, but in finding the best way to do them right. The player’s greatest strength here is their ability to plan ahead and their knowledge of the map’s secrets.
These three are the most important highlights of the game, serving as unique examples of its pitfalls and scant moments of brilliance. Later levels would suffer from similar problems, like Rotterdam being preceded by pointless buildup and ending with a horribly convoluted and tedious assassination. There’s also the game’s final mission consisting of a large action set-piece that works poorly with the game’s controls and shooting mechanics. Needless to say, it shows how even though the game had strong ideas, these are let down by its poor level design and insistence on avoiding those same concepts.
And once you finish the game, that’s it. There are no clear mission rankings to encourage you to try better and stealthier tactics. The game’s difficulty levels don’t change much aside from how strong the enemies are, meaning that there are no unique challenge playstyles either. And the game’s missions don’t really offer much that you’d want to play them again. Once the game is over, you’ve really done everything there is to do, which is concerning considering how little content there actually is in the game.
At the end of the day, Hitman: Codename 47 was just a failed experiment. An attempt to do something new that didn’t quite reach its full potential. However, the 40% good ideas of the game did end up becoming something better. Though its not really a good game on its own, Codename 47 ended up as the rough draft that later Hitman games would iterate and improve upon to become better. As far as humble beginnings go, the game could be much worse.
And at least its short, so its not too much of a painful experience either.
Once Hitman: Codename 47 had laid the groundwork of the series, the next step would be to create a worthy successor. That was IO Interactive’s goal this time around. The studio was bigger than when they first started, and now they had the experience and feedback necessary to create something much better. As their story continues, we see the franchise evolve from a small, yet unsuccessful first entry into becoming one of gaming’s icons.
Even at release, Codename 47 had a mixed reception from critics and audiences. Some critics enjoyed the innovative gameplay ideas that the title introduced. Most other critics however argued that the game’s many faults got in the way of appreciating what the original game set up. This was the key feedback that IO Interactive needed to make the next game a better realization of the ideals that furthered the development of the original game.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was an opportunity for the team to change Agent 47 from a mafia killer to a true Silent Assassin. It was a chance for IO Interactive to re-focus the concepts introduced in Codename 47 and concentrate instead on the elements that made that game fun to play at times. There would have to be less missions like Colombia and Rotterdam and more missions like Hong Kong and Budapest.
And for the most part, Hitman 2 accomplishes this goal really well. As a sequel, the game does all it can to improve upon every facet of the original and build a new and stronger foundation for the series to stand on. It improves upon the original so well that it more accurately laid the groundwork for later games in the series, which would play much more similarly to this than the first game. It is the perfect evolution and direction for the series to go for in both aesthetics and gameplay.
That’s not to say the game is perfect. Being one of the early titles from the studio, the game is full of the jank that IO Interactive was pretty well known for. There will be instances of technical issues, bugs and strange game design decisions that hold the game back from being much better than it already is. Yet, the game overcomes those faults. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is a game that’s very ambitious and it is satisfying primarily because of its desire to create an experience that is epic, personal and groundbreaking for the genre.
For starters, the game’s controls have been mostly overhauled. Things are far more accessible now, not only for PC players but also for the game’s new audience on home consoles. There’s an option to zoom out the camera, sprinting is no longer a dedicated button that only works forward, etc. The UI has been both expanded and streamlined, and it has a more appealing and functional design to it that gives the player more useful information than before. In general, 47 controls more responsively, accurately and satisfyingly than before.
Of course, there’s still jank in the controls though. Much like its predecessor, the stealth speed is very slow, sometimes so slow that it impedes the player from sneaking up on enemies. The slow speed of that stealth mode also adds a lot of tedious time spent going from one point to another without being spotted, which is particularly egregious considering how easy the player can be spotted. Silent Assassin also adds a crouch mode which is frankly underused and its only a much slower version of that stealth mode. The game’s camera is also very inconsistent, zooming in whenever it hits collision and requiring that the player zoom back out whenever that happens.
Another aspect that has been reworked to better suit the gameplay is the enemy AI, which is far more consistent and smarter than on the previous game. The player must take smarter paths and move around more unassumingly to not catch the attention of the guards, who are eager to find 47 and riddle his body with bullets. Even other non-playable characters have had an AI improvement, moving around the map and following more complex routines that the player must learn in order to succeed and overcome the many challenges required to assassinate their target.
