After playing Silent Assassin, I was disappointed. You had to walk everywhere if you wanted to get anything done, and sometimes your cover would be blown for no good reason. The difficulty was just brutal and unfair. But at the same time, I really enjoyed the story and I loved how varied the environments were. I enjoyed the spy thriller feel to it, it felt very much like a James Bond game.
But Contracts has the opposite problem.
I see all these different reviews and comments talking about how "dark" and "atmospheric" the game is. That it has a film noir style and it pushes the Hitman series into a darker, edgier, more mature tone. And apparently what that means is that every single level is at night and pouring down rain. That's not dark, it's depressing and dull. None of the locales you go to actually matter, because they all end up looking exactly the same. The only exceptions are one level in Russia where instead of rain, it's a blizzard, and the very last level where there's no rain at all. I kept hoping at least one level would give me at least a little bit of sunlight, but it never happens.
However, some levels really are dark. The best level is the second one, one unique to Contracts where you're at a meat plant and you have to kill an 800lb man and rescue a girl who's been kidnapped. Everyone is having a party: there's a bar, waiters are serving opium pipes, there's a techno rave dance, and everyone is dressed in black leather gimp suits having sex in the hallways. All this in a meat plant where there's blood all over the floor and walls, and pig corpses hanging everywhere. i won't even spoil what happens in this mission because of how messed up it is. Another mission takes place in a hotel, which has one section where the screen is tinted a ghostly blue, and the carpet is deeply stained under the windows. Turns out there was a totally unrelated murder (with the body, murder weapon and blood still there) and that area is haunted with the ghost of the murder victim. You can see his ghost walk into a guard's bedroom, leading you to where you can steal an outfit and take him out while he's in the bathroom, implying that that guard is who killed that man. That's great. I love that stuff, but nothing else in the game comes close to these two moments in terms of weird over-the-top edginess.
There's no real plot to speak of in Contracts. Even if I summarize it, it wouldn't be a spoiler because of how insignificant it is. Agent 47 gets shot by some guy and hallucinates past missions he's been on while a doctor from the Agency comes to fix him up. He evades police at the very end, and…that's it. You don't find out who shot you, who sent them, and you don't get to exact revenge on them either. The last cutscene sooooorta leads into Blood Money, which sooooorta answers these questions, but that's the only overarching narrative detail you get and it's nothing mindblowing. Much of the game is actually a retelling of Codename 47 with many of the same missions, so at least you get to see Dr. Ortmeyer and can tell from visual cues alone what Agent 47's origin story is. That coupled with Silent Assassin's first cutscene, makes the first game unnecessary if you want to get into the world and storyline.
On the other hand, the gameplay mechanics aren't garbage anymore. You walk faster, you sneak faster, running is only discouraged when you're right next to guards, your disguises actually work most of the time, there aren't tons of bugs anymore, and I encountered only one situation where I got caught for no reason, and it admittedly was a bug. You actually get to manipulate the AI as part of your strategy, which is unique because you never really get to do that in the other games.
My only problem with the gameplay is the mission and level design. Because of the aforementioned dark/rainy environments, everything blends in in certain levels and it's difficult to know where exactly you are unless you look at the map. But what makes this even worse is how the levels rely heavily on hallways with lots of doors. And these doors will contain either what you need to complete the mission, a ton of guards who shoot you on sight, or absolutely nothing. I get that might make it more realistic, but other Hitman games know how to design levels where every room is significant. However, there are some exceptions. The meat plant is well-designed, and the Beldingford Manor has lots of secret passageways behind bookcases and such. But you also don't get to do as much crazy action-spy stuff as you do in Silent Assassin, so everything is more down-to-earth and kinda underwhelming in comparison.
Overall, Contracts is a decent entry into the series. Not bad, not great. If you're a diehard Hitman fan, I recommend it, but if you're just getting into the series, I'd strongly recommend looking towards Blood Money and the 2016 reboot instead. This game and Silent Assassin just haven't aged well in comparison.
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