“The Evolution of a Killer” – A Hitman Retrospect

When we first laid our eyes on Agent 47 twelve years ago, he was only available on the PC. Two years later, a sequel spawned for the PS2, Xbox, GameCube and PC which would establish the series and also bring the gamer into this dark and wonderful franchise. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin had the same effect on me as GTA 3 did when I first played it. My jaw dropped open and I began to ponder dark thoughts while remaining stunned as to what exactly I had just embarked on and committed. Having first played Silent Assassin at a cousin’s house, my first instinct was that I would need to go rent this game immediately for myself (which I did) and a short while later, wound up purchasing it. Appropriately, the very first mission in the game titled  “Anathema”, which translates to someone or something being sentenced to damn nation or cursed forever. Agent 47 is just that man who is cursed forever, bound by a way of life ruled by money and violence. In the beginning of Silent Assassin, you see 47 in retirement, tending to a beautiful garden on the coast of Sicily when his tranquil peace is suddenly disrupted. Without going into the remainder of the plot and story of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, I will just say that this title still held the strongest story in the franchise to date in my opinion.

Now besides the amazing story and plot which was riveting, there was astounding music conducted beautifully by Jesper Kyd. Throughout all four titles in the series, Mr. Kyd’s wonderful vision of how the music should play out as a backdrop to an assassin’s world created a dimension of its own, making it a sort of elegance with each kill. What truly brought me into the series was the gameplay. As I stated before, the direction of the music and story, combined with the gameplay, made being a hitman look sexy and exciting. There was an attractiveness in doing something completely horrible to another human being that normally would be forbidden in real life but in the gaming world, you could get away with it. What makes the franchise so wonderful and astonishing is the risk and danger in each mission that’s different from any other game out there. You’re not jumping on a goombas head for coins or stopping Russians from launching nuclear missiles again and again or even looking for some remote treasure in a jungle filled with puzzles and traps…yeah, we’ve all been there and done that. Hitman was something new and fresh in 2000 when it premiered and twelve years later, I feel that still holds true. There are real hitmen in reality and there are contracts placed on people’s lives everyday by criminals or by your friendly neighbor next door. Agent 47 is that man you call when you want a problem taken care of for good.

The gameplay itself still remains to be one of my favorite video gaming experiences in the past two generations. When I first played Silent Assassin and shot my first enemy in the head and saw you had the ability to drag his body and hide it, it blew my mind. From here, I had the ability to take the clothes of the fallen enemy and dress as them, disguising myself, in-turn being able to access areas I would not have been able to just two minutes prior. When the stage is finally set and you have made your way to your final target, the most rewarding part of the game is at hand. Usually, you will choose the method of execution for the target and they are all fun and thrilling. Sometimes it will be a simple bullet to the head. Other times it will be a fiber wire around their throat, strangling and crushing their wind pipe before they fall to the floor. Another example might simply be a poisonous needle to the neck or a drink of cyanide resulting in the quietest of kills.

As the series expanded with the release of Hitman Contracts in 2004 for PS2, Xbox and PC, so did the gameplay, story and variations of kills. Contracts looked to enhance certain things, most notably enemy AI. The AI is intelligent enough to recognize what type of disguise 47 is wearing in conjunction with the surrounding area. This meant that if Agent 47 kills an outside guard and decides to walk inside, right in the near vicinity of the target, there will be many suspicious guards with itchy trigger fingers ready to move in on their suspicious new coworker (Agent 47) because his outfit is clearly one of the outside guards. Contracts increased the gore aspect as well. When you killed certain enemies, a pool of blood would form around their bodies, further adding to the violence aspect. A highlight for me in this particular title was the “Meat King Party”, which was an exceptionally well done level. The setting is a meat factory filled with bloody white tile floors and hundreds of dead animal carcasses hanging from meat hooks, dripping fresh blood. However, all of this was just the backdrop to an exclusive posh S&M sex party hosted by your target, the “Meat King”. This is just one example of how Contracts differs from Silent Assassin, in that the environments came alive in this iteration. In Contracts, the environments became richer with detail and importance, rather than Silent Assassin where they served as a backdrop with little emotion. In several levels throughout Contracts, the environments serve as much importance as your target because they enhance the gameplay. It can aid your cover or make it more difficult to blend.

In 2006, Agent 47 returned in Hitman: Blood Money, his first next-gen outing on the Xbox 360, as well as returning to the PS2, Xbox, PC and Mobile. Aside from a great jump in visuals, the gameplay greatly expanded. The capability to climb through more obstacles, improved melee combat, the ability to use an AI character as a human shield and knock them out afterwards, and the ability to hide bodies into dumpsters and containers were all welcome additions. With the much improved Glacier engine, facial animations took a nice step up in detail, as well as the ability to upgrade guns and field equipment. Blood Money came very close, in my eyes, to almost reaching the heights in storytelling as Silent Assassin did. The biggest thrill for most players was that Agent 47 had finally come to America to start doing various missions. Through most of Silent Assassin and Contracts, all the missions were based in Europe and Asia. Now the missions have led him straight to the US. From California to New Orleans and even Las Vegas, 47 will murder and stalk across America in search of his hunters. This is what set the story apart from the first two. The danger 47 now faces becoming the hunted from an unknown organization called “The Franchise”. For most of the game, there will be missions where you know your target but there are also people targeting you. In essence, there are contracts placed on everyone, creating a more intense gameplay.

Sadly, that was the last time we had seen Agent 47, which is now six years ago. From what started in 2000 as a bold and risqué project developed by IO Interactive, it has now spawned four installments, with a fifth title due out later this year. Hitman was also turned into a major motion picture as well, which was released in 2007 starring Timothy Olyphant as 47. Hitman: Absolution is due later this year and there is not a single game that I personally, am more excited for than that. I, along with every fan, have waited six years for a sequel. That time frame is a stark contrast compared to the onslaught of sequels releasing this year that normally recycle yearly or bi-yearly. Having followed Absolution and all of the newest details released, including the latest trailer released today titled, “Introducing Agent 47″, I know this will be the most groundbreaking one to date. Powered by a new engine for the first time in twelve years, the Glacier 2 engine is promising for a true next-gen experience like no other Hitman before it.

In my ten years of playing Hitman, I can think of a million different executions and murders I have committed in the game and I must add, that they all gave me a sense of satisfaction and power that no other game provided for me. Firing off a rocket launcher, fist fights with an enemy or jumping on their head just does not give me the same satisfaction as replacing a fake pistol with a real one during a Shakespearean play, with the end result of the main star being shot dead by his co-star during the act. In Hitman, there is a dark beauty and sense of style and realism just not seen too often in most games today. In this franchise, the musical composition weaves itself intrinsically with the violent yet captivating gameplay and dark, thought-provoking plots.

How many of you are waiting for Absolution and what were your favorite missions and slickest kills ever? Sound off in the comments everyone!

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