A killer combo of pure stealth and brutal difficulty.
If there’s any series that shows true progress in fine tuning mechanics and expanding gameplay concepts, the Hitman series has to be among the most evident. While Hitman: Blood Money is often considered the most positive leap in terms of design and player choice, the games included in this pack are great reminders of how the series got to that point. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Contracts are the games within this HD bundle and in this review we’ll find out just how well these games hold up.As usual, both games have you controlling Agent 47 while he closes contracts in a variety of different locales. Silent Assassin has 47 doing hits for information (and money) to help track down a kidnapped friend while Contracts involves him being on the brink of death, having hallucination induced flashbacks of his previous missions. Most missions are separated by small cutscenes that give some context to your next hit, and each mission includes a detailed breakdown of your targets. Most of the cinematics are nothing special though; and apart from 47 and Diana, a good portion of the dialogue and performances are forgettable. This has never been the series selling point, however. That honor lies with the intricate, unforgiving stealth gameplay.
Hitman 2 comes equipped with twenty full-fledged missions while Contracts rounds out at twelve. That’s not to say it comes with any less value though, since most missions are more complex and offer more flexibility with tackling objectives. Each game offers what makes the series standout, and that’s the disguise system and high replayability. Both games will have you tracking down targets while figuring out the best way to navigate the often confusing layouts, all while staying incognito. Doing that is far easier said than done, since the AI routines and even objectives have several possible ways they can play out. This causes you to learn each mission in multiple ways while combining tactics from each playthrough until you can form the perfect silent assassin run. There isn’t much variety regarding kill methods in the early games. Most come down to fiber wire, knife, or a gunshot. The unique ones like pillow smothering or car bombing make the extra effort worthwhile.
Like any game, getting to that point will require mastering the controls. Unfortunately, that’s more of a hurdle than it should be. That especially holds true for a game requiring extreme precision. This comment is directed more towards Silent Assassin, since Contracts made a lot of quality adjustments to the controls. The big issue is that 47 never moves as gracefully as you’d expect a master assassin should. Sneaking is painfully slow. This can lead to only being able to strangle a target if they are completely still, which isn’t always an option. To make matters worse, the hit detection for the fiber wire and other close quarter attacks are far more frustrating than necessary. The inventory system has never been great, but after a few missions it’s easy enough to adjust to. Shooting should always be your last resort in the game, not only because it can blow your cover but simply because it’s not very reliable. Shot patterns outside of the sniper rifles feel random at times.
Since this is an HD collection, the graphics have naturally seen a (slight) upgrade. This is mainly increased resolution and some smoothing of the environment and character models. The games run fine, with solid frame rates and much faster loading times than the originals. I bring this up because you’ll likely be reloading quite often due to the difficulty of the games. Getting back into the action quickly is convenient. As mentioned earlier, most missions involve large areas to explore. There will often be several rooms and floors that don’t even need to be there. This helps give each map a high level of authenticity you didn’t see in too many games back when these first released.
The AI patterns function well enough and help give each mission that extra layer of depth. There are certainly situations where it goes a bit crazy. Sometimes NPC’s will get stuck on or in the environment, or appear to be confused at which direction to go. Their ability to see through your disguise occasionally works better than it should, but on the flipside, there are moments where they are totally oblivious. Out of the thirty-plus missions between the two games, the levels “Hidden Valley” and “At the Gates” in Hitman 2 provide some of the biggest AI issues, ranging from inconsistent at best, to broken at worst.
After the gameplay, the next biggest highlight is the moody soundtrack which sets the scene and is composed by Jesper Kyd. The choir-heavy opening theme in Silent Assassin immediately draws you into 47’s world of assassination where as tracks like “Double Ballers”, heard in Contracts, keeps the tension as high as the body count. Since the series tends to span the globe with its locations, you’ll often hear appropriate themes to accompany them, such as the Arabian musical pieces heard during the Middle Eastern portions of Hitman 2. The sound effects are implemented well, with swinging doors and footsteps giving proper cues to help keep you aware of your surroundings. The same goes for gunshots. They’re loud and attention grabbing enough for you to always know when something has gone wrong… or right, depending on the circumstance.
The Hitman HD Pack is a worthy bundle to look into for anyone interested in the older titles as well as those wanting to relive some finely crafted hits. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin still stands as a strong follow up to the original. Outside of its archaic control scheme and touchy AI, there’s still plenty to enjoy thanks to its generous amount of missions and open-ended gameplay. Hitman: Contracts provides the same strict but rewarding experience, but with many welcomed enhancements to the controls and mission structure. With Agent 47 returning in the new Hitman, this set of games is a great way to sharpen those crucial stealth skills.