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Submitted by Chris Leyton on April 29 2004 - 00:00

The third title in the series takes a look at the darker side of killing for a living...

Although the stealth genre has exploded in recent years, the triumphant return of Codename: 47 in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin certainly lofted the bald-headed hired gun towards the same leagues as Mr. Snake and Mr. Fisher.

Having been kept quietly in development at IO Interactive during the last couple of years, 47 makes a return in Hitman: Contracts promising to explore the dark psychology of killing for a living. Whereas IO Interactive made a number of big changes from Hitman to Hitman 2, this time around the formula remains largely unchanged, so whilst emphasis is placed on being quiet and efficient, youâ??ll still find the opportunity to whip out the Ballers and shred the place to bits.

That said the game has certainly changed; in the promotional run-up to the games release Eidos have been keen to emphasise the psychological angle of being a Hitman, to this extent Hitman: Contracts is a far more surreal experience then its predecessors â?“ take for example the opening mission that sees players moving through an asylum, with various other Codename assassins lying dead on the floor. Itâ??s the kind of videogame youâ??d expect to see if Stanley Kubrick was behind the wheel, resulting in a darker experience that chills to the bone.

Without wanting to spoil the experience, progression through the game throws a number of surprises at the player, whilst links to the first title will please the Hitman fanatics out there. The story twists and turns, reveals more about Codename: 47 then ever before and provides the biggest allure of the game.

Whilst the first title in the series placed sole emphasis on stealth and was largely flawed because of it, Hitman: Contracts continues the changes made in Hitman 2 by allowing players to take the all-action approach. Sadly we feel the balance maybe too heavily slanted towards this angle now, as selecting the Normal difficulty level grants 47 a ridiculously large amount of health and makes it far too easy to just plough in with your guns blaring. Naturally the way itâ??s meant to be played is to slowly make your way to the target, utilising both the environment and disguises to progress without recognition â?“ however sadly, the ease of taking the action approach often prevails. The change to an action based dynamic is also displayed through some of the weapons that 47 will get his hands on, including a minigun to turn any crowded room into a wash of crimson red; thankfully the ever satisfying Silver Ballers and Fiberwire make a reappearance alongside some notable new additions.

If there was one major misgiving with Hitman: Contracts it would have to be the level of AI of your opponents; all too often itâ??s easy to get into a gun-fight where the odds are stacked against you and emerge victorious. The auto-aim system in particularly makes it very easy to score shots from both short and long distances, making it too easy just to find a hidden spot, take all the enemy down and move on without any problems. Certainly this is one particular issue that IO Interactive needs to address for the next title, and letâ??s hope they can swing the dynamic back to place emphasis on suspense and less on action.

That said Hitman: Contracts still provides an immersive experience for fans of the stealth genre, whilst exhibiting many of the faults that will frustrate those whoâ??ve never quite understood what all the fuss is about.

Despite claims of a new graphics engine, the visuals in Hitman: Contracts remain largely similar to its predecessor; thankfully its credit to that title, that they still look impressive. Following the change to a darker style, the locations youâ??ll come across are taken from slightly more risqué inspirations then what weâ??ve come to expect from previous titles such as the Blade inspired fetish club. A handful of new visual effects have been added to the game, particularly in terms of the spraying of blood whenever somebody gets shot. The game also introduces a novel little effect when 47 is on the verge of death, as the action slows down and colour fades from the screen to black and white; the initial impression is quite confusing, as youâ??re likely to think youâ??ve activated some Bullet Time special power â?“ until inevitably you die that is.

Without doubt the strongest aspect of the game lies in the audio stakes as once again IO Interactive have enlisted the assistance of Jesper Kyd, having worked on both Hitman: Codename 47 and Hitman 2: Silent Assassin along with IO Interactiveâ??s other venture Freedom Fighters. The music represents the same change in the look and feel of the game, resulting in a score rife with drum beats and electronic synthesizers â?“ about as far removed from the orchestral soundtrack featured in Hitman 2 as you could expect but equally as good. However itâ??s not just the music that stands out, as care and attention has been lavished upon every aspect in the sound department, from a variety of voices babbling native dialogue in the background to 47 excellent softly-spoken lines that suit the character perfectly.

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  • Graphics: 86%
  • Sound: 94%
  • Gameplay: 83%
  • Originality: 68%
  • Longevity: 78%
Overall Score: 8/10
From the story angle alone Hitman: Contracts is a worthy addition to the series, and will particularly entertain fans of the franchise who’ve played both the predecessors. That said it’s certainly time for some innovation, which we’re hoping to see in Hitman 4 – rumoured to already be in development for a release next year.

Placing more emphasis on action is likely to appeal to those who’ve never picked up a Hitman title before, however fans may question the change and discover that the balance has been tipped a little unfairly.

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