At times however, it seems the AI has been reworked too much, or perhaps reworked in the wrong areas. While it is natural and realistic for guards to be very alert of 47’s suspicious tendency to disguise himself as certain people, at times it seems like they’re far too paranoid of 47 for no reason at all. No matter what you’re doing, if you get too close or if you even do the slightest nudge, the AI will be incredibly suspicious of you and probably detect you in seconds. At times, it even seems like the disguise system is pointless, since it can’t protect you from other enemies that have the same disguise as you, who will detect you if you get too close to them. While it makes sense for things to be this way, it only brings a bit more frustration to the game instead of satisfying challenge.
The game’s AI is also a little inconsistent when it comes to its patrol routes. One of the key aspects of planning a strategy is making sure that things go as planned, in certain missions however, enemies may or may not follow a set route. Sometimes the player is counting on a specific enemy to go a certain way, but they decide not to do that and follow a different route instead. This isn’t a major issue, but it does add a layer of randomness that can be sometimes frustrated to someone who’s dedicated towards making an airtight plan.
One of the biggest and most welcome improvements in Hitman 2 is the ability to knock out guards and civilians. This corrects the previous game’s tendency to force violence onto the player, incurring a penalty just to do basic tasks like stealing disguises from a civilian. This also adds a new layer of challenge and strategy to a mission if the player chooses to finish it while keeping the killings to a very minimum, since enemies won’t stay down forever, and higher rankings require that no unnecessary killings are made.
The item used to knock down NPC’s, the anesthetic rag, also has its own unique layers of strategy. Once you knock out someone, you’re under a strict timer until they wake up, and once they wake up, they’ll put the rest of the area under alert. On top of that, the more anesthetic the player uses on a person, the longer they’ll stay down. This essentially creates a whole new level of strategy where the player must choose how much of the anesthetic they want to use on any given situation. Sometimes it’s more convenient to use all your anesthetic on one guard so that you have enough time to do the whole mission. Some other times though, you’d want to use that anesthetic to knock out as many guards as possible. Though it may be frustrating to be limited to a strict timer every time you knock someone out, it is still very satisfying to overcome the new layer of challenge that this system adds.
It is disappointing however that the other method of knocking people out, whacking them with your pistol, is inefficient at best because of how many hits it takes to take down an enemy and how weak its animations feel, failing to connect with the enemy most of the time. Another problem is that the anesthetic’s animations are very slow and can be easily bugged by doing simple things, such as opening the map.
On the topic of bugs, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is a very buggy game. It may perhaps even have more glitches than its predecessor. These are numerous, but small. Characters may fall through the map at certain instances, animations can be skipped simply by opening the map, NPCs can be killed through doors, and for whatever reason, certain actions won’t count negatively towards your final score. None of them really break the experience, but they sure add plenty of inconveniences along the way of beating the game.
Then again, the bugs are just part of the experience at this point in the series’ history, and it more than makes up for them in terms of how much the level design has been improved from the first game. Hitman 2 really does set the standard for how each mission and location would be designed in later Hitman games. It is a more focused experience that enhances the gameplay mechanics of the game instead of detracting from them in odd and confusing ways. The game is not without its flukes, but overall it has some of the most memorable missions from the whole series.
Although there are more levels this time around, each level is smaller and more focused than before. Rather than big open maps like Colombia or Rotterdam with tons of fruitless exploration, we have smaller maps that tend to focus on indoor areas rather than outdoors. Structure wise, this makes it more rewarding to explore the map, as each new discovery is guaranteed to aid the player accomplish their objective. It also makes things more challenging, because of how condensed maps are with enemies and tools that can either help or hinder the player.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin finally realizes the series’ strengths when it comes to designing indoors missions. This is important because an indoor environment can be more condensed with detail, people and interactive elements than an outdoor environment can. Some of this game’s best missions take place indoors either in parties or fortresses, and this is because this way the game can flesh out individual environments and locations that feel lived in and detailed, offering plenty of environmental tactics, hiding places and routes that add more challenge and strategy to the gameplay.
At the same time, the game can establish unique set-pieces that make levels unique. These can be very interesting to play, adding extra challenge or interesting situations that the player must think carefully about using to get better results. For instance, a mission may inform the player that the target is undergoing a surgery, which informs you of where the target might be located and what would be an interesting way to assassinate them. Another example is a mission where you must kill two targets having a meeting in a park. Do you choose to bomb the targets as they go back to their vehicles? Or do you snipe them from a high tower? Whichever method you choose, there is a challenge that must be overcome exactly because of the circumstance that the level is designed around
However, that doesn’t mean that the quality of Hitman 2’s levels isn’t all over the place either. As mentioned before, even though the game has a clearer idea of what works and what doesn’t for the series, the mission selection is mostly quantity over quality. There are some clear highlights, a lot of unremarkable or otherwise okay missions, and then there’s the missions that are simply annoying or frustrating.
