Retro: Hitman Blood Money

By Jim Rossignol on April 22nd, 2008 at 8:02 am.


This is a revised version of a piece I wrote last year for PC Gamer UK.

There’s something on my mind. This being a Hitman retrospective you might think that thing would be murder, but actually it’s the nature of puzzles. You see, it seems to me that each level of a Hitman game isn’t merely a set of rooms full of enemies to be killed or out-sneaked, but rather a kind of multi-solution puzzle. Hitman is more like “Rubik’s Murder Sim” than it is like part of the linear of dude-shooting action games. If a puzzle is “a toy, problem, or other contrivance designed to amuse by presenting difficulties to be solved by ingenuity or patient effort”, as my dictionary claims, then Hitman’s missions truly are nothing more than puzzles. You don’t need railgun twitch skills to feel supremely confident about your Hitman abilities.

So, this is a game less about the act of running, gunning, or even sneaking and strangling. The grisly excitement of electronically simulated violence is of secondary importance here. Indeed, it’s more about not causing a commotion in an extremely volatile situation. Murdering a porn baron and his son in their palace, or killing a gang of thugs on their Mississippi steamer – these might seem like standard shooter missions, but the environments in which they take place are not your average deathmatch escapades. Often, all you’ll have in your armory is a garotte and a syringe. And soon you’ll admit that quiet strangulation or poisoning is always better than the indelicate application of a shotgun. Bombs having their uses, but I’d rather use a silenced pistol. Keep things quiet, and the puzzle unravels. Cause upset, and toying with this deathtrap becomes ever more convoluted, until there’s no way out for you.

There’s only so many times you can make a wrong move in Agent 47′s world, and you can’t expect to be able to kill all the guards. That said, this is the most lenient of assassination games, and making a wrong move is often the best thing you can do: you get to see exactly how things come apart, and often collapse your house of cards into a quagmire of slapstick slaughter. Hitman is a game in which the need to replay a segment of time isn’t simply a denouncement of your failure, but the gradual, careful examination of the possibilities, the parameters of your perfect kill. Playing Blood Money is more like scientific method than arcade foolery.

Blood Money, above all the other Hitman games, seems to have grasped what it is that is that makes a good puzzle. Not all of the levels quite hit their mark, either, and some are far too easy: but occasionally there’s a glimpse of unmitigated brilliance, and usually there’s something outrageously and obscurely imaginative in every level. Whatever their scenario they are simultaneously a problematic situation, and a toolbox containing all you need to fix it. The science of murder is all about meticulous design.

Take, for example, the carnival level, in which you must protect a canvassing politician from assassins. Assassins dressed as chickens. You might think they stand out in a crowd but as it happens, Blood Money’s crowd – the most realistic I’ve ever seen in a videogame – is full of folks with chicken hats. It’s kind of a carnival theme. Suddenly the silly puzzle becomes a little trickier. Can you keep track of your target? More than that, can you stay out of sight? You’re now faced with getting people alone, in a situation where there are potentially hundreds of witnesses. Best dress as a chicken, eh?

Then there’s the sanitarium. There are so many ways into this that the challenge isn’t so much technical as temporal. It simply becomes one of monitoring the patient’s habits and waiting for the time to strike. The obvious way in is to simply become admitted as a patient, but you could just as easily pick a lock on a side door, murder a guard, and use his identity to get through the building. Smuggling your agent buddy out of there can be a little tricky, but if it comes to the worst you can usually shoot your way out. Not that you’d want to, of course. Guns really are the most unsophisticated solution.

Or how about that visit to the opera? Killing someone on stage doesn’t seem like the wisest option, but if you pick up the antique pistol left for you at reception, you’ll realise that you can take the shot to time with a blank fired in the play. But then how do you kill the second mark when he’s still surrounded by bodyguards? There’s the sniper option, of course, but once the guy is down, how will you make your escape? One disguise is never quite enough. One decision never quite a solution…

Then again, some of Blood Money’s levels are a little too easy, and it’s ultimately up to you to find ways to make them interesting. Take the redneck wedding: you can easily steal a disguise and an invitation, and kill both the father and the groom, within about two minutes of starting out. But that’s clearly too easy: would you really be playing the game if you did that? Would you really be an artisan, a master of the puzzle? There are so many options: the remote mine, the wedding present, the dogs, the sniper rifle secreted in nearby buildings… The possibility space is delectable.

