Hitman: Contracts can be summed as "The Dark Hitman". The ambience of this game is oppressive, with dark environments and terrifying music. This is presented with improved mechanics and a better game flow. Contracts is not as epic as the last one but it has an identity of its own, shuffling from slow, dark moments, to action pieces.
This game was rushed and it shows, with an underdevolped training section and weapons cache, weird graphics and glitched animations (especially the fiber wire ones). The game was also too short so Codename 47 missions were remade (not necessarily surpassing the originals). Contracts is noticiably easier than Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, as gameplay is more consistent, but the fun in this game is to try the many different approaches to missions.
The game starts with 47 dragging himself from a hit gone wrong, wounded by a gunshot. He falls on the floor and keeps fading in and out of conscience throughout the game, with actions taking him back to some of his previous missions; starting with the Asylum in Romenia. You start from Dr. Ortmeyer's office and go through a place turned upside down, with patients running around, falling from ledges or dead on the ground – riddled with bullets – and SWAT teams running around looking for you. This game was heavily inspired by the classic "Léon: The Professional" and, because of this, SWAT teams are very present with 47 having many opportunities to slip past dressed as a SWAT commando. In one occasion you even take part in a SWAT assault in Rotterdam – which is very cool.
The sneak mode was fixed, with a more appropriate moving speed enabling the player to approach the enemy from behind. Enemy AI was improved, thus reducing random violence towards the player to the point of it being just an occasional nuisance rather than a constant source of frustration as in the previous game. Agent 47 can now run once in a while without being attacked and even 47's walking pace has been sped up, thus making gameplay more dynamic. The suspicion meter stopped being a slot-machine and is now actually useful.
The sniper rifle case was re-introduced (Thank God!) stopping those awful missions were you had to slip by with a gigantic sniper rifle amid civilians in random paths. The Walther WA2000 Sniper has now a silencer and can be used with much more convinience.
The game introduces the options of poisoning (both lethal and non-lethal) that became a trending pattern in the series. Another refinament is the circular inventory system, that is really helpful. The system for replaying the missions is pretty bad, however.
Balcony jumps make a return and are used all the time. Changes in remade missions are made because "47 remembers them differently", like the balcony next to Frantz Fuchs' room being on the opposite side, but like with nanomachines, this is also used as an excuse for lazyness and oversights.
Graphics took a dive and character models look more square and are noticeably uglier than in previous installments. The Rotterdam strippers are the worst examples, coupled with an awful voice that is far inferior to the original – Sandy deserved better. The guns are really weird, painted in silver and looking like toys.
Lei Ling, remembered as Mei Ling (a nod to the Metal Gear series), is now reimagined as a younger woman, with a teenage voice – not my cup of tea – but is more responsive in-game, keeping up with you instead of presenting those boring escorting tasks. The bartender doesn't want to speak with you because 47 is feeling stomach pain due to his bullet wound, but this surely impoverishes the game's dialog as devs were cutting corners. They even forgot to translate Lee Hong and Tzun/Zhun in the restaurant – and 47 never says he needs to use the bathroom!
The cinematics blend in the chaotic police build-up around 47 with transitions to the different mission settings. The soundtrack is dark with great immersion. In one mission you go deep into a dominatrix party in Romania, with people dressed in leather partying amid a butchery. Maps are also big and you can get lost. One of the most iconic missions in this game is The Beldingford Manor, where you have two separated buildings, the stable and the manor (which has lots of secret passages). Not only that, being tasked to rescue the son of a millionaire following the plot of Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game, you have to do it with a dark, gloomy soundtrack, presenting some phantasmagoric laughter in the back.
Every Hitman has "THAT" mission, which is the Bjarkhov Bomb (aka "The obligatory Russian mission") in Contracts; that while impressive, with snow falling and multiple NPCs walking around in different outfits (including hazmat suits), is too big for its own good and has some annoying tweaks like the first target having to be poisoned in order to be garroted in the bathroom; but if you mistime it, he sits there for an outrageous long time, forcing you to restart – why not simply use regular poison? Another problem is the distance from the submarine to the plane, which can cause an alarm (which can cause two alarms in one because of course it did…). Bjarkhov also suffers from incredibly lazy writing, with the first target being one of the Fuchs brothers for no reason at all. The flag of Chechnya appears in evidence in the mission, so why not make the arms dealer a Chechen or any other sympathizer for that matter?
The game is short, with half its missions being remakes. The Colombian missions weren't remade, since players hated them so much. This was a wasted opportunity, since all missions are remembered at night and under constant raining. A jungle infiltration under the cover of darkness and rain would really fit in here.
There are some interesting easter eggs and nods to the player, like the opium pipe in the Meat King's party having Lee Hong's Red Dragon triad symbol. The haunted part of the Budapest hotel, or the hidden stuff in Hong Kong; but the best one is Dr. Ortmeyer's card in Lee Hong's office.
Aside from technical problems, the veteran player will mostly just ace every mission and beat the game in one day (like I did), but it is fun to keep testing the new ways Contracts presents. The final mission, Hunter and Hunted, does not deliver the promised showdown the cinematic was hinting at but the ending sure pumped me up for the development of the story. I really wanted to run to the tv and watch The Professional again!
I did this review on Steam, if you like it give it a thumbs up here and there.
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