Monday, January 3, 2011

Hitman: Blood Money and why people think I'm a psychopath

This is my first "game review" on this site.  I might review others.

The other day, while walking the dog with my wife, I said the following words to her:

"So I thought about sneaking up behind the guy and strangling him with garrote wire, but I decided to use the sedative instead."

It took me a few seconds to realize that there were other people on the sidewalk next to us.  I had to grin meekly and stammer out that I was talking about a videogame.

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of "Hitman 2" at a local Gamestop.  I had seen it on sale and thought I'd give it a whirl.  The concept definitely hit me in the right spot.  A stealth/infiltration game where you have to assassinate a high-profile target, using the environment and disguises in order to get close to him.  Your character was Agent 47, a six-foot-six, broad-shouldered bald guy with (for some reason) a barcode dyed into the back of his head.  Apparently he's a clone of some kind.  Since I didn't play the first game, I didn't quite get the backstory, but it didn't matter.  I didn't like the game.  After a few false starts, I gave up.  Years later, I read in several game journals that Hitman #2 was considered the low point of the series, and #4 was a pure work of genius.  

Seriously.  What's up with the barcode? 

So, on a whim, I nabbed #4 last week and popped it in.  Again, I took over the role of Agent 47, who was hired to sneak through an abandoned amusement part full of thugs to take down a criminal kingpin.  Fair enough, only I had to struggle through the worst tutorial ever.  "Hold down the right-trigger to go into sneak mode.  Sneak over to that guy over there and release the right-trigger to garrote him."  Okay, fine.  I'd sneak over and release the trigger, only to have my Agent 47 stand up and do nothing.  I crouched down again and maneouvered him into a different position and tried again.  Nope.  Agent 47 stood up again, and this time my target noticed me.  He whirled around and started shooting at me, and the game basically told me that I screwed up and I'd have to shoot my way through the level.

Here, Agent 47 strangles the gangster properly.  It took me several tries.

The problem was, I *wanted* to play stealthy, but the game wouldn't show me how.  It's not a good sign when the game's tutorial pisses you off.  But, I gave it a few more tries.  And wouldn't you know it, I got the hang of it.  Soon I was sneaking around and silently taking down dudes left and right, hiding bodies in convenient locations and moving closer to my target.  Finally I passed the tutorial section and was on my way to my next target.  I was to take down a Chilean vinyard owner and his son, who were using their wine cellar to mask their drug factory.  They were having a party on the grounds, which was used as a cover to gain access.

Put away that gun, 47!

I entered the grounds and I found myself completely lost.  I saw a bunch of doors, a bunch of people walking around, and a whole area to explore.  There was no map, no "goal" indicator, no nothing.  And I was playing on easy mode.  So, I took a few hesitant steps toward a door.  I opened it and went inside, and a guard nearby yelled at me in Spanish.  I kept walking and the guy shot me.

Restarting, I entered another door, which led to a hallway.  I walked down the hallway and into some kind of guard station, where a bunch of guards were listening to the radio.  Again, they leapt up and began yelling at me, and then attacked me.  Yeesh.

Restarting a third time, I entered the same door but took a look around.  There was a fuse box and a closet.  I disabled the fuse box, which turned off the lights.  One of the guards started coming my way to see what was up, so I hid in the closet before he could see me.  While he was fiddling with the fuse box, I silently crept up behind him and injected him with a sedative.  I stole his uniform and hid his body in the closet.  Now, I could walk around the grounds unmolested by the guards.

What?  I work here.

It was at this point I began to see the point of the game.  You had to explore.  You had to experiment with things and see what effects they would cause, and use them to your advantage.  And you will fail.  A lot.  Once I figured out that the point of the game was to fail and to retry, I began to enjoy myself much more.

Sorry Santa.  I need your suit to sneak into the Playboy mansion.  No, I'm not kidding.

