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Snacko
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icon The Hitman Series (+5)  
Originality is rare these days. There was a time when it was an unspoken rule that no two games (sequels withstanding) were alike. You wanted to make a game like Space Invaders? Make it play completely differently, add vector graphics and you have Tempest. Want to make a Pacman clone? Change the controls and objective and you have Clu Clu Land. A clearly Tetris inspired puzzle game? Make it based on matching colors, give it a distinct objective to make it even more addictive and you have Dr. Mario.

Yes, 18 years later we still can't get Dr. Mario's Fever tune out of our heads because, the truth is, we still fondly remember those days were a concept carried a game far and we didn't need elaborate backdrops to have a completely new experience playing a game.

Today however, it seems all the obvious ideas are taken; Zelda leads to Okami, Mario leads to Sonic, Civilization leads to Master of Orion III and we all know my favorite punching bag is only one logical step away from Doom (that step being a level editor, zing!). Games seem to all be clones of each other now, but I can honestly say I've never played anything like the Hitman series.

It is fairly surprising that the concept hasn't been done before. It took center stage in the World's imagination being seen in action movie after action movie. The truth is, people love to see elaborate plans unfold in front of their eyes, gaming is the logical media to have them come up with those plans.

I know, it is technically possible on the lower difficulties to run through the series and guns blazing and in all but the first it is a fairly satisfying experience, but on the harder difficulties it is imperative that you play the game as it was "meant to be played".

You may have noticed that I put "meant to be played" in quotation marks and the reason for this is simple, Hitman's core gameplay is really about playing your way. As stated, you can occasionally decide to shoot everyone, but most people will probably stick with the rich, refreshing stealth in the game.

Most stealth games fit into two categories which I have called "Original" and "Rebuilt". Original was introduced by Hideo Kojima to the Japanese and European markets in 1987 with his flagship title, Metal Gear. Rebuilt was pioneered by Looking Glass Studios with Thief: The Dark Project exactly 10 year later. Thief's brand is the one that most games in the genre use today (the best known example of this is the Splinter Cell series) but games like Beyond Good & Evil (sequel, woohoo!) and the Metal Gear series up to MGS3 still use original. Original is daytime stealth, hiding behind crates, running past guards, sidling against walls etc. while Rebuilt is more realistic, hiding in shadows, dousing torches/shooting out lights, taking guards out etc. Rebuilt is generally more confrontational but is also much slower and generally more suspenseful.

Hitman uses a combination of the two styles along with heavy doses of puzzle solving and exploration. Essentially you are given a list of objectives (usually a target to kill )and a weapons loadout you choose beforehand then dropped into the level. When a level starts you will generally have no idea where to go or what to do, but you have perhaps the greatest weapon of all on your side, a crowd. The main character, Agent 47, is a somewhat large man but not bulky, somewhat tall but not lanky, well built but generally well dressed and is completely bald. The idea of course is that 47 is entirely nondescript and does not stand out in a crowd. As long as he has clearance he can go anywhere without arousing suspicion (though in the earlier installments the AI is somewhat sensitive reaching a peak in Hitman 2 where guards would open fire if you begin to run) and can generally blend in to any occupation as long as the surveyors are not direct coworkers. 47 however is not permitted in more sensitive areas and thus must wear disguises. 47 can literally take anyone's clothes (except for people in their underwear) to get where he needs to be.

What really tops off the unique concept and makes the games extraordinary are the hits themselves. Every level in the later games have at least three elaborate methods as well as more normal methods such as a discreet bullet to the head, a non discreet bullet to the head, fiber wire, knives, poison and, in one case, death by the bottom of your glass jacuzzi being unexpectedly and unfortunately shot out in your Himalaya based playboy mansion resulting in you plummeting to your death.

Here's an example: in one mission your target is the lead actor in an opera and his agent. At the end of the play, the actor is shot by a prop WW1 era pistol. Knock out a member of the costumes crew when he empties his bladder, take his suit, sneak into the dressing rooms, replace the prop with a real pistol, plant a bomb on the chandelier above the opera house, wait until everyone realizes the first target is dead then blow the chandelier so it falls on agent who ran to his client's rescue. Not only are these elaborate and stylish, neither count as kills because the media believes them to be accidents.

