Our Jake is at it again. He can’t get enough PS2 action and he’s pulled out another corker of a review. Is Hitman Contracts up there with the best of them? The best of the Hitman series even? Have a read and let us know what you think. And of course check out Jake’s YouTube channel for lovely retro gaming vids.
The Hitman series is one of the most iconic stealth-action franchises in the world of gaming.
While it captured interest with its innovative ideas on the PC in Hitman: Codename 47, console ports of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin helped the franchise reach a much larger audience. The base premise remained the same, however. As the world’s deadliest assassin known only as 47, you must use whatever tools, weapons and disguises at his disposal in order to dispatch high-profile targets in numerous, highly-defended locations around the world.
Hitman Contracts took the franchise in a much darker direction. Instead of revamping the gameplay mechanics, it was given a well-needed polish at the cost of a developed plot. After being shot by an unknown assailant, 47 hallucinates and flashes back to previous contracts in his career. The cutscenes are still very enjoyable to watch to this day, with some creative transitions and an unsettling feel to them. Its minimalistic approach to storytelling doesn’t damper anything, to be fair.
The third entry still looks pretty good, with its detailed character models and smooth animations (its ragdoll effects are a bit exaggerated, and you may see a corpse flopping around on more than a few occasions). The lighting and environments are dark and moody, certainly more so in comparison to its predecessors (one of the more controversial levels is a fetish party set in a Romanian meat packing plant, full of leather-laden gimps and drugged-up strippers). This is complemented by the ambient, electronic soundtrack by returning composer Jesper Kyd. Unsettling echoes, thumping beats, and even brooding Latin vocals makes the experience all the more tense and uncomfortable, especially when
you’re being hunted. Loading times on the PS2 specifically are lengthier compared to the other ports, sadly.
There are 12 levels on offer, down from 20 that the predecessor offered. Honestly, this is a good thing, as there were too many filler missions in Hitman 2 that requires little more than having to sneak from point A to B with no targets to take out. Roughly half of Contracts’ missions are remakes of missions seen in the first game, and are superior in every single way. Contracts was, at the time, the most varied Hitman title to date, offering a handful of ways to beat the mission. Numerous points of interest and handy pieces of equipment can be found or interacted with in order to create diversions or help you advance further into enemy territory, and there are a handful of opportunities in each level in order to take down the head honcho. Sniping a target from above might be a wise idea, but poisoning drinks and car bombs are just as effective.
As stated before, the gameplay has not changed too much compared to before, aside from a handful of handy tweaks. The AI, for instance, is not nearly as unstable and omniscient when it comes to seeing through your disguises, but there are definitely going to be guards or civilians who’ll blow your cover after you simply jog past them, or something as silly as that. If they see anything suspicious, like locks being picked or bodies laying around, they may see through your disguise much faster. On-screen prompts will warn you accordingly.
The game will record various stats – like the number of witnesses, shots fired and the like – and will offer you a ranking upon completing the mission. Shooting your way through will result in some pathetic rankings being thrown your way, but the best of the bunch will be be given bonus unlockable weapons alongside the elusive ‘Silent Assassin’ rating. Collecting all of these extra weapons offer a fair bit more replayability to this great game, even if some of them are not particularly useful. A silenced sniper rifle, for instance, is a bit more useful than a pair of golden magnum handguns.
Hitman Contracts still puts up a fight, even if it can be a tad unfair on occasions. The bleak and depressing levels in this one make it one of the most unique entries in the series, while offering players a lot more freedom to experiment. The stealth aspects have been polished a bit and the AI aren’t nearly as all-seeing as before, though there are moments where they’ll suddenly decide to gun you down without warning. The soundtrack, however, is the strongest aspect of the game. Admittedly, Hitman Contracts doesn’t revolutionize much of what’s already been done before, and may feel a bit dated, especially compared to the more recent, plot-centric entries in the series. However, it still stands fairly strong after just over a decade-and-a-half.