The Hitman: HD Trilogy was released at the start of the month, here we take a look at the trilogy as a whole.
Agent 47 is something of an enigma to gamers. Even if you haven’t really embraced yourself in the Hitman franchise, you know who he is; and more importantly, you know that Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of 47 in the 2007 film was like watching a brick wall act. In fact, Olyphant was just the bland foundation in a loosely cemented action blockbuster that unfairly portrayed the series as just dumb and violent. In spite of the abundant murders and farfetched yet sinister assassination scenarios, Hitman has always been a smart game and at times even featured an interesting plot. The film was inevitably stricken with the plague of tradition, and became nothing more than just a cheap tie-in to make a few dollars.
HD collections have been previously accused of similar cash cow crimes, with some being suspected of milking a franchise for all its worth by churning out old titles at the sake of quality. However, while some of this is perhaps true, that doesn’t mean HD remakes are always without merit. Even the Covenant had The Arbiter, remember. For one, it is certainly nice for those who missed out on certain titles to have another chance at playing them and it also presents an opportunity for a new generation of gamers to get to know a series. With last year’s Hitman: Absolution, I can imagine many confused youngsters playing who asked ‘mate, why’s this bald guy got a barcode on his head?’.
The collection contains the influential Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, the average Hitman: Contracts and the exemplary Hitman: Blood Money. For those unfamiliar, the format for each game in the collection is very similar. The player, placed as top assassin Agent 47 undertakes a series of missions that involve eliminating targets. The emphasis is on stealth, in which through subtlety, espionage and patience it is possible to sneak in undetected and remove the target without a trace. This is less sneaking through the shadows and more hiding in plain sight through careful movement and adopting disguises (such as a giant chicken costume). It is entirely possible to do this in your own way, which includes an all-out explosive assault, but the rating system rewards mission discretion with the covetous ‘Silent Assassin’ title. As a result, a lot of the experience comes down to level design and NPC AI, in which a successful player utilises these elements opportunistically.
It is within these aspects that the success of each title is earned. Hitman: Silent Assassin features some of the best level design of the franchise, with fan favourite Anathema’s Italian Villa setting holding up as a brilliant sandbox of choice. However, the AI has not aged well, in which the gamers of 2002 who enjoyed the sense of challenge will now find that what made it so difficult is actually due to its stupidity. NPC’s are either glitchy or omniscient, often ruining carefully acted plans and patience by suddenly jumping across a room, or behaving with undeserved animosity at a simple postman delivering flowers. If Agent 47 disguised himself as an insurance salesman, I might understand.
Hitman: Contracts can be considered more of a greatest hits than a sequel; featuring several remade classic levels from the original title Hitman: Agent 47. It’s okay, the concept of a collection within a collection blew my mind too. Contracts is essentially a much tighter, glossier and smoother update of the previous game, and definitely didn’t add much to advance the series at the time of its release in 2004. Furthermore, regardless of the nice polish (even 47’s head looks nice and shiny) the whimsical AI still remains. While it seems more user-friendly than Silent Assassin, it actually lulls the player into a false sense of security. You might be able to walk past a guard with no problem, but then suddenly, even if you haven’t caused any noticeable trouble, they’ll be coming after you like blood thirsty pirates.
Finally, Hitman: Blood Money may come as a surprise to some players, as it was already a HD current-gen title. However, it makes perfect sense to add it to such a collection, as it represents a major high in the series. Blood Money is everything IO ever wanted Hitman: Agent 47 to be: a smart, calculated example of creative murder that challenges the player to think outside the box, be patient and play with skill and timing. It’s great fun, taking the vision of Silent Assassin and fulfilling it, but it’s not without some surprising faults. I am not ashamed to say that within five minutes of the tutorial I was stuck. This was completely down to the fact that the helpful hints at the top of the screen did not explain that you can throw objects: something totally essential to sneaking past two guards successfully. I even tried to consult a control guide in the menu to see if I had missed something, but no, nothing at all there. Eventually I was forced rather unkindly by Blood Money to seek control based help from the guiding internet. It demonstrates how even since the 6 years since the games release, a lot of things have been tightened up in gaming.
What a HD collection ultimately comes down to is whether it is worth revisiting an old game. This can be based on its significance within a wider context of the industry at the time, or if it is just simply still damn fun to play. In the instance of Hitman: HD Trilogy, it is perhaps too much of the former and not enough of the latter. The result is a mixed bag of frustration and brilliance that charts the rise of the franchise and ultimately demonstrates how the series has always worked hard to improve itself and achieve the ambition of developer IO Interactive. It is a fact that some parts of the games have not aged well at all and as a result help argue in favour of the laziness of HD remakes. Regardless, you can’t help but still admire the sheer ingenuity that was present at the time of the earlier title Silent Assassin: it shows a truly unique side of the stealth genre. Perhaps consider Hitman: HD Trilogy then, as an education for the uninitiated; providing a nostalgic, albeit frustrating return to a beloved franchise that still shows its brains in spite of its huge flaws.
Version reviewed: PlayStation 3
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