Version tested: PlayStation 3
His name is Agent 47, and I do believe you know his work. He's the world's greatest assassin; travelling the globe to bring a civilised kind of murder for hire to those who deserve it, and somehow world famous despite his greatest talent being getting in and out with nobody knowing he was ever there. Take nothing but lives. Leave nothing but mystery. That's the Hitman way.
This triple-pack covers almost his entire early career: Silent Assassin, Contracts and Blood Money. The original Hitman: Codename 47 from 2000 is notable by its absence, and would have been good to have just for historical interest. It's not a huge omission in practice though, because Contracts includes updated versions of almost all its levels along with a handful of new ones. The only completely missing chapter is a hit set in the rainforest, in which 47 had to befriend a tribe of panther-worshipping natives by retrieving their lost idol - yes, really, and it was just as silly then - and fight a Scarface rip-off with an odd immunity to bullets. Suffice to say, it's no great loss.
On Xbox 360, Blood Money is the same version released in 2006. This is the first time it's appeared on PS3, but it's a straight port - no frills, no extra glitz to welcome it to the future. On both platforms, the same goes for the original games too. HD graphics are promised, HD graphics are delivered. That means a resolution bump to 720p and that's all. If any of the textures or models have been given a sneaky spit-polish for good measure, I can't say they jumped out at me. Certainly, there are no fancy effects or filters to jazz things up, no new game modes or goodies and no real additions save for some half-hearted achievements/trophies. You do at least get a code for a free online download of the fun Sniper Challenge pre-order bonus from last year's Hitman: Absolution.
Graphically speaking, it's surprising how well Silent Assassin - first released in 2002 - has held up. Its world obviously lacks detail, population and raw polygons, but it does a better job with its real-world environments than most decade-old games that shot for realism can boast. It's no stunner and the resolution increase hardly helps hide the flaws as you travel the world, but there's a clinical precision to the style that fits 47's character and approach to his dark trade.
Contracts fares less well despite being more advanced, mostly because it's in that unfortunate middle ground of wanting to do more than its technology was ready for - things that Blood Money then came along and did much better. It's also weighed down by one horrific interface choice. All interactions with the world are done via tiny menus, printed on-screen in black text on grey, and a very thin font at that. On my 32" TV, squinting from the comfort of my sofa, it was like they'd been camouflaged. Even getting up close, this was extremely uncomfortable and there were no settings to tweak or fix it. Thankfully, both of the other games were sofa-friendly.
Finally, just for the sake of completeness, Blood Money... is still Blood Money, just as was. It bears the scars you'd expect of a game made during the last next-gen handover, but its more detailed worlds and population technologies remain as impressive as they are entertaining. Hitman always excelled at offering a wide range of settings, and Blood Money is no different. It's not a beautiful game to look at, but each area is lovingly crafted, packed with detail and opportunities and very easy to get sucked into, even now.
A warning, though. While I was playing the PS3 version and so wasn't able to personally verify this, it's been reported that Blood Money's historic PAL 50/60Hz display issue on Xbox 360 hasn't been fixed - and you could find be screwed if you don't have an old composite or component cable to unlock an otherwise unavailable console setting. Videogamer has a guide to handling this. The PS3 version doesn't appear to suffer, running Blood Money through my HDMI cable without complaint.
Graphics have never exactly been Hitman's fatal flaw, though. At least until Blood Money - and for many people, even then - the series could easily be summed up as "Great concept, can't wait until it works properly." To developer Io Interactive's credit, every game took big steps towards making that happen - except Absolution, of course - and if it didn't quite make it, it wasn't a question of laziness or lack of talent. On the scale of development difficulty, Hitman's AI-reliant social stealth still ranks somewhere between 'rat bastard hard' and 'you're joking, right?' It's a wonder it works as well as it does - even when it completely fails.
For the time, Silent Assassin was a massive leap forward for the series. The original Codename 47 was a game with a dream everyone could appreciate was worth chasing, but one that was making up the rules as it went along and thus unsurprisingly ended up a bit of a mess. Silent Assassin got to focus tight on what worked and refine the concept, and was both a much better game and a necessary step in Hitman's evolutionary path.
The key word there, though, is 'was'. On its own raw merits today, it's painful: a game of clumsy controls, 47 being utterly useless in fights, and schizophrenic AI prone to going Joe-Pesci-in-Goodfellas crazy at the drop of a hat. Worse, while it was an amazingly free-form experience for its time, times have changed. Diving into a couple of levels does help make the rest of the series feel better by comparison - and to be clear, it was in no way a bad game when it came out. However, while I completed it then and had a great time, on this occasion it wasn't long before I realised that I never, ever want to play it again.
Contracts, ignoring the interface silliness, is a much smoother ride. Its rebuilt levels that were underwhelming at release have far more purpose in this version, and it's a much more fluid experience than Silent Assassin. Still, it's very much Blood Money Lite in mechanical terms - especially if you have a taste for kills coming off as accidents rather than assassinations - and it has very much had its day.
And Blood Money? As if you even have to ask. It's still the pinnacle of the series and an absolutely wonderful game - the best real-world murder simulator around.
That said, it's not easy to get into, and if you haven't played it before, expect to bounce off a couple of times before it clicks. The first mission features some of the worst Hitman design this side of those bloody latex murder nuns (not least by giving 47 a target deeply undeserving of his attention, unlike the monsters he usually faces), and you do have to be willing to meet the often glitchy AI halfway to prevent it throwing temper tantrums. When it all comes together in a perfect hit though, there's nothing like it. Not for nothing did its fans cry foul when Absolution threw most of it out in favour of a completely different kind of game. Not a terrible game; just not a Hitman game.
As far as the final score for all this goes, we're in tricky territory with Hitman HD Trilogy. It's a real Ronseal compilation - dangerous if taken orally and a bad idea for kids to play with unsupervised. Also, it precisely lives up to its promise, no more, no less. You want Hitman in HD? You got it, and while the £30 RRP is much too expensive to justify the upgrades, in practice almost every retailer has wisely decided "haha, no," and knocked off a tenner to bring it down to a much more reasonable £20.
Still, it feels like a missed opportunity to do more. Remastering the games might have been too much to ask for, but more bundled extras and behind-the-scenes type material wouldn't have gone amiss, given that Silent Assassin and Contracts have firmly had their day. The basic HD overhauls are also impossible to get excited about if you've already played any of the games on PC, which offered higher resolutions from the start.
If you're coming to this from a less nostalgic perspective - as a Blood Money or Absolution fan looking for more hits to sate your professional bloodlust - there's no escaping that two of the three games here haven't aged well at all. Silent Assassin is plain bad these days, while Contracts is playable but utterly underwhelming by modern standards. On Xbox 360, you may as well just look for a cheap copy of Blood Money - first checking your console settings to make sure you'll actually be able to get it to run.
On PS3 though, this is your only option to play Blood Money at all, and at least Hitman HD Trilogy can be had cheap enough to count as a budget re-release with a couple of generous extras. This may not be the most exciting celebration of 47's career that Square Enix could have mustered, but it is one last chance to experience the single best real-world assassin game around - and a chance well worth taking advantage of, if its dark magic has somehow managed to elude you until now.
6 / 10