Silent Assassin still loves to introduce plenty of build-up levels that don’t add anything to the formula or structure of the game. If these levels were any good this wouldn’t be a problem, but most of these are either too simple or too annoying to be fun and often serve as extra padding just to make the game longer than it realistically should be, which is unfortunate because the game already has more than enough content to make due without them.
The best example of this are the missions leading up to Japan’s big assassination sequence. These missions have the player slowly make their way through a snowy mountain where every single enemy detects 47 instantly. There are no assassinations in these build-up missions, but instead only mundane objectives that are only harder because of the added frustration of not being able to properly sneak around because the disguise system, the player’s main method of sneaking around, doesn’t work anymore.
Overall though, there are still plenty of missions with frustrating mechanics, strategies and level design that stop them from being all that fun to play. The previously mentioned Japan build-up missions are a great example of this, but there are also missions like The Motorcade Interception, which involves using a sniper rifle to assassinate a target in a convoy. This is frustrating because you must carry a sniper rifle from one end of the map to another without being detected, which is difficult because there’s many enemies roaming the streets.
Another aspect of the game’s missions that’s improved from the first game is extra replay value. On one hand, missions in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin are far more open ended than the first game. While Codename 47’s missions would be straightforward when it came to kill a target, the best missions in Hitman 2 allow the player to engineer situations that are convenient for them and try multiple approaches every time they play them. Not every approach will give you an ideal result, but they are all interesting and fun to try out.
The most important addition to the formula of the series is the addition of a rating system that judges the player’s ability to approach missions without making a mess. The more people the player kills, the more they get spotted and the more bullets they fire, then the lower their ranking will be at the end of the mission. For a first attempt at making a rating system, the developers nailed it right on the head, by offering clear and concise guidelines that tell you exactly what you need to do to perfectly finish a mission.
This rating system also offers solid rewards for those who are willing to overcome and achieve the game’s top rating: Silent Assassin. These rewards are useful for the player too, since they offer you some of the game’s strongest silenced weapons. Of course, even if you’re not aiming for the top, the game has a robust amount of titles that make it feel rewarding either way.
Unfortunately, this system also suffers from some problems. The rules that dictate whether you get the best ranking might perhaps be too rigid and too strict to allow for more creative playstyles. If the player fires more than one bullet, then they lose the top rating for instance, meaning that the player must restrict themselves to only use the fiber wire in certain missions just because they are required to use their pistol earlier on.
The loadout system is both improved and scaled back from Codename 47. Instead of allowing the player to purchase certain weapons before every mission, the player can carry over items from previous weapons or unlock new weapons by performing well with the game’s weapon system. Despite missing the ability to purchase new weapons, this system is an improvement over the original because it allows the player to pick carefully what weapons they need to use on the mission for their unique strategy without the hassle of having to manage your money per mission.
Aesthetically, Hitman 2 is a great improvement from the first game as well. The UI has a more professional and sleek look that has aged much better than Codename 47’s computer terminal UI. The game’s art direction is very well realized too, offering environments that look grand and diverse. Hitman 2 has a heightened impression of reality that often looks like it’s taken straight out of a pulp noir cover, giving it an iconic look that has aged better than other titles of its age. The game’s CG renders are great at conveying this dark sense of identity and style, much more so than Codename 47’s awkward and dated renders.
Hitman 2’s presentation is far more cinematic than its predecessor as well. The opening scene is perfect at showing this more intricate and deliberate presentation, showing beautiful angles that are complimented by lighting and post-processing effects to create a strong mood. Its easy to become so involved in the game’s style and universe when it’s presented with just the right amount of seriousness and just the right amount of artistry to make it feel like an epic journey.
Of course, the biggest contributor to the game’s tone and mood is once again the game’s composer: Jesper Kyd, whose score far surpasses that of the original. His compositions convey a sense of scale and epicness that extends through the whole journey, and the choice to score the game with a live orchestra instead of synthesized audio really does help with making the emotions of the music land. His orchestrations are also wonderfully engineered into the game’s missions, building up to beautiful and satisfying crescendos as the player slowly and carefully executes their devilish plans.
