Well done 47?
Waiting for a Hitman game all of a sudden feels like waiting for a bus. First you get nothing for several years and now two come along at once. The bodies haven’t even had time to go cold after Agent 47’s antics in the fantastic Hitman 2 back in November, before IO Interactive and their new publishing partner have seen fit to re-package two of their previous games together in one HD remastered bundle. How appealing this collection will look to players will very much depend on your previous feelings toward the pair of games, but sadly there is ultimately little on offer here to make the upgrade all that worthwhile.
This collection showcases the two polar extremes of the series prior to the current console generation. Blood Money represents the strongest and most intricate release in the series prior to the 2016 iteration, whereas Absolution is widely regarded as the antithesis of what a Hitman game should be. This new double pack isn’t a full remake, but rather a graphical and performance-related remaster, upgrading visuals to 4K (on consoles that can play games at that level) and locking gameplay to a solid 60fps. Texture resolutions, shadows and reflections are all treated to an upgrade too, but nothing else has really been altered or added – in fact the much-loved Contracts mode from Absolution has been removed entirely (due to Square Enix owning the servers for that mode).
Blood Money was always a personal high water mark for the series, moving past the really buggy gameplay that plagued Hitman: Codename 47 and its sequel, and presenting players with a set of really inventive and varied sandboxes to play through. Some of the set-ups and assassination methods at your disposal during the campaign still hold up as unique and fun. The theatre level, for example, holds a myriad of possible approaches to your kills, each dripping the the signature black humour of the series. Then there is Flatline – set in a rehabilitation centre that is simply dripping with accidents waiting to befall your unwitting victims. There is some really intelligent and satisfying level design on display throughout.
Sadly, very little else of the game has aged well at all. Time has taken its toll and my previously rose-tinted spectacles are sadly seeing much more clearly now. Aiming is difficult, shooting poor and the in-game physics truly appalling at times. You can make allowances for dead bodies flopping over in an awkward heap when it happens in a game that was originally developed for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox console era, but there are times when hitting an enemy with a headshot causes their body to fly up and hit the ceiling – which is silly enough, even on the occasions when that doesn’t lead to you being spotted by other enemies.
The control scheme in general is awkward, despite promises in the blurb for this re-mastered collection that IO had updated and refined the controls for the current console generation. Pulling off a fibre wire strangulation is a lottery, less often working that not. Agent 47 floats around levels in an unrealistically light and almost slippery way, and dragged bodies can get stuck in all manner of annoying ways. Even the enemy detection system seems hit and miss sometimes and some stages become a real matter of trial and error because if this. I think when this title was first released, this seemed like a challenging aspect of the game, however now that we are used to a much better Hitman gameplay experience from the modern titles, Blood Money doesn’t manage to maintain much of the charm it used to have.
And that leads me quite neatly onto Absolution, which never held any sort of charm at all to me in the past. Aside from a few missions, this game managed to throw the stealth assassination gameplay from all previous entries in the series completely out of the window in favour of a stealth-action approach. This approach was – understandably – controversial with stalwart fans and was rightly dropped for the follow-up. True, Absolution had a stronger story than any other games before and much more cinematic flair, but only a handful of levels contained any of the stealth gameplay or well-crafted sandboxes that fans wanted. Gunplay is often forced upon you, rather than being just one of your many options, as it really should have been.
A targeting system akin to Deadeye in the Red Dead Redemption series was added in to this title, as well as an Instinct ability that not only helped you immediately blend in with enemies as well as see through walls to spot targets and points of interest. These additions only serve to further detach the experience from its roots, feeling more action movie than stealth thriller. The player-generated Contracts mode was one of the key selling points and key successes of Absolution when it first released, allowing everyone to create their own assassination missions and challenge others to best their top score for completing it. That only makes it more sad that this is missing from the HD enhanced version. IO have made noises that it might return to the game, but that is unlikely to happen, what with Hitman 2 updates surely taking priority.
Thankfully Absolution has not aged anywhere near as badly as Blood Money has. It benefits far more from the visual improvements, allowing it to just about pass for a current-gen game, whilst Blood Money clearly shows its messy, thirteen year-old roots. Cutscenes in both sadly suffer without any enhancements, which does lead to quite a stark contrast between the crisp in-game visuals and these blurry videos. On top of the visual elements, Absolution also controls and has most of the same gameplay techniques that have been carried through to the current crop of games. In terms of controls, it at least feels like the same breed of animal that the other current-gen games do, not a relic of several consoles past.
Blood Money and Absolution are such extreme opposites that it makes collecting them together feel like an odd choice, despite their chronological proximity in the history of the franchise. Each game has its own positive and negative points – which are on full display in this package despite the technical upgrades. Luckily IO Interactive were observant enough to pinpoint the good parts of both, before managing to extract and boil them down into the highly refined experience that we are now accustomed to when playing Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2. Both titles have already seen a backwards compatibility release on Xbox One, only serving to make this full-price release feel even less of a good deal.