Blood Money is, like all the great puzzle games, about bettering yourself. You’re not just completing the game, you’re doing so with style. Also, as if you needed another reason to go back and dig out Blood Money, there is no other game to which, while playing, you can respond to the question “what are you up to?” with the answer: “I’m waiting on the sidewalk until the clown comes out of the house. Then I’ll strangle him, put on his clothes, and put him in the boot of his own van.” At which point your girlfriend leaves your cup to tea and backs away rather too quietly. No sudden moves…

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48 Comments »

  1. The Shed says:

    Very nice article, Hitman is surely one of the smartest third-person action/ adventure/ puzzle games ever.

    The realisation of the antique pistol switch was one of the most awesome moments in a game ever- especially after trying the level for horus to no avail. Also, you should try getting through the Suburban mansion level without killing anyone; that’s a challenge.

  2. Ian says:

    I absolutely adored Blood Money. Hitman: Contracts was disappointing for me after Silent Assassin, but Blood Money was fantastic, and I loved the grand -if ridiculous- finale.

    Somehow the all-guns-blazing approach allowed/demanded by the endings of SA and BM seemed both out of place and a release at the same time.

  3. Pemptus says:

    Ah, good game, this. The fact that you could only spend your money on pimping out the guns you shouldn’t use in the first place bothered me quite a lot, though.

  4. Cigol says:

    That carnival level was pretty amazing, and I think it’s amusing we all seem to go through the same thought processes when it starts up; “oh this is going to be easy”… but they got the crowd dynamics just right, particularly on your first few play-throughs. It’s very atmospheric. I especially love the newspaper cutting at the end of every hit – was a nice touch to see that it reflected what happened whilst simultaneously filling in the story.

    I recall reading Kierons review of the original Hitman and if I remember rightly he wasn’t too impressed with the puzzle approach (?) it may even have gotten a somewhat average score as well. One thing I liked from the first game was the atmospheric swaying viewpoint but other than that I think you’re spot on calling Blood Money the best – it doesn’t get old, I always come back to it at some point and replay it from beginning to end.

  5. ChaosTangent says:

    This article is spot on the mark, the running and gunning only provides so much entertainment, but the exploration and steady connect-the-dots play is what brings me back everytime.

    It’s telling that there’s a whole subculture of runthroughs trying for different challenges from the simple no weapon / pure accident through to the ridiculous “Zoolander” ones (no turning left). Lamentably I myself am in that group and have spent far too much time on both Contracts and Blood Money in attempts to pull off the perfect assassinations.

  6. Lu-Tze says:

    http://silentamateur.wordpress.com/

    Never has Hitman been so funny.

  7. MisterBritish says:

    Ah, good game, this. The fact that you could only spend your money on pimping out the guns you shouldn’t use in the first place bothered me quite a lot, though.

    It was quite fun to take your now absurdely upgraded sniper rifle back through all the missions, trying to make every kill a sniper shot. I found a lot of cool ‘alternative’ approaches that the developers had seemingly planned for.

    And it’s always brilliant to snipe a guy so he falls into the open grave of his father :P

  8. Butler` says:

    Agreed, top article. The puzzle-like solutions and multiple possible completion methods really make Hitman games. That and the scalability of each level, you could complete them, then you could really complete them

  9. Optimaximal says:

    Offing that goth club owner in the second-to-last mission was mint…

    Fireworks and Sharks are a delectable mix!