His score is amazing in its blend of an elegant orchestra with touches of more traditional and cultural styles. This is definitely one of Jesper Kyd’s greatest strengths as a composer. He can create something that sounds unique and immersive by combining a number of different musical influences into every track. As the series goes on, Jesper Kyd’s talents as a composer would only become more apparent, as his signature style defined the core identity of the series.
All of these improvements are in service of Hitman 2’s story, which is a massive step up from the previous game. While Codename 47 was caught between many different identities and didn’t know whether to take itself seriously or not, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is a more focused and introspective journey that tries its best to explore and flesh out Agent 47, the main character of the series. The focus of the story this time is to establish 47’s character and give him a meaningful arc that explains his true purpose and role in the world.
The story’s themes and exploration of Agent 47 are very interesting at the outset and paid off nicely at the end. It shows his growth as a character, starting off as a pitiable and regretful veteran that rejects his nature as a killer for the sake of forgiveness, but soon comes to accept his gruesome and nihilistic fate to be a hired killer for the rest of his life. In this story we get to see a very different side of 47, which is conflicted and emotional without losing his cold and apathetic demeanor.
David Bateson’s performance as the character of Agent 47 is also stellar. He is able to convey all the emotions of the character with subtlety and consideration, giving the character of 47 more depth. Through his demeanor, Bateson can show 47’s somber regret of his actions as well as a resentful acceptance of his nature as a genetically engineered killer coupled with a cynical view of the world around him. His performance is able to truly evolve with the series, becoming more nuanced with each new entry in the series, thus giving 47 a strong sense of character no matter how different the writing is in each game.
The themes of the game are also a wonderful twist for the series that gives it a darker and perverse edge that other games don’t exactly possess. While other games would want to ensure that 47 is forgiven or absolved of his crimes at the end of the story once all his objectives are met, Hitman 2 is not shy to admit that this character has no desire for forgiveness. Agent 47 knows and understands that he has no place in the world without killing, and no matter how much he tries to find salvation, he will only bring suffering to those around him. He ventures down this lonely and brutal path because that is the only way he can accept who he really is and what he was made for.
This story has great ideas and a decent execution for a game that’s mostly focused on gameplay above all else. Unfortunately, the pacing of the story could use more tweaking. It starts out with a strong premise, but slowly disappears along the course of the game as the narrative gets sidetracked by other goals and directives. Just as the game is about to end however, the plot comes back in full force and reaches its climax very quickly, developing its most interesting ideas at the very end instead of presenting them along the course of the story.
It also doesn’t help that Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is a let down when it comes to presenting unique targets with interesting stories and characters. Codename 47’s line-up of horrible criminals may have been very cheesy and over the top, but at least each one of them was memorable in their own respects. I can hardly think of any targets in Silent Assassin that stood out to me in any way through their personality or otherwise. The villains of the story aren’t much better either, lacking any threat, charisma or character that would make them stand out in any way. While it is clear that the focus of the story is on 47 instead of the targets he kills, but when the pacing slows down and we learn little about the developments of his character, it would be nice to at least have memorable targets to get attached to.
One thing to note is that the series would later struggle with these two conflicting directions in terms of storytelling. Some games in the series are eager to explore 47’s character and motives, while others are more interested in letting him take the backseat as a vessel for the player to assassinate a multitude of horribly despicable targets that stand out through their crimes, backstory and personality.
Overall, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is a near perfect step up from the previous game that tries its best to deliver an experience that’s more satisfying, rewarding and developed than its predecessor. Its design is so on point that it firmly established the structure and focus that the series should take in the future to come. Even if the game suffers from hitches and flaws along the way, it is most definitely a very important game in the series and an epic experience that continues to hold up even to this day.
The fact that the game has more hits than misses means that its at least doing something right after all. Instead of 40 percent good ideas, we have come closer to 80 or 90 percent good ideas. Now that the game has succeeded at establishing the franchise’s potential firmly, all that would be left to do was improve upon the work that was yet to be done…
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was a massive success for both IO Interactive and its publisher Eidos Interactive. Not only was the game received splendidly by critics, but it sold millions of copies as well. It was clear at this point that the Hitman franchise was fully established as one of gaming’s flagship series. Many awaited what the next installment in the series would bring, and after Eidos acquired IO Interactive for £23 million, everyone knew that their first big project as an Eidos subsidiary would have to be another groundbreaking game in the Hitman franchise. We have reached a turning point in IO Interactive’s history. The days of the small studio with seven employees was long gone; now IO was Europe’s 10th largest Videogame developer. Whatever they chose to do next would carry considerable weight.