What's my point here?  I guess lately there's been a trend in gaming about not letting the players fail.  That they have to be constantly rewarded or else they'll feel neglected.  This was a lesson that was hammered into my head when working in the casual market, but it effects the hardcore as well.  A hardcore game like Grand Theft Auto (which I love) tells you what to do and where to go at any given moment.  I've gotten spoiled by that, and I often expect it.  Hitman: Blood Money doesn't lead you by the hand at all, and I'm - strangely enough - loving the everlasting crap out of it.

And hey, the disguises are awesome.  What other self-respecting bald assassin would dress up as a clown to infiltrate a child's birthday party in order to get close to a mafia agent in the witness protection program? 

I'm glad I gave this game a chance, even though it's a lesson how how Not To Do A Tutorial.  Maybe I'll give the other games in the series a try, but I'll just pretend #2 never existed.

(Unrelated side note.  I saw only one episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and I didn't like it at all, so I never bothered watching the show again.  It was the one with the robot Buffy, which people tell me now is the worst episode in its entire 7 season run.)



  1. Frustrating at is it often is, especially when things go wrong, I've often pointed to Hitman: Blood Money as one of the best adventure games of recent years. I love the way it encourages you to play with its levels and actually use observation, scope out the territory, and - played properly - just give it a quick poke. It tends to go wrong when the gunplay starts and the simulation just completely collapses, but every mission made me thing "Damn, the things adventure games could be doing..."

    (The robot episode of Buffy is bad. I still think that Beer Bad is the worst though.)

  2. I didn't know Gamespot sold games! (Kidding, I know you meant "GameStop.")

  3. Hey Richard, it was your review of Fallout New Vegas (where you said you wished it was more like Blood Money) that inspired me to play this game in the first place. So thanks for that. :)

    I don't take ANY weapons at all when I start a level. At first, I'd lug the sniper rifle and drag its case everywhere, but since the game was 100x more enjoyable without weapons I stopped bringing them. Except the Silverballer. That thing is cool.

  4. Then you're welcome! ;-)

    (Randomly, Blood Money is also pretty cool for the massive jump of satisfaction between just bumbling around and landing a kill, and actually walking in like a Professional and walking out with nobody knowing what happened. Check out some of the videos on YouTube...)

  5. Hah. I know what you mean. I spent ages trying to figure out how to take out the Senator's son (who was hanging out in a jacuzzi surrounded by a bunch of babes) without anyone seeing me. Then I saw a waiter bring him a drink and I was like... bingo! It's very satisfying when the lightbulb goes off like that.

    Did you see the movie? I hear it was awful.

  6. Yeah, it's dreadful. Not as bad as most game movies, and more watchable than, say, Max Payne, but a complete waste of the license and a really, really goofy assassin movie in its own right. The highlight is when someone has to describe 47, and says "He belongs to a group known as the Organization: a society so secret nobody even knows it exists."

    (Actually, the Organization is pretty damn weird. In the original trailer, it acted as if it was a religious group sworn to slay evil. In the movie, its training montage is just footage from Dark Angel. Later in the movie, it turns out to be so mercenary that it'll take a hit on one of its own people from a client trying to tidy up his dirty laundry. Oh, and it's a top secret agency that still insists on putting its logo onto its booby-traps, because that Totally Makes Sense.)

  7. Can society be so secret that it never existed in the first place?

  8. Let me guess, the only episode of Star Trek TOS you've seen, is "Spock's Brain"? And the only Happy Days episode you've seen is the "Jumping the Shark" one?

  9. Have you played Thief I and Thief II? They have the same "give you the tools and let you loose" gameplay. I think you would enjoy them.

  10. @SSH:
    You're not the first to ask me that! I've seen all the episodes of TOS back in the day, but I don't remember that one. I've never seen much of the other series, though. Sometimes I fail at being a nerd.

    I keep wanting to play those but I'm worried they might be too dated for me now. Maybe one day I'll check them out.