  10. utrulig says:

    The opera level is a piece of art, somehow a real gun has been used by the actor in the play instead of a prop gun, and just as the other mark rushes the stage to help, the chandelier drops on his head. Such an unfortunate accident :D

  11. Pavel says:

    No matter how much I liked Assassin’s Creed, compared to any Hitman game, it’s a joke (in gameplay – the art is beautiful).And Blood Money is several levels higher – that game is a masterpiece, every single level in BM is so full of awesome that just thinking about it makes me wanna play it AGAIN, for the fifth time.
    Damn, time to install Silent Assassin and work my way through to Blood Money again..
    Oh and I don’t really understand the “hate” for Contracts, it had just as great level design as any Hitman game, and the superdark atmosphere was incredible..as was the soundtrack, etc…And i LOVED the final mission, which was a nod to LEON, best hitman movie ever (too bad that abomination with olyphant got created, I want to forget it exists).

  12. Radiant says:

    I really preferred Hitman 2: Silent Assassin it’s a classic that refined the original; the first mission in the Mafia stronghold, for me, was the defining Hitman level.

    Sitting on the higher ground outside the complex with binoculars just watching how everything ‘outside’ worked and then still having to go in and figure out on the fly how the clockwork ‘inside’ the building worked with so many ways to complete the mission and escape.

    I never liked the later Hitman games [including blood money] because they became too scientific; too methodical.
    They just became a matter of sedating the right guards and then strangling the target and leaving with your suit on. Rinse and repeat.

    Hitman 2 is still the better Hitman game and, for me, dictated what Assassins’ Creed’s non platforming sections should have been like.

    That first level, sitting on that hill with me imaginary sandwich and looking glasses like some kind of murderous watch maker.
    So different to everything before it.

  13. rb_lestr says:

    Just finished this again the other week on Pro, getting Silent Assassin rating on all the missions with zero collateral damage and zero witnesses.

    So very satisfying.

  14. heretic pride says:

    rb_lestr: i tried that too, but i got stuck on the suburbs mission, when the fbi agents would see through any of my disguises for no apparent reason. any tips?

  15. Radiant says:

    @Pavel For what its worth I quite liked the movie.
    It’s not exactly oscar worthy but damnit if that women didn’t have some banging titties.

  16. Pavel says:

    @Radiant
    Yeah, as if Hitman was about titties, though I get your meaning.What absolutely disgusts me about the movie, is (apart from olyphant not looking like 47 in the slightest) : absolutely no stealth, idiotic story, awful soundtrack from some B-grade composer (while every Jesper’s composition to date is a fucking masterpiece of art), and just about everything else.And I was looking forward to it so much…
    If they made it similar to the first sequence of LEON (Morizzio Job), now THAT would be something.

  17. James says:

    I was recommended this one by a friend of mine a month or so ago, and it was spot on the mark for my tastes. Never has a sniper rifle been so damn beautiful. And yes, I prefer not to think of what that last sentence says about me.

    While the carnival level probably will remain my favourite level in a game ever for a while yet, and probably the most over-the-top situation I’ve seen in a video game, special mention goes to the part where you can tranquilize a dozen FBI agents with an air rifle and vet supplies.

  18. Radiant says:

    Pavel thing is I wasn’t really expecting it to be like Leon.

    I watched it on dvd knowing full well it was going to be a giant thundering planet of cheese.

    But your right the lack of ANY Jesper Kyd was a travesty.

    Have you heard his soundtrack for Freedom Fighters?
    Completely next level and a huge part of what made that game awesome and I’m surprised that he wasn’t talked about either in this retrospective [for Blood Money] or RPS’ Freedom Fighters’ retrospective

  19. Pemptus says:

    @heretic pride:
    Dress up as an FBI agent. Just bring some sedated donuts to the FBI van. You’re practically untouchable after that.

  20. Ian says:

    I’d agree that Silent Assassin has it’s high points as good as anything in Blood Money, and in some ways planning your attack on that villa is part of it. I just got a little tired of some of the missions’ psychic guards who you either had to sprint past so they wouldn’t have enough time to miraculously uncover you or kill before they sounded the alarm. Still love it though, and I think “Invitation to a Party” is an awesome level.

    I also love when you’re trying to take out Zavorotko (I think his name is) and he’s put up a cardboard cutout of himself in the window. I genuinely didn’t realise and thought my sniper rifle was broken. :(

  21. Mike says:

    Certainly one of my favourite games ever! Looking forward to the confirmed hitman 5.