But how do you follow up the act that Hitman 2: Silent Assassin left behind? How do you raise the bar for such an important title in the series? The answer is far simpler than one would imagine. Instead of getting overly ambitious, IO Interactive realized that their job was not to innovate this time, but to polish and refine what was already there. Despite its great leaps, Hitman 2 was still a flawed game, so IO Interactive needed to polish and refine what was already established in order to prove their worth as a developer. They needed to create a game that left a strong impression of what a Hitman game is really like.
The next game in the series would be Hitman: Contracts, and it would evolve the series in an interesting way. Contracts’ contribution to the series is less about making any gameplay changes and more about defining the aesthetic identity of the Hitman franchise. This time around, the developers tried to get away with more risky ideas in terms of story, visuals, content and tone while maintaining the same gameplay structure as the previous game. The result is a game that is dark, unique and most true to the spirit of the franchise.
Hitman: Codename 47 established the backstory of the character of Agent 47; Hitman 2: Silent Assassin followed the logical conclusion of raising the stakes and presenting a story that was more epic and personal, focusing on examining the character of 47 and his tragic heroism. Hitman: Contracts is a departure from the usual focus of the series, letting 47’s character take a backseat while the story focused more on a tone that conveyed what the life of a contract killer is like. We don’t see a long and sprawling narrative; instead, we see a series of vignettes from 47’s life that convey a unique perspective on his life.
Contracts’ tone is eager to dance straight into the bizarre and surreal. The game’s drops you straight into the action, showing a dying Agent 47 that is going through his memories of earlier hits in hopes of piecing together some kind of resolution before his presumed death. This strange and meta premise allows the player to look directly into the mind and memories of Agent 47, looking into his fragmented memories and getting an idea of what his head-space is like, and what his life has been up to this point.
The world of Hitman: Contracts is also very different from its predecessor. While Silent Assassin presented a world that was grand, wonderful and exotic; the world of Hitman: Contracts feels small, self-contained and gritty. There is no sightseeing or glamour to the disgusting and gloomy backwaters where 47 must perform his assassinations. 47 could be anywhere in the world, yet that wouldn’t change the fact that he is paid take down the most reprehensible men in the criminal underworld.
Hitman: Contracts has a very unique and fitting world for a series that’s based around assassinating people. Previous games would take inspiration from lighter sources like Action B-Movies or Pulpy Spy Thrillers; however, Hitman: Contracts has a tone and world that is uniquely its own. The world of this game truly feels dark, gritty and cynical. It is almost excessive with how violent and disgusting some of its own targets can become, or how little compassion there is left for the innocent.
One must think that its impossible to relate to such a dour world, especially when our protagonist is also involved in terrible criminal acts. However, the game has an interesting play on morality that keeps us invested in the character despite all odds. Even though 47 is presented as a brooding and emotionless killer, he is technically an anti-hero. The targets that 47 kills are ten times more violent, psychopathic and remorseless than 47, doing acts that are so atrocious that there is no sympathy left for them once they die. The player feels like they’re doing a good deed by killing these targets and they use Agent 47 as a vessel to carry out their own sense of justice in this world.
This moral dichotomy allows the character of Agent 47 to continue being relatable to the player. After all, 47 isn’t quite so bad when compared to how bad everyone else is in the world. In a way, 47 and his handler Diana are the only moral compass that the player needs in this horribly disturbing world. They can trust these two to be the only bastion of sanity in the criminal underworld, and as such they can continue feeling gratified whenever they accomplish a difficult hit.
And that’s the way 47 remains in this installment; a blank vessel for the player to insert themselves into. Rather than focusing on giving him a meaningful character arc, Hitman: Contracts lets the player use him as a means of exploring the world and fleshing out each target in a unique way. The game is less about going on a journey with this protagonist and more about discovering a world populated by crazy, unique and depraved individuals.
Almost every mission in the game features memorable targets, which are a massive improvement over the last game. Each target is easily distinguishable from the last, all thanks to their unique idiosyncrasies, backstories and crimes that make them stand out from one another. One moment you might be killing a world terrorist that’s hiding in a hotel, the next you’ll be in a dingy slaughterhouse planning to take down a psychopathic and gluttonous mafia king. The game has an almost episodic quality, peeking into different vignettes of 47’s life that highlight these unique encounters with extraordinarily evil people.
