Review: Hitman: Contracts (XB)

Killing people is fairly common in video games (don’t worry, we all do it), but rarely are we able to flex our killing muscles. The obligatory head stomp and shot to the head is fun, no doubt about it, but a little variety can do wonders. Hitman: Contracts, IO Interactive’s quasi sequel to Hitman 2, let’s you expand upon your killing knowledge, and bring out those maniacal qualities you’ve been suppressing—at least hopefully.

Story:
Hitman: Contracts starts off with a bang of sorts—literally. The master hitman, Agent 47, has apparently been shot on the job. As our hero passes out from the pain, he slowly recalls different memories of his past hits, and that is where the game takes over. After each mission is completed the plot is furthered by giving us a little more detail on the condition of 47 before another mission is triggered. For those familiar with the original Hitman (only available for PC) and Hitman 2, the missions and characters will seem familiar. The later mission as actually taken from the PC exclusive, so fans of the 2nd offering can see what killing options they missed the first time.

Though this is a creative way to tell the story, if not a little cliché, I was a little disappointed there was really no effort to push the story as opposed to retelling it. Fans of the game likely won’t mind redoing the same missions, for they are fun, but it leads me to ask why IO Interactive even developed this game. At least they didn’t beguile fans by adding a three to the title.

5/10

Graphics:

While there is a noticeable difference in quality from the previous games, it isn’t striking, but even so, the graphics are competent enough. Agent 47 moves rather well, and he should for Hitman, but I was more impressed with the variety of characters you interact with during the levels. Throughout each level you will encounter a wide variety of goons—you know, you’re obligatory S&M biker gang and dope heads, what else? What is so impressive is that each of the characters, and there is many of them, go about their business in a seemingly realistic manner. Cooks chop up slabs meet, gang members suck face in hallways, and maids take showers in bathing suits. Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t very realistic, but the amount of detail put forth in the NPC’s is admirable, and makes the experience of being an hitman all the more realistic.

There are also nice little subtle effects that definitely stand out. One mission takes place in a meat packing facility and after playing for a few minutes, I was disgusted with what I was viewing, and I consider that a good thing. Blood was riddled on the wall, floors, and doors; light was scare, shadows dominated, making this level seem like one out of Resident Evil. Even small details, whether it was the impressive weather effects (like rain or snow) or the movement of the plastic curtains in the meat factory, stood out.

I was a little disappointed however with the cutscenes in between the missions. While they did look nice (not Final Fantasy nice—but nice) they were a little too grainy for my taste. I expected a little bit better out of my behemoth of black and green plastic.

8/10

Sound:
Jesper Kyd, the composer for Contracts, has done his job, and done it well. The sound really shines in Contracts, and ironically, there isn’t much of it, but that’s a good thing. Kyd’s music is eerie, foreboding, and downright creepy—the perfect score for a silent assassin. Probably the best part about Contracts is the amount of dead silence during the game. Pumping lead in poor bastards is a dirty job; there’s no need for pretty music. Keeping the sound at a minimum ups the suspense of sneaking around. Increasing the music during intense spots (being detected or offing a baddie) only makes for a more engaging experience.

The best example of Contracts use of sounds comes in the meat packing level. Since a party is taking place in the compound, a faint techno beat can be heard as you creep around the level. The closer you get to the music, the louder the infectious drum beat gets, until you enter the party to hear the music full on. If I didn’t have to make a kill, I might have even stopped to shake my booty.

9/10

Controls:
Those familiar with Hitman 2 should feel comfortable with Contracts. Not much as changed, but that is probably for the better, as the control scheme works pretty well. Contracts makes good use of the Xbox’s many buttons, though a little fine tuning would have helped. For example, there is not a specific button utilized for entering stealth mode, leaving you to awkwardly hold down the crouch button to sneak around. Couple this with the annoying task of holding down another button to properly stretch out your fiber wire, and you are left with doing a little too much effort for an all too simple kill. Speaking of offing chumps with the fiber wire, it sure was rather sensitive for such an essential kill. Because this is a vital act of the game (killing in silence is way of a professional) it was disappointing that it was so annoying to get this right. I had to restart a mission five or six times before I could perfect this act. The problem came in the way Agent 47 moves while in stealth mode; it’s hard to align himself completely back to back with his enemy. My friend, a veteran Hitman player, was scoffing at my amateurish killing abilities, and upon giving him the controller, he faced the same problem, which made me realize it wasn’t me—and that was good to know.

