I’ve got a small confession to make. I was pretty late to the Hitman party. About six years late in fact. Hitman: Blood Money was the first game in the franchise I completed fully. I then went on to finish Hitman: Absolution and absolutely loved both titles. So as you can imagine, I couldn’t quite believe my luck when the double bill of Hitman HD Enhanced Collection popped up out of nowhere, slated for a very quick release.
This remastered bundle provides the perfect reason to revisit Agent 47 in his finest outings, discounting the more recent episodic titles from that statement. It’s easy to forget just how long the bald assassin has been silently and ruthlessly bumping off his targets, and he doesn’t always make the list when considering iconic gaming mascots. To me, however, he is exactly that. It’s time to dust off your Silverballers, and revisit some classics.
Hitman: Blood Money HD kicks things off with a straightforward tutorial level, as is the norm. You’re hired to take out an unscrupulous fairground owner, whose negligence has caused the deaths of 36 visitors. Since the incident he has holed himself up in its derelict ruins. The tutorial is steadily paced and will help you get to grips with the controls. You quickly learn why the game earns the 18+ age rating.
After the initial mission, the story splits, and is then told on two fronts. You play through Agent 47’s missions in episodic flashbacks, as they are discussed in the present day. The International Contract Agency (ICA) is providing your work, so you receive a briefing before each mission and learn about your targets. Also, you can choose and upgrade your weapons as you earn more money for completing missions. It’s here where the gameplay style opens up, and you have more free reign about how you go about achieving your objectives. During each mission, depending on how you play it, you may earn notoriety which you’ll want to keep to a minimum. As luck would have it, after completing each level, you’ll have the option to spend some of your hard earned cash on reducing your notoriety in order to make life easier going forward. During assignments you can also purchase intel to point you in the right direction if you become stuck.
The missions are really enjoyable, the opera in Paris being a personal highlight, and you can find very inventive ways to terminate your targets. The beauty of the way Hitman: Blood Money HD plays is that you could complete it in a few short hours if you knew exactly what you were in for, however attempting to maintain a low profile extends the play time significantly.
Hitman: Absolution HD kicks off as the ICA is betrayed by Agent 47’s old handler Diana, following the hunt to bring her down. This is just the tutorial mission however, and shortly afterwards the game sharply changes direction. Straight away the story grabs you; it’s a more intriguing tale than in Blood Money from the off.
The combat system works well enough in Hitman: Blood Money HD, however it can be difficult to dispatch enemies stealthily with your fiber wire; they need to be stationary. You can quite easily end up wrestling their gun from them when you don’t mean to, meaning you have to shoot them and attract unwanted attention. Otherwise, all you have to worry about is your health bar, and a tension meter which will fill depending on how stealthy you are. This works in time with the controller vibration, which is a nice touch. The faster the ”beats” of vibration, the more tense you are as enemies are starting to suspect you may not be who you seem.
As things open up, you’ll realise there’s more than one way to play. If you opt for the discrete approach, you will need to hide and dispose of bodies to maintain a low presence. The game will hint at inventive ways to kill your targets by splitting the screen in two and showing you a potential opportunity to do so. You’ll also have to regularly swap between disguises to keep your cover; this will be essential to gain access to certain areas. There is a map available to you if you press LB, however you’ll rarely need to check it as the levels aren’t too complex. Put simply, it’s all about dispatching your targets then getting the hell out of there.
Hitman: Absolution HD has a greater focus on stealth and is very much built around that style of play. You have a new ability to snap into cover, which makes keeping a low profile much more achievable. It’s also easier to take out enemies discreetly and hide them as the gameplay has a smoother flow. For example, when you garotte an enemy, Agent 47 will automatically keep hold so you can quickly drag them off to an appropriate hiding place.
You also have an instinct ability in Hitman: Absolution HD, meaning you can see enemies and their movement path which further enables the stealthy style of play. You can’t use it for too long however, you’ll need to refill it by performing silent takedowns and the like. You can also trigger bullet time, allowing you to take out multiple bad guys “dead-eye” style. It’s called “Point Shooting” and is very handy for taking down multiple enemies at once.
Hitman: Blood Money HD is the more difficult game of the two, even when playing on “Normal”. Patience is essential and each and every move needs careful thought. There are no automatic checkpoints although you can save whenever you want, but there’s a catch. Saves are limited (seven per level on Normal) and you get less to use the harder the difficulty you play on. Just make sure you don’t hit restart by accident, as I did, because you’ll have to start the level over and the game will wipe your save file for the level too. Hitman: Absolution HD meanwhile favours the checkpoint system. They are scattered around each level for you to find, there’s no saving when you want here. You could argue Absolution HD lacks challenge in comparison, unless you ramp up the difficulty, thanks to the superior control scheme and combat system.
Thus far I’ve talked you through both games, and you may be asking, “So, what’s changed in this enhanced HD collection?”. Well, not much really. In fact, the games are identical apart from some visual updates, and the title may be a tad misleading.
Hitman: Blood Money HD looks slightly better than when it was first released, but you can easily tell it’s a scaled up version of a game that’s over a decade old. The cut-scenes look untouched, and the in-game graphics only look slightly sharper. You may have played it on the original Xbox, or the Xbox 360, as it was one of the odd games that was released on both, as Microsoft couldn’t quite fully crack the backwards compatibility, but whatever, you shouldn’t expect a fully fledged remake here. This isn’t that at all.
It’s the same story with Hitman: Absolution HD. Visually, it’s a slight improvement but there’s no huge difference to the game. It still looks good, but not an awful lot better than its Xbox 360 predecessor.
Audio wise though and the soundtrack to Hitman: Blood Money HD is excellent, and contains a pleasing classical music score which accompanies the action throughout. Things even sound James Bond esque at times and the music style switches to match what is going on very effectively. The voice acting is good, which breathes life into the game’s characters during the cutscenes. In game however, the non-playable characters (NPCs) don’t have a wide variety of lines, so they get irritating pretty quickly. In contrast, the score to Hitman: Absolution HD packs less punch, but the voice acting and general sound effects are of a higher quality.
So, overall? Well, the Hitman HD Enhanced Collection costs £50, and whilst this may be for two games that are now in HD, they have not had the type of overhaul that would usually warrant such a price tag. If you enjoyed the original titles you’ll love these, but this release won’t do anything to convert critics of the series. Despite still being great games to play, there’s nothing new to experience here bar some slightly polished visuals. IO Interactive boast plenty of new graphical features on their website, but, in all honestly, you wouldn’t know half of them were there.
Yes, I could have scored the Hitman HD Enhanced Collection higher if more effort had been put in, and if it was at least half the price it currently sits at, if not lower, however as it stands you can pick both games up for Xbox 360 for a couple of pounds each, and they don’t look much worse. As a result what is left is a lazy re-release that is embarrassingly overpriced, and somewhat of an insult.