IO Interactive also experiments with unique forms of storytelling that allow them to take their stories to the next level. Through the level design and the details of each environment, the developers can give you insights on what type of people the targets are in a subtle way that doesn’t distract you from the gameplay. For instance, one level will have a secret passage connecting a bedroom to a bathroom shower thanks to a one-way mirror that lets the person on the other side see every little detail. This hints at the fact that the target might have built the mansion this way so that he could spy on the person taking a bath, which in this case happens to be a beautiful young woman.
Hitman: Contracts has very little, if anything at all, in terms of an overarching narrative. However, what it lacks in terms of story it makes up for with plenty of character. There is something palpable and unique about the game’s atmosphere, characters and tone. Each and every situation the player finds themselves in is highly memorable thanks to the great lengths the developers went to in order to tell a story through the world and atmosphere.
The atmosphere of Hitman: Contracts continues to be impressive even to this day. The constant night makes the game feel dark and ominous, while the unstopping rain adds a gloomy and brooding quality to each level. The game’s dark color palette and fog as well as the game’s impeccable sound design immerse the player into a world that feels like a miserable and dark place. This atmosphere goes hand in hand with the criminal underworld that Agent 47 finds himself in, as well as the reprehensible targets he has to kill.
For a 2004 game, Hitman: Contracts is both a technical and artistic marvel. The sheer amount of post-processing and particle effects go hand in hand with the deliberate atmosphere that the developers are trying to pull off here, and the execution is flawless. This powerful atmosphere is evident even in the small details, like the change in lighting every time the player enters and exits a building. It’s clear that the developers wanted to make sure that every second in the game was accompanied by a strong and unforgettable mood.
Just as the look and feel of the series has changed and evolved to reflect a darker tone, Jesper Kyd’s score has changed to reflect this shift in tune. The score for Hitman: Contracts is very different than the epic orchestra from the previous game, since it now reflects a more sinister, disjointed and surreal mood than before. Kyd has gone back to his roots in this title and changed to more heavily electronic compositions, mixing together several different elements to create a sound that uniquely belongs to this series.
The most interesting aspect of this score however is that the Latin choir and orchestral cues of the previous game aren’t gone at all; instead, they’re very heavily mixed into the electronic soundscape to create a disjointed and otherworldly feeling. This method of creating music is not unprecedented, but it works beautifully to achieve a sinister sound that works well with the gloomy and violent presentation of Hitman: Contracts.
Jesper Kyd’s range of influences and styles is here as well; proudly presented in tracks like Hong Kong Underground, Slaughter Club and Sanitarium. Kyd finds a way to create music that fits into many different types, ranging from beat heavy techno to more traditional flute and percussion, all while still maintaining the electronic style that holds them all together. This music is simply perfect and works very well within the game’s most iconic moments.
After talking so extensively about the changes in direction, you might start to think that that’s all the game has to offer; however, Hitman: Contracts is also ripe with subtle, yet meaningful gameplay improvements that iron out some of the flaws of the previous game. Contracts is a more polished, refined and focused game than its predecessor. Though it doesn’t always excel in terms of creativity when it comes to its level lineup, it is still impressive how well made all of it is.
Missions in the game are more focused now. The extraneous build-up and gimmicky missions of the previous game are all gone. Almost every mission in the game is strictly an assassination, with perhaps a few extra objectives to challenge the player even more. This approach to mission design does so much to straighten out the pacing of the game and provide a more consistent experience than before, where no mission is a fluke and every mission takes full advantage of the game’s mechanics to shine through.
Of course, when you take out the fat, that means that there’s less content than before. Hitman: Contracts drastically lowers the mission count from the previous game from 21 to just 12. Lowering the mission count by a little under a half actually does help the game keep a more consistent pacing, since every mission is sure to be jam packed with fun things to do. Every mission gives the player multiple objectives, challenges to overcome and different methods to try out that give each mission something that makes it special.
Something the previous two games struggled with was keeping a consistent balance between outdoors and indoors levels that could fill the map’s empty space with details and objects. Though the second game got close to achieving a good balance, it is Contracts that takes it a step further. The game has a perfect balance of levels that are just the right size with just the right amount of detail. If a level has an outdoors area, then that area has a secret passage, an objective or a hint somewhere that can aid the player with their mission. If the mission is entirely indoors, then every corner, staircase and room have some detail inside that will give the player something they want.