The map system was also rather annoying, and for a game with large, expansive areas, this dulled my killing pleasures. Not only was it hard to determine where your Agent 47 was on the map, but I found myself having to zoom all the way into the map to see where the hell to go. I wouldn’t have minded if the screen would have stayed zoomed, but unfortunately an option like that is not as easy as shooting some biker in the head. Since I am big fan of maps, and use them quite extensively, it was hard to get over this. Not only that, but looking at the map doesn’t stop the game. Yes, by looking at the map, you literally stand in an area like a moronic tourist in Times Square. This may not be a problem if you are hidden, but if you are in a hideout with heaps of enemies and they see some suspicious looking goof standing around staring at the wall, they just might get little suspicious. I understand that this may add a little strategy, in that you must memorize your floor plan before entering, but it just came off as tedious and annoying. One thing I did like about the map, however, was that it labeled “points of interests” throughout the level, which indicated areas were something important occurs, whether it be a sniping spot, or a trap door. These are especially nice, as they give a clue as where to start in the mission. And as much as I hate to say it, I also liked how the map showed all the NPC characters walking around, making it easier to understand enemy patterns and when to strike. Still, for something as important as a map, it could have been done a lot better.

7/10

Balance:
Contracts has excellent balance. Why? Because you are given the choice of how you want to execute a hit. The missions are only hard as you want to make them. If you are a true professional, you will off a guard in silence, hide his body, steal his clothes, blend in with the rest of the guards, poison your target, and make it out before they know what happened. Of course, if you are impatient and don’t have time for that James Bond bullshit, you can just run into a room, whip out your dual silverballers and paint the walls red. Doing so will make the missions incredibly harder, especially on missions with countless guards (which is about every one), so this kind of strategy is usually not the smartest one to employ—unless you have a death wish.

The brilliance of Contracts is that almost each level can be completed without firing a single weapon, so difficulty comes not in blowing off heads, but figuring out the perfect way to sneak around undetected. This will undoubtedly become a long bout of trial and error, but thankfully the Xbox version allows you to save anywhere you please, allowing you to take some chances and not worry about starting the mission from the beginning. Adding this feature was a welcoming one and will only encourage players to explore different methods of the kill.
9/10

Replayability: A whole lot. Like I just mentioned, there is not one way to complete a mission, and this means you will likely want to play them over just to feel out all the options. For example, in the Beldingford Manor mission, the options are seemingly endless. The mission calls you to assassinate Lord Winston Beldingford, his son, and rescue some kid they kidnapped. Exploring through the level, I discovered I could snipe the Lord while he was relieving himself in the bathroom. Fun right? Well, later I discovered that was the not only way of killing him. Aside from bullet to his head, I could have also poisoned his milk, suffocated him in his sleep, or flat out blown the damn Manor up. Knowing this, I restarted the mission purely because I wanted to poison the bastard. Contracts is all about situations like this: finding newer and better ways to off someone, and the fun in trying them out. This is just the beginning of its replay value too. Professionals who can complete a mission without being detected will not only be awarded the excellent title, silent assassin, but will also be rewarded with hidden weapons. So, not only is there is the joy in trying out different kills, but also the challenge of accessing all the hidden weapons throughout the game.
10/10

Originality: I want to say that Contracts is more original than it is, but let’s face it, the Hitman series has been out for four years now. Even so, Contracts open-ended gameplay is so different and refreshing compared to the countless stealth clones out right now. Giving players the choice of how to complete a mission, not only adds to the replay value, but the joy of playing.

8/10

Appeal: Like shooting people in the head? Great. Like sneaking around and choking people from behind their backs? Excellent. Contracts cleverly markets to both these styles. Fans of intense gun fights and mindless killing can enjoy Contracts just as much as those of prefer to sneak around in the shadows. Fans of Metal Gear and Splinter Cell will surely appreciate Contracts, but even if those games make you cringe, Contracts may change your opinion of steal games. If not, run around like an idiot and with your guns blazing—I don’t mind.

8/10

Addictiveness: As mentioned in the replay section, this game will have you playing for days, and some of the days may be the completing the same mission countless times. While for some games that may seem boring, the amount of the freedom that Contracts offers makes repeating old missions almost seem fresh. Attempting the daunting task of earning “Silent Assassin” in each level may also put a hit on your free time.

8/10

Misc: I really enjoyed Contracts, but I can’t help but feel cheated about this almost uninspired sequel. This game is a joy to play, let’s not argue that, but since IO Interactive took the time to create a follow-up, it would have been nice to see a little innovation. As it is, it just seems like this a tacked-on sequel to cash in on the success of Hitman 2 last year. Sure, there are missions only available previously on the PC, but for gamers who have played the original, there really isn’t anything original to see here. Hopefully, the true sequel with not only grace us with a number, but a little innovation.

5/10

Final Scores:
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Balance: 9/10
Replayability: 10/10
Originality: 8/10
Appeal: 8/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Misc: 5/10

Overall Score: 77/100