The sweet strains of a young boy singing "Ave Maria" usher us into Hitman: Blood Money. This euphony seems out of place in a game about a cloned super-assassin until the camera pulls back and shows us that the killer himself has been killed and is lying in a sun-dappled sanctuary surrounded by flowers and mourners. Hitman is essentially a series of slayer-for-sale assignments and flashback scenes (from two years prior to present) that show us how the inscrutable Agent 47 meets his end.
While playing 12 different missions, you become this doomed "contractor" and must find a way to eliminate your targets—usually some underworld thug or villainous fat cat. In an open-ended stealth-friendly world, you devise a method to reach these heavily insulated figures using disguises, items at hand and the shadowy hideaways of the environment around you. Locations range from a broken-down amusement park to a swank Las Vegas hotel to the Mardi Gras-filled streets of New Orleans.
Tools of the Trade
As you would imagine, guns are a staple in the assassin's craft. And you certainly can find all types of pistols, rifles and submachine guns in this game (along with sedatives, poisons, explosives, knives and a fiber-wire garrote). Hitman also gives you plenty of latitude in when and how you use these implements of destruction. A run-and-gun feature allows you to sprint from place to place killing anyone in sight and leaving behind heaped bodies in pools of their own blood. There is also a hidden thirteenth "mission" in the game that has blood flowing and splattering everywhere. In order to survive, you must grab an innocent to use as a human shield while you decimate a room full of armed men.
However, through most of the game, this kind of play will rarely complete the job at hand and almost always works against you. All you gain is unwanted attention and notoriety, making you easier to recognize and kill. Instead, you are encouraged (through status and cash bonuses) to avoid blasting bystanders. It's even possible (with scouting and strategy) to slip in, make the assigned kill look like an accident, and slip out without ever touching a weapon.
Other Unnecessary Things
All in all, the strategic planning, multiple disguises (ranging from bellhop to party clown) and unseen movements make this game gratifying enough that you almost forget it's all about obliterating human souls. But never quite. Hitman is determined to remind you that it is indeed an M-rated game. Along with the aforementioned blood and gore, some sexual elements are pushed, too. Most of its female characters are absurdly busty young women in revealing tops, skimpy underwear and bustiers or barely-there bikinis. For example, in one party scene there are girls dressed in nothing but angel wings and well-placed ribbons. There are no overtly sexual activities shown, but a number of character's statements and suggestive movements will put lots of thoughts in lots of heads.
The game's profanity is usually kept to a minimum with guards and thugs spitting out an occasional "d--n," "bastard" or "h---." But for some reason the game's designers decided to fill the first mission (the one that teaches all of the game mechanics) with gang members who use f-words and s-words in literally every sentence. They also abuse God's name, combining it with "d--n." It made me want to shoot them just to get them to stop talking.
My wife and I once brought a rescue boxer into our home named Quincy. The dog was a stitch. He'd comically play hide-and-seek with my kids, and a game of fetch or tug-of-war was his version of heaven. But Quincy had a nasty side. If he got out of the back yard he'd fly off, uncatchable by man, and do ugly thing to my neighbor's trashcans and flower gardens. Despite this, I convinced myself that we could work with him. Then one day he ran free and jumped growling on a teen's chest, knocking him to the ground. And we couldn't rationalize any longer, Quincy had to go.
Oddly enough, Hitman: Blood Money is kind of like that for me. It's fun. But it has its ugly side—thickly spread sensuality, harsh profanity and the simple fact that the goal you seek is someone else's bloody death. I just can't rationalize that away.