By this point, the Hitman series has let go of the pretense of being an action game, focusing entirely on the stealth. Silent Assassin and Codename 47, the latter in particular, both had missions that forced or at least highly encouraged that the player to take a most indiscreet path to victory thanks to the way their levels were designed. On the other hand, Contracts seems to strengthen the game’s stealth mechanics to make them more viable and important to the structure of the game. Combat is far riskier, since the enemy AI will not more quickly dispatch 47 when he’s spotted. However, the player also has more tools to get by unnoticed, so things are perfectly balanced in that regard.
Consistency is the most important thing about Hitman: Contracts’ mission lineup. The player can expect every mission in this game to be fun or at the very least playable. There’s a couple of missions that are boring or mundane, but at least they are the minority amidst some of the best missions in the whole franchise. Some missions are better than others, but there’s no mission in the game that’s bad or frustrating like in the previous games. The game maintains a consistent level of quality that never drops below the bar, and that is a clear sign of improvement.
Putting level design aside, there are other aspects of the game that have received a noticeable improvement. As mentioned before, the enemy AI has received changes to make them smarter at taking down 47 when combat is initiated. They will work in groups and outmaneuver the player whenever they’re in high alert; however, that’s only if they’re ever alerted. Fortunately, the enemy AI in this game is far more tolerable than in Silent Assassin, meaning that guards will only be alerted when the player is doing something that’s actually suspicious. Because of this change, the disguise system is finally working as intended, which gives the player far more freedom to experiment and overcome the gameplay challenges that the game presents.
There are other small improvements to the game that add up to create an experience that is generally smoother and more rewarding to play without losing the challenge that made it enticing to begin with. Stealth animations are faster now, meaning that the player can finally catch up to or avoid enemies without alerting them when they’re not wearing a disguise. The syringe, a single use item which replaces the game’s anesthetic, may have simplified the challenge involved with managing enemy takedowns, but it also gives the player a faster method of taking down enemies non-lethally. Enemies also stay down for longer, which makes the game slightly less punishing than before. Besides these examples, the game has generally tweaked the animations enough so that they’re faster and more responsive than in Hitman 2.
Another noticeable improvement from the last game is that Hitman: Contracts is a more technically polished game than its predecessor. Sure, there’s still a couple of bugs and glitches here and there, but these are harder to find and notice than in Silent Assassin. Animations don’t get skipped by doing simple actions, the enemies have consistent AI, and no one is falling through the floor in any level. Any normal playthrough of this game will definitely not feel as rough as Hitman 2 did.
Although the weapon loadout system from Silent Assassin is gone, the game does give you a solid selection of items to complete each hit. This change in focus makes it so that you think more about how you can use the items you have rather than which items you should bring, which in turn makes the game more challenging. Of course, that doesn’t mean the loadout system is completely gone either. Once you complete a mission, you unlock the ability to pick and choose which weapons you start out with, which encourages replaying a mission to try out new strategies.
This far into the series, we’ve finally come full circle. One of the key aspects of Hitman: Contracts is that its both a sequel to Hitman 2 and a remake of Hitman: Codename 47. After five completely original missions, Contracts switches its focus into remaking key missions from the first game in the series and the difference really is night and day. It is a wonderful opportunity to revisit these missions in a way that is more interesting and rewarding to play.
At their best, these levels are a perfect way to look back and realize how far the series has come since Codename 47. Thanks to all the marked improvements of Hitman: Contracts, these levels no longer feel like the wonky, simplistic and sometimes frustrating levels from Codename 47. Instead, they feel like the complex and engaging levels that they were always meant to be. It is an excellent way to look at what worked and didn’t work from that first game, and what steps the team took to correct them since that game first game out.
Unfortunately, this takes us to the biggest problem with Hitman: Contracts as a whole. Despite its wonderfully bleak atmosphere and despite the great direction it took the series on, the game is still playing it a bit too safe. Gameplay wise, Contracts doesn’t add much to diversify itself from Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. It is the same game at its core level, and it doesn’t add nearly enough new and original content to make it stand out a lot better.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, considering that it also improves upon the various faults of Silent Assassin, but it also highlights how rushed the development of this game was in the end. With only 9 months to make a follow-up to Hitman 2, it is clear why the developers chose to play it safe and only work with what was already established. As a result, the gameplay feels derivative, like the developers were more concerned with how the game felt rather than how it played.
