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Hitman: Codename 47 planted the roots for what we’re familiar with today but the series really started to take shape with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. Codename 47 is a punishing but rewarding game and playing it now, you can see the series true identity wasn’t firmly established yet. IO Interactive finally “figured it out” (so to speak) with Hitman 2. That’s not to say it’s perfect but I think all the changes and refinements make it more enjoyable and it’s definitely more accessible. It was also a commercial success. The series would continue and the developers made efforts to refine things even more in the next game, Hitman: Contracts.
Developed by IO Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive, Hitman: Contracts was released for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in April, 2004. A high definition port along with Silent Assassin and Blood Money was released in 2013 in the Hitman HD Trilogy for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For this review, I played the PC version. If you want to play this on a modern system, I would recommend consulting the game’s PCGamingWiki page to see what you might need to do to get it running properly.
Contracts is a sequel to Hitman 2 and some say it serves as a remake of Codename 47 because several missions are simply remakes of missions from that game. But, overall, it doesn’t really feel like a remake to me. Set some time after the events of Hitman 2, Agent 47 is wounded during an assignment and reflects on his past. That’s the gist of the plot but the real star of the show here isn’t so much the writing or narrative but the atmosphere.
Contracts is by far the most atmospheric game in the series up to this point, conveying a much darker tone than the previous entries. Much like Hitman 2, Contracts has a cinematic charm about it but this one feels more like a dark thriller. It’s also a much shorter game. It contains less missions and it took me around six hours to beat and that’s with taking my time trying to be as stealthy as possible. It took me almost double the time to beat Hitman 2.
I have played through this once or twice before and was surprised at how much more I enjoyed it this time around. I remember it being more frustrating but after playing it again, I can honestly say it feels like a more polished experience. It doesn’t do anything ground breaking but everything from the interface to the gameplay just feels better. Contracts even features one of my favorite weapon rooms in the series. If you enter the Training mode, you’ll be placed into this big room and all the weapons you’ve collected will be on display on glass panels in the center area. I just find the presentation here to be very cool.
If you’ve played Hitman 2, the gameplay here will feel very familiar. However, some tweaks have been made. You can run faster and you’re movement speed in sneak mode is faster. You can also run near enemies without raising suspicion, however you do have to be mindful of your distance because if you remain too close to foes, they will eventually see through your disguise. As a result of the increased sneak and run speeds and slightly toned down enemy sensitivity, you can get around areas quicker which is a good thing. You don’t have to walk everywhere if you’re trying to be stealthy but you can exploit the walk and run mechanics to slide around without raising suspicion just like in Hitman 2.
The difficulty and rating systems are almost a replica of those in Hitman 2 but I did find it easier to be stealthy this time around. That’s not to say enemies never exhibited questionable behavior but many of the refinements make the experience feel less frustrating. Unlike the previous games, you cannot select what weapons and equipment to bring with you on your first run through a mission. Only after completing it can you try again with the option to select your weapons and equipment. Once again, the maps are sandboxes and you’re free to complete your objectives however you see fit. And also once again, the game is clearly encouraging you to be stealthy. Achieving the Silent Assassin rank rewards you with weapons.
As expected, the real the draw of the gameplay here is the freedom to take any kind of approach you desire. Kill your target quietly and undetected or mow down everyone in your way with a diverse arsenal of weapons. Any firearms you take with you when you complete a mission are stored in your weapons room and can be brought with you on subsequent playthroughs. Contracts does get creative with the kills but you’ll often have to work to see them. For example, you can conceal your weapon in a chicken to get passed security and then take it out when you’re close to your target and use it to put him down. One missions lets you smother your target with a pillow. You can pour laxative into a target’s food and then follow him into the bathroom to take care of business. Some kills we’ve seen before like poisoning people and planting bombs and you can always go the more traditional routes like shooting, sniping, and strangling your targets.
Successfully sneaking around undetected will mean obtaining the right disguises, hiding bodies, and not alerting enemies to your presence. To reach that Silent Assassin rank, you’ll want to focus more on stealth