Not all missions follow this formula (especially in the first two where you are respectively treated to nauseatingly bad missions in the Cambodian jungle and unique, exciting missions sneaking into the estate of a Japanese military figure), often the game will require a more traditional approach, and this is where the game suffers. 47 moves appallingly slowly while in sneak or crouch mode and this is the one time you'll really, really hate the oversensitive AI of the first few. Running through a mile long expanse in a field where it is snowing towards the nearest shelter should not be considered suspicious. When you get in closer quarters literally about half the time is spent looking at your detailed map waiting for exactly the right moment to move. Though occasionally this pays off (a good example is one of the Russian missions in Hitman 2 where you must carefully balance your time and position between avoiding guards, completing objectives and shooting out cameras), it slows the pace of the games far too much. Eidos made the right choice in Blood Money by cranking up the believability (getting spotted in one mission affects how easily you are recognized in others, you can take less bullets etc.) and cranking down the practicality (you are encouraged to cook up the most complicating plans you can think of) while eliminating the traditional levels, sacrificing length for replayability and overall enjoyment.

When talking about the series, it is worth noting that the original installment is lightyears behind the other three, forcing you to hold your fire or face death, not allowing you to unlock the next mission if collateral damage is to high and lacking anything resembling mid mission checkpoints as well as sporting levels with one "right way" to do everything. It isn't that it isn't worth a look if you are willing to put up with its many annoyances, it just can't hold a candle to its sequels.

The easiest way to get in to the series is to buy the "Hitman Trilogy" which has every game in the series except for the first (available for PS2, Xbox and PC though it is worth noting that Blood Money is also available on the Xbox 360). Another, more expensive method (yet also more rewarding) is to sign up for Gametap where every game in the series is available on Gold (the series is also frequently featured on Silver if you'd like to check it out free).

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[Last edited by Snacko at 06-20-2008 12:29 AM]
06-02-2008 at 05:34 AM
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NiroZ
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icon Re: The Hitman Series (+2)  
I must say that Hitman (4?): Bloodmoney is one of my favourite games of all time. Brilliantly crafted set pieces and being able to take your frustration of dying upon the NPC's (plus, an opportunity for another life if you get enough headshots) make hitman: bloodmoney a great game. I mean, it is the only game where I have collected every single thing in the game, plus completed it on hardest and still want more.

You can purchase it over steam as well.

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A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the milky way - Carl Sagan.


[Last edited by NiroZ at 06-02-2008 06:52 AM]
06-02-2008 at 06:34 AM
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lakibuk
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icon Re: The Hitman Series (0)  
Good review,thanks. I've been ignorant to the series,thinking it's just another shooter with stealth elements that tries to make up for lack of gameplay substance with brutality.
Now i'll put the game on my list of older-games-that-might-be-interesting.

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Karl
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06-04-2008 at 12:17 PM
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malkav11
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The best thing about these games for me has always been trying to get the Silent Assassin rating - where you stealth in and out without ever raising the alarm, making dead only the target(s). No one else. This requires infinitely more trickery and mastery of the open-ended design of the levels and creates a very fulfilling experience.

None of the subtleties of the game come out if you just shoot your way through, but I suppose it's good that they let you do so if you're so inclined.
06-14-2008 at 07:38 PM
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Snacko
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icon Re: The Hitman Series (0)  
I always found it ironic that the only ways to get the better weapons in the game is to get Silent Assassin where you would have no use for the weapons.

As for my favorite way to play, it's kind of a mixture. I'll try and find out as much as I can and find the least confrontational way in, but I'll resort to violence if I'm threatened enough (a good example is the cruise ship level, I killed everyone except the person on the far end of the level silently then tried to get in, the guard told me to leave so I tried to push him off the railing, he shot at me so I disarmed him and killed the guards and the target with a shotgun then leaving silently). If I'm discovered I'll try to shoot my way out, but it usually leads to too much problems (I play on Expert as in Normal shooting is just too easy and on Professional any violence is a death wish).

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[Last edited by Snacko at 06-20-2008 12:40 AM]
06-14-2008 at 08:03 PM
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