The first time I pushed someone downstairs in Hitman: Blood Money, I felt faintly guilty. Not because I'd just killed a person, but because The Agency, my bar-coded assassin's employers, had gone to the trouble of providing me with a wealth of lethal equipment. Yet here I was, sending people to their deaths without touching a single item. Was I putting someone out of a job?
Five minutes later, my concerns had vanished, replaced by a sense of malevolent joy as I explored the lethal potential of Agent 47's "shove" ability, a feature that's strangely absent from subsequent Hitman games.
Yes, you can push enemies over ledges in Hitman or Hitman 2, but only when the game flags that it's possible. But Hitman: Blood Money, the fourth entry in the series, gives you the freedom to shove people from behind, whenever and wherever you desire. Push someone when there's no obstacle in sight and they'll crumple to the ground as you stroll away, whistling innocently.
The ability to shove people around isn't just a macabre source of enjoyment; it adds another dimension to the game. Every flight of stairs and every ledge becomes an instrument of death, an opportunity to be seized when your target wanders into view. You can dash in and pitch them over a wall without having to wait for the exact moment when they're scripted to lean on it, giving you the incentive to active impulsively.
You might be planning on sedating a waiter after painstakingly observing their route, stealing their clothes and poisoning your target's wine. But then you notice the villain coming towards you; your eyes flicker to the railing, to the woman sitting at the far end of the walkway... just what can she see at this distance? You seize the moment and, one vigorous push later, you're heading to the exit point, mission accomplished.
Potential witnesses aside, shoving people about does have other risks, risks that come with engaging in this shady but entertaining practice. There's always a tense moment of uncertainty as you wait to see whether your target's fall has been fatal, or whether they're going to wake up moments later, groggy but alive. Time slows as you watch them tumble, crossing your fingers that the last step will be the one that does them in.
Fail, and there's the possibility that the level's guards will descend on you like a cloud of angry wasps. Succeed and you've got the extra satisfaction of knowing their deaths will be written off as a tragic, tragic accident, whether they fell downstairs or slipped headfirst into a pool of hungry alligators.
Given how much a swift shove adds to the game, it's a mystery why it's been omitted from later Hitman games, and crops up only in Blood Money. Your hapless targets do look a little bizarre falling in the older game, slipping gently down steps like a slab of butter on an ice rink. But, physics oddities aside, there's nothing obviously game-breaking about it.
Hitman: Blood Money hands you a range of murder tools, from fire extinguishers to sniper rifles. Yet, like a child who receives an expensive present but chooses to play with the cardboard box, it's the mundane ability to shove people about that proves the most satisfying and the most useful. Getting away with murder has rarely been such fun.