The role of a professional hired killer isn't a career option open to most of us. The hours are bad, the equipment is expensive, and the blood is a right pain to wash out of your whites. So here comes the Eidos solution for the average Joe; "Hitman : Codename 47", a virtual hitman simulator that allows the rest of us to play out the role of a hired killer without the unfortunate legal and social side effects.
Oddly your new career doesn't begin at the Léon school of covert assassinations; instead you awaken to a rather camp voice in your head, in a small cell wearing a surgical gown. The door is unlocked and your shackles are open; it's definitely time to get moving. You grab your clothes, a swish black suit, and are forced though a quick series of training rooms, teaching you essentials such as effective garroting techniques and a stack of firearms target practice. This enforced tutorial isn't a waste of time, it effectively introduces you to concepts that are essential for progress through the game.
Once free of the hospital starting location you begin your work as a full time Hitman for a mysterious organisation known only as 'The Agency'. Missions are offered in sequence using the Hitman's grim looking laptop computer. As well as the objective itself, additional information can be squeezed out of the briefing, often including a neat little game-rendered video of the target under surveillance going about their sinister business. This extra information is well worth your time, as often there are useful pointers on finding the best way to complete the mission at hand.
The missions themselves are cunningly structured, with the tasks you are set mostly concluding with you taking out some big boss type character. You can wander around and take in the setting at your own pace, but events happen in real time, so your actions often need to be carefully considered and planned to successfully complete the mission.
You are given a shopping list of starting equipment, with the costs deducted from your account and cutting into your profit for the mission. This limits your choice, andequipment must be carefully picked as your selection will strongly influence how you complete your task. Purchase a sniper rifle if you fancy some remote assassination, or pick a piano wire garrote if you plan to deal silent death on your unsuspecting targets. The more excitable player might even select noisy assault rifles or sub-machine guns to tear into their enemy with unsophisticated force - it's an open choice.
There is usually one low friction route to the target however, but it can take a lot of trial and error and careful observation of enemy movements to finally find it. For example, an early mission sees the Hitman frisked and disarmed when he enters the final hit location, so he must plant his firearm in there before the targets arrive and then retrieve it later to carry out the grim task.
Because your starting selection is limited by funds available, improvising with the material at hand is frequently necessary. Weapons can be lifted from your victims if your chosen firearm has run out of ammo or simply doesn't match the job at hand.
Clothes can be stripped from the sorry corpses of your fallen foes and used as disguises, allowing you to pass among the enemy like one of them, and finding the right outfit for each job can be a real challenge. I loved stripping off my more exotically dressed fresh corpses and prancing about in their gear, although a seven foot psycho bald guy who manages to blend in by simply changing jacket is pushing credibility more than a little. Who cares though, it's fun to dress up once in a while.
While the targets are scripted in their actions and movements, they don't always behave quite how you would expect. Stand too long in one location and a guard might see through your thin disguise and take you out. Spend too long finishing off a victim, and he might rouse nearby thugs, making your lifespan suddenly much shorter. Meanwhile life is injected into the mission locations with traffic and pedestrians going about their daily business as usual, which not only adds atmosphere and realism, but can also influence your success. The Hitman hasn't got what you might call a friendly face, so the population constantly watch him suspiciously. A passer by won't ignore a big balding guy with a huge gun man-handling a body into an open drain, they will trot off to find a cop and send him your way...
Each of the missions are grouped together around geographical locations, and the contrast between the different areas such as urban streets and jungle locations is a visual smack in the choppers. The levels are mostly huge, yet never become barren or uninteresting, no matter where you roam. Everything looks fantastic, with each of the destinations sporting highly detailed locations with some beautiful effects and designs. This graphical complexity does come at a cost however, you will need a beefy machine with a capable graphics card to get decent frame rates.
The action is viewed from the third person, using a very close chase camera slightly above and behind the Hitman's bald head. This can unfortunately be a pain at times, especially when trying to get a view of something by his feet. Dragging your sorry victims' bodies to a hidden spot is crucial if you want your gruesome handiwork to remain undiscovered, yet this important task is made a nightmare by the closely following camera.
An alternative view is offered with a wider scope, but controlling the Hitman with this view activated is nearly impossible. The control system can often be frustrating too. Actions are performed with a right mouse click over the desired object, but getting in the right position to trigger the menu can be fiddly, and often you find yourself performing important actions on the wrong item, or shuffling about just to get close enough to complete the task.
Despite these problems though, Hitman is a fantastic title that dares to be a bit different. It's not an easy game, and there are no mid-level saves, which means running through parts of a mission you have already completed can get frustrating, but you do get the option of a few continues if you get gunned down mid-mission.
But I love it - the challenge, the atmosphere, the blood. It's not without its problems, and most glaringly it is rather short, so if you are a value for money freak you had best steer clear. But for those of you that like a challenging short sharp shot to the head, Hitman will definitely do the job.