Reviewed: June 23, 2004
Released: April 20, 2004
Agent 47, the world’s deadliest assassin, is back for his third adventure in Hitman: Contracts. Everything you loved about the original games is back and better than ever. Not only has Io Interactive polished the gameplay, their new enhancements to the Glacier game engine delivers a highly realistic visual experience to really put you in the game.
This latest sequel features:
The game features 12 levels set in various locations, some are even from previous Hitman games allowing you to relive your past through a series of hazy flashbacks. These missions will have you facing some of the world's most dangerous criminals and high profile targets as you fight through your inner demons and past events, arriving at the present, and playing into the future.
Hitman: Contracts delivers more action-packed and suspense-filled missions with a greater variety of ways to make the perfect kill. An increased arsenal of firearms, close combat weapons and new 'take-down' moves are available allowing you to perform a wide range of brutal 'hits'. Some of the more innovative weapons include a grisly meat hook that will have you wincing when you use it, and a multi-functional pillow that can be used to silence a weapon or simply suffocate your victim.
To make the game more accessible to newcomers and more fun for the rest of us, the levels are designed so you are free to save your game and retry certain actions over and over again, whether you simply like to experiment with various killing styles or make a mistake and are forced to retry.
The levels are large and there are multiple paths you can take to reach your goals and multiple ways to complete your mission once you arrive. With all of these possibilities you would actually have to force yourself to play any mission the same way twice. The levels and the game design just lend themselves to experimentation and diversity, which not only gives the game massive replayability after you have finished it, but will actually extend your initial pass through the story.
The enemy AI has been taken up a notch so everyone is now much more aware and suspicious of Agent 47. This forces players to step up their game and make sure they are using good disguises and not acting in a way that would attract undue attention. The “threat meter” still does a good job of giving you a quick and easy way to see how concerned the NPC’s in this game are.
The game is still designed around stealth although not to the degree of a game like Splinter Cell. You could treat the game like a typical action title and go on a rampage, killing everything in sight, but that would defeat the intent of the designers and you would miss out on a lot of the atmosphere built into the game, not to mention lose the very essence of being a hitman. Contracts is meant to be played slowly, with a cold and calculated precision, almost a career simulation than a game.
Hitman: Contracts is powered by the latest iteration of Io's groundbreaking 'Glacier' engine, enabling incredibly detailed and graphically rich environments. In addition to running more than four times faster than Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Contracts introduces amazing post-filter technology including motion blur, depth-of-field, bloom and real-time color correction resulting in the most stylish and cinematic experience in the franchise to date.
Special effects have been greatly improved. Water, or any liquid for that matter, looks amazing and the lighting has been significantly enhanced which translates to better shadows and an overall more realistic environment where shadows play an important part in the mission. Even the various times of day make a huge impact on the lighting of each environment.
The cast of new NPC’s is wildly diverse and totally realistic to the various environments they inhabit, which really helps to create a convincing game world. The characters are all nicely modeled with subtle touches of animation, but oddly enough, Agent 47 still has a few shortcomings. Not much has changed in his movement, even since the original Hitman and Agent 47 still appears to glide when he move any faster than a slow walk or sneak. A few of his attack animation are also a bit robotic, but if you move slowly enough most of these quirks are not an issue.
The movies are excellent, starting with a very artistic opening movie followed by between-mission cutscenes that propel the story forward in a subtle and cinematic way. Admittedly, the story is a bit weak, there only to tie the various missions together, but it does a decent job of transitioning from past to present to future.
Jesper Kyd's soundtrack for Hitman: Contracts is flawless. The rich mix of dark and moody music is often more environmental than instrumental, consisting mainly of a rhythm track and odd synthesized sounds – something like the Nine Inch Nails music from Quake. The music changes with each location to reflect a style that is suited to the environment, and sometimes it fades away into an eerie silence that can be stronger than audible music.
The sound effects are limited only by the design of the levels and the missions. There is nothing thrown into the mix that you wouldn’t normally be hearing, which creates a realistic yet often boring audio experience, at least when compared to other games in the action genre. What you do hear are heavy breathing and heartbeats during periods of extreme tension or stealth, such as peeking through a keyhole or sneaking up on an unsuspecting guard. Weapons’ fire is authentic as are the various reload sounds and random bullet zings and ricochets.
The voice acting is outstanding, and Agent 47 is considerably more vocal in this game. His deep brooding voice gives us a new and disturbing insight into the character and perhaps the very life of a hitman. The NPC’s don’t have a lot of dialogue but the quality is excellent.
By design, Hitman: Contracts will deliver countless hours of gameplay. If you are looking to rush through the game then you can easily complete the dozen missions in about 10-12 hours, but with such open-ended game design no mission unfolds the same way twice. A level might only take an hour to finish but you might find yourself trying out different things and spending two or three hours before moving on to the next.
There is also a grading system for each mission, which will lead perfectionists to keep playing and replaying to achieve the highest ranking. This can be an extremely challenging aspect to the gameplay if for nothing more than bragging rights.
Once again there is no online or multiplayer support, but the game simply doesn’t lend itself to that style of play. Anyone who would criticize the lack of this feature should rest assured that there is more than enough game here to satiate the bloodlusts of any aspiring hitman.
Hitman: Contracts is an excellent “next installment” in the Hitman franchise. Not exactly a sequel, this adventure has you reliving several events from Agent 47’s sorted past, but don’t confuse this game with a “best of” or “flashback” episode. The story and the missions are original and presented from a hazy and twisted perspective creating a unique setting that is darker than the previous games in the series.
The best thing about Contracts is the highly polished gameplay. Everything about the game has been tweaked and enhanced; the graphics are better, the AI is better, and the new weapons, while not awe-inspiring, are interesting and fun to experiment with. The game might not break any new ground but it certainly improves on the core concepts and gives you more content to play with while exploring new depths of the sinister world of a professional hitman.