  22. Rocktart says:

    I loved the fact that if you got tired of trying to pull off a puzzle, you could go nuts and kill everyone. No survivors = no witnesses = a good score!

  23. Pavel says:

    @Radiant
    Well, and why the hell did it have to be giant planet of cheese? Why couldn’t they make it true to the game? The way it is, its just total abomination and I hate that those masterpieces the games are have to be associated with this giant pile of crap movie.Dammit.I am just pissed of that they blew a chance to make great Hitman movie, that’s all.

    And Freedom Fighters have great OST as well, of course I have it and listen to it ocasionally.

    Ian – Yeah, that setup with cardboard Sergei was moment of genius, I loved it…and then to sneak inside the building and guess who is there..

  24. heretic pride says:

    the FBI suit worked fine on normal difficulty, but on pro the other agents seem to see through it at arbitrary times, for example when i enter the kitchen. plus if i try and use the poolboy disguise to get the necklace from the wife, the guards at the door will invariably go hostile when she leads me into the house

  25. sinister agent says:

    “Still love it though, and I think “Invitation to a Party” is an awesome level.”

    I played that level for days on end before I bothered trying the next mission, just to see what I could do. It’s the best mission in Hitman 2.

    My favourite one in Blood Money is the Witness Protection one. The doughnut trick does make it almost impossible to get killed, but there’s still so much you can play with on that level.

    Try, for instance, rigging the barbecue and then dressing up as the pool boy. If you stand too close to the woman while she’s on fire and you’re dressed as the poolboy, she’ll break out of the ‘burning to death’ routine and start talking to you, and lead you casually inside the house – while still on fire and flailing wildly.

    Great piece of writing. It’s spot on.

    My only real complaint about Blood Money was that there is simply no point in using any guns except for the custom ones, and that you can’t carry more than one of each type, so building up an arsenal is really dissatisfying. Oh, and you can’t add knives or hammers to your stash. Fumeworthy, that – throwing knives make for some of the most pleasing kills.

  26. Mike says:

    I’ve been enjoying Silent Amateur too. Blood Money was a fine, fine game.

  27. Gap Gen says:

    Yay for Jim and part-time putting-people-into-naptime-boxes (both Jims, indeed)

  28. WinstonWolf says:

    Rally happy to see this piece here. IMHO, Blood Money is the pinnacle of the Hitman series, the game where IO finally realised what they wanted to do with Hitman and how. They found it’s own and personal style.

    I still remember this most poetic moment, when I had an assasination to take care of in a hotel/club in Vegas. Half Hell, Half Heaven :) I liked a Devil mask I found in the Hell part of the club and when I reached the penthouse, where my target was located, there she was: a beautiful woman, angel wings strapped on her back, looking out the window from the last floor of a high rise hotel, while the sun was setting down on Las Vegas. And me, with a most obscene Devil mask on my face, slowly closing in on her from behind :)

    Absolutely priceless and beautiful moment.

  29. James T says:

    I absolutely hated the way Hitman played when I tried a demo (although I think it may have been Hitman 2, rather than… whatever Blood Money is), but I imagine it just takes some getting used to; I’ll have to give it another shot — ‘stealth games’ are by far my favourite (maybe that’s why I grew weary of Rainbow Six; all that perfectly good stealth, and then you have to pop your head up and spoil it all with an assault rifle!… no, actually it was probably the checkpointing), and many years ago, the Commandos series opened my eyes to the ‘puzzle game’ nature of a good stealth title. To those more Hitmanified than myself: should I go straight for ‘Blood Money’, or are there earlier Hitman titles worth a shot?

  30. Ian says:

    Silent Assassin is worth a try and you’ll get it cheap enough that if you hate it you can probably steer clear of the rest. It’d be a good introduction provided you accept there’s a few iffy missions. Provided you like/complete that, just progress from there to Contracts and Blood Money.

  31. Pavel says:

    Yeah..I would even play Hitman Codename 47 (the first in the series), which is flawed and sometimes extremely difficult, but still awesome..and serves as introduction to the series pretty well.Although its true that when I replay Hitman games, I skip Codename 47..because its flawed, while the Silent Assassin and the rest is basically flawless.