Generally speaking, the game introduces less ideas into the series than its predecessor and there’s hardly anything original about it besides its aesthetic identity. Out of all the 12 missions in the game, there are only 6 missions that are unique to Hitman: Contracts. The rest of the game consists only of remakes from Codename 47’s missions. Even out of the 6 original missions from the game, one of those re-uses the layout from the Asylum of the first game, so its technically not entirely new. A new player might not notice all of these things, but if you’ve played the series since Codename 47 you notice how little original content Contracts actually has.
Of course, I’m not denying that the Codename 47 remakes are bad. They’re good remakes, and at their best they show exactly why Codename 47’s most promising missions deserved to be remade. Unfortunately, these missions pale in comparison to the new and original missions presented at the very start of Contracts. They’re fairly derivative and repetitive missions at worst, and they come right after the other without much in-between to help them stand out more. Perhaps this issue would’ve been alleviated if these remakes were dispersed along the course of the game instead of being lumped all together at the second half.
Another thing that wears its welcome are the game’s visual motifs. Though the game maintains a strong atmosphere throughout, it can be visually tiring for every level to look almost exactly the same. Every level takes place at night, with rain, and maybe it has some fog. In some cases, like the remake of Codename 47’s Traditions of the Trade, the aesthetic motifs of Contracts detract from the visual design of the original. While the original had a pleasant and relaxing daytime look that was juxtaposed nicely with the murderous schemes of Agent 47, the remake takes place entirely at night and makes the hotel look far too dour and grimy for it to be interesting to look at.
The game’s storyline also wears a little too thin at the end. It starts out with a strong hook and a very unique premise, leaving the player hanging on a thread wondering how Agent 47 was going to survive this tricky situation and what caused him to get into it to begin with. Unfortunately, the game keeps the player hanging for far too long, as lets these questions fade into the background as a series of unrelated hits play out in 47’s mind. Once the Codename 47 remakes come around, the game has dropped any pretense of having a story, and presents these levels entirely as-is, with hardly any connecting threads to hold the player’s suspense. The climax of the story also fails at giving the player a satisfying conclusion to the suspense, leaving things on a cliffhanger that is hardly the answer anyone wanted.
All things considered though, none of these complaints make Hitman: Contracts a bad game. They’re only little blemishes that hold the game back from being better than it could have been. In fact, playing it safely was the right direction for the series to take at the time. Considering how rushed the game’s development was and much crunch the team at IO Interactive went through, it is commendable that their game turned out to be a solid improvement over the last in plenty of areas.
At its best, Contracts is a great milestone for the Hitman series. The game makes true on all the promises made by Hitman 2: Silent Assassin by polishing everything that was wrong about it and creating an experience that’s far smoother and satisfying to play. Contracts is also a great way to look back at how much the development team has evolved and learned from their mistakes, thanks to the excellent remakes of Codename 47’s flawed missions.
I feel like the game trades blows with Silent Assassin in terms of enjoyment and overall contributions to the franchise. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was a far more ambitious and groundbreaking game, but it couldn’t deliver on a consistent level of quality in terms of its design decisions. Hitman: Contracts may be derivative, but it uses its experience to maintain a consistent quality throughout and establish a strong identity for the series that makes it stand out from anything else at the time. This is still a great game, much like its predecessor, and it is the embodiment of the quintessential Hitman game in a lot of ways.
We have seen the first chapter in the story of IO Interactive. It all started out with a small studio that wanted to prove itself in a competitive market. This studio had a unique idea for a game that they didn’t think much about at the time, yet this idea grew into a franchise, and they soon became very successful because of it. They learned to iterate upon it and make it into something great, which captivated audiences all over the world because. This small team had created something unlike anything else at the time, and their creation would stand the test of time to become one of gaming’s icons.
This same studio, that started out with only seven developers, was now the subsidiary of a large publisher with hundreds of employees working on their games. It is thanks to their perseverance and effort that they were able to come this far, and the results are nothing short of satisfying. Their creation grew with them, and it soon defined their identity and future. Whatever they made next, would have to be something great.
However, their story is not yet over. This is only the beginning of the long journey of IO Interactive and the Hitman series. Later on, this studio would focus its efforts on creating the very best game from the series, which brought as many new ideas into the table as it did improvements to the series formula and identity. After reaching their creative peak, the studio decided to move on to new prospects and ideas. Yet, after failing to live up to the shadow of their monumental creation, they were soon tasked with bringing it back after so many years, and what they made would not exactly be the swan’s song that fans were expecting.
Needless to say, things will only get more interesting from here.