Review by DarkDragonX

"A fair review of the short but sweet Hitman: Contracts"

Hitman: Contracts is a bit of a mixed bag. Without getting into too much detail yet, the game itself is genuinely good. It is easily the most refined entry in the series, in terms of gameplay mechanics and interface. On the other hand, the game itself is a bit of a paradox. Long time fans of the series will most likely enjoy the upgrades that the game has received since Hitman 2, and yet possibly feel let down by the length of the game, and choice of levels. Newcomers to the series should have no problems enjoying the game on a level-by-level basis, and yet may be left feeling confused by the general lack of plot/explanation given to the events in the game.

If you've never played a Hitman game before, basically the plot involves a contract killer, codenamed 47, who carries out hits for his agency on targets ranging from crimelords, to private citizens, to military generals. His origins and his past are shrouded in mystery, and the unraveling of his secrets has been a focal point of the plot since the first game. In Contracts, the plot starts off with 47 stumbling wounded into an unknown apartment room somewhere, for unknown reasons, and reliving scenes from his past during his continual blackouts/flashbacks. I won't detail any further into the plot than that, but I will say that the plot of Contracts does not really even begin to reach the intrigue and mystery presented in Hitman 2, and the original Hitman to a lesser extent. Really, it is not so much a "plot", as it is a reason to have 47 continue to recall hits from his past. Newcomers to the series may find themselves simply going "Huh?", since the cutscenes between levels mostly do nothing to give the player any background info or explanations about 47.

When playing Hitman: Contracts for the first time, anyone who has played a previous Hitman game should immediately notice that the game plays more smoothly now than any previous installments. The in-game interface has been slimmed down and given a sleek look, but retains all the functionality that was present in Hitman 2. The game is played in 3rd person (but can be changed to 1st person if desired), using a default combination of the "WASD" control scheme for movement, and the mouse for aiming/looking purposes. No real problems here; control is tight and easy to get the hang of. One improvement of particular note is the change made to "sneak" mode. Previously, entering sneak mode in a Hitman game caused you to move at an agonizingly slow speed, which could become a pain to some players since sneaking is a vital part of playing Hitman. In Contracts, however, the speed of movement when sneaking has been increased, making it much less of a chore to be stealthy. A minor issue overall, but it is an improvement which I feel deserves specific mention. As before, you're free to complete most levels by either trying to be a master of stealth, or a total madman who comes in with guns blazing.

Gameplay mechanics aside, let's get down to the actual process of playing through the game. If you've done any reading about Contracts before now, you've no doubt heard the major gripe for this game: It's short, and about half the levels are just remakes from the first game of the series. Yes, this game is short. Too short, really. However, the newly added levels are quite good. The 2nd level, in particular, is compellingly grim and twisted, taking place inside of a slaughterhouse where a "fetish" party is being thrown by a crimelord known as the "Meat King". If the game designers had shown the creativity and style in all the levels that they displayed on this one, the game would have been outstandingly good, but as it is, sadly this is one of the more interesting stages in the game (aside from the excellent, but short, final level), and it comes early and goes quickly. The rest of the missions are good, but not mindblowingly amazing, and once you reach the point where 47 begins to relive missions from the first game, it runs the risk of boring veterans of the series. The remake levels are not direct copies of their originals, however, and offer a variety of new ways to complete them. For newcomers to the Hitman series, the whole aspect of the remakes is a non-issue anyway, giving them a chance to play some classic levels that they might have missed on the original release.

Personally, as a fan of Hitman since the first installment, I had no problem with playing through the remake missions. On some of them, new solutions, or twists to the original solutions have to be found, which keeps even vets of the series on their toes. Those just -aching- for completely new experiences may find themselves disappointed, but those who approach the remakes with a positive outlook will find that the new twists, improvements in style/atmosphere, and solid Hitman gameplay will provide an enjoyable trip of nostalgic assassination. Really, the biggest gripe is that the game is too short. Veteran Hitman players will be able to breeze through the game in no time at all, and even those who strive for Silent Assassin rankings (the best rank possible) on all of the missions will most likely achieve the goal rather quickly, leaving little else left to do with the game aside from finding different solutions to the levels.

So, when it's all said and done, where exactly does Hitman: Contracts really stand?

Synopsis: It's short but sweet. The game begins very strong, but after reaching the remake levels, some may feel cheated or bored. The remakes are done very well, however, and offer new solutions and twists to the old methods. Newcomers may actually be better off starting with Hitman 2. A worthy addition to the series overall, and worth the purchase for true fans, but think carefully before paying full price for a short game in which about half the levels have essentially been done before.


Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 07/23/04

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