  32. Chris R says:

    Check out the little series on Youtube called “How NOT to play Hitman” There are 12 parts, and they are all fairly hilarious.

    Here’s Part 1…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRC5ab5tLUY

    Blood Money was very fun, I played through each mission trying not to kill any guards or innocent people, and making each death look like an accident if at all possible. So very very fun and satisfying when I could complete a mission without alerting anyone. :)

  33. Cutman3030 says:

    Hitman guy makes the best clown.

  34. Nick says:

    I can’t play it because it hates my soundcard and there is no way to fix this (and believe me, I have tried every way possible). Well, I can play it.. but with rubbish messed up juddery/echo filled sound which somewhat ruins the experience.

    This makes me sad.

  35. Jack Monahan says:

    The quality of the game speaks for itself, with the consistent interest it keeps generating when people find out all the crazy fun things you get away with in the missions.

    If you’ve already beaten Blood Money, gotten it so you can pass most missions instinctively, first time with Silent Assassin ranking and even collected all the guns… it may be time for Professional. I generally have no time for replaying games on higher difficulties, but Hitman becomes a different game entirely.

    With saves, even limited ones, Hitman plays just as described in the article… but without the safety net, it’s an enjoyably more feral beast. You know what you -should- do, but you make mistakes, and with the panic rising in your throat, you have to adapt.

    For instance, on A Murder of Crows I managed to drop a piano a good foot and a half away from Angela Mason. I balked, but I wasn’t about to miss my opportunity: with the briefest of looks to see if that cop was patrolling through the alley just then, I shot her in the back of the head and ran. I ended up completing the mission with a pretty reasonable rating, to my surprise. But running on the survival trip, rather than scientific timing, makes Hitman over as a different and equally compelling experience.

    If I complete my professional run, I’m giving genuine thought to trying out a “Professional Career,” aka Iron Man–if 47 dies, he dies. I’m not quite that crazy yet, though :)

  36. The Shed says:

    Radiant raises two excellent points there: as far as level design goes, Hitman: Silent Assassin definately provides the purest gameplay out of the whole series so far.

    Also, Freedom Fighters is definately in my top few games, with Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack being easily one of the best (alongside MGS and Shadow of the Colossus and/ or Ico). I still think it demands a remake.

    Heh, check David Bateson out- bein awesome, natch. He voiced and mo-capped Mr. 47.

  37. UncleLou says:

    I had a love and hate relationship with Hitman till Blood Money – half of the levels of the older games just didn’t work properly, and relied too much on an obscure solution, or had too generic “military” levels. Blood Money, however, was almost perfect.

    It probably has the most brilliant level/puzzle design of any game ever. The Opera level alone and it’s at least half a dozen clever and different ways to solve it was worth the price of the game.

  38. Pirate0r says:

    What i loved about blood money the most was the introduction of “accidents” and the ability to push people.
    Incapacitating your target (or just pointing a gun at their head) finding the nearest ledge and throwing them over the side. Best part was that the AI just assumed that the person had lost their will to live, then proceeded to bag and tag them.

  39. Cruz says:

    This article has prompted to put my copy of the Hitman Trilogy on hold on Goozex. I stopped playing it because I lacked the brains to beat the 2nd level in Blood Money. I’ll give it another shot so I can be cool like the rest of yeh.

  40. malkav11 says:

    For the record, Gametap has all of the Hitman games, including Blood Money, and Steam has all of them except (I have no idea why) Contracts.

  41. Sapper Gopher says:

    Another great artificial challenge with the second and third games is to collect all the firearms in one play through. This means you have to get silent assassin every time and carry non-concealable rifles out of certain levels. You have to do some tricky stuff to pull this off. For example, in the embassy level in Hitman 2, you have to take a rifle to a second floor balcony, drop it just right so it falls into the snow below, then pick it up on your way out after you’ve passed the guards. I should write an FAQ detailing what to do in each level.

  42. BKG says:

    I can’t believe I missed this article a few weeks back, I’ve been on a Hitman stint myself after largely dismissing the series and stumbling into a cheap copy of Blood Money after someone over at Eurogamer was talking about it.

    I really enjoyed Blood Money for the exact reason you mention – every level was like a self contained puzzle that would allow you to just wade around being unsubtle and violent but at the same time teased you with visions of doing things The Right Way enough to come back time and time again.

    Some levels were damp squibs, the Murder on the Mississippi I found a bit laborious, but little details I missed a few times, mostly from never reading manuals, like being able to chuck briefcases over fences to plant weapons for yourself or lobbing a meat cleaver at a fleeing porter before he can raise the alarm – great improvisational gaming, and the snap decision making it encouraged often startled my girlfriend if she was watching me play; I’d just suddenly draw the pistol and murder someone in a moment of inspiration.

    When it was done I went over my favourite levels and eventually the whole thing, never quite ready to let it just pass unto the DVD shelf – it’s a series that I’d love to see taken into the realms of episodic gaming, with a few murders released on a regular basis to puzzle your way through.

    Fantastic game, good article and huzzah for the Revist An Old Story panel – I’m off to play it now :)

  43. Jonathan says:

    I think this is probably the finest cinematic game I’ve ever played. One moment in particular always stands out and it’s in the famous Opera level. It’s when you realize how you can switch the guns. You wait for both the star and guard to leave and go into the dressing room. You do so only to find there’s no gun. But there are footsteps which stop. The guard with the weak bladder has taken his place again trapping you as surely as if he’d cuffed you. Then a new set of footsteps start and you realise you really are screwed. Good job he has a big old wardrobe to hide in isn’t it? Heart pounding you watch in amazement through the tiny crack in the wardrobe as the star points a gun at you. The hand recoils with an exaggerated gun shot and he turns and does it in the mirror and again to the other side. The whole sequence is so voyeuristic and so damn funny it has stuck with me for years.

    My other memory is the colour pallet, beautiful but eerie, realistic but completely fantastic.

    Sod Metal Gear Solid. Hitman is what movie obsessed game designers should aspire for. Movies you write by playing.

  44. Psychopomp says:

    Well, I *had* a large wall of text consisting of ramblings about how amazing Hitman, namely Blood Money, is.

    BUT, AS USUAL, you all beat me to everything I had to say.
    >:P

  45. remaguire says:

    For me, the moment I fell in love with Blood Money was when I realized exactly how much detail the design team had lavished it with. Not just the targets and guards have personalities and routines defined, and it makes for an incredibly immersive experience. The drunken Santa, the guest in Heaven and Hell who gets sick (allowing you to get an easy costume), the actor that Jonathan (above) mentioned, a pedophile Federal Marshal (and realizing the way the game intended you to deal with him was priceless)… I could add dozens of examples of B- and C- level characters with more depth than some A- levels in other games, but you get the point. People talk about Deus Ex as if it’s some sort of digital crack, but – and here I risk branding myself a heretic – I enjoyed Hitman far more.

  46. TeeJay says:

    I’ve just finished my first play-through of Blood Money – really worthwhile! I forgot that you could grab people and walk them around so did the whole game without doing so. I typically reloaded when my cover got blown rather than start shooting which meant trying lots of different paths and ideas before gradually refining them to the point of being able to get in and out with minimal violence and maximum stealth. The only time it ended in a bloobath was on the Mississippi steam-boat.

    This game has some funny/cool dance animations: the bellydancer at the Las Vegas hotel, the square dancing at the wedding, the lap-dancing at the mountain retreat and the disco at the heaven/hell party.

    I wish more fps/shooters used more of this kind of ‘puzzle logic’, disguises and stealth in their levels so that your brain got as much of a work out as your reflexs – Blood Money is such a contrast to the all-to-obvious ‘you’ve got to burn the rope’ type levers that pass for ‘puzzles’ in many games.

  47. Carra says:

    I finished the game for the second time a week ago. The first time around I finished some missions by just shooting everyone with my double pistols. Now, I used a bit more finesse.

    One of the most fun things I did was to just dress as the actor in the opera. Waited a bit on stage with my gun out and shot him when the music was right. I could just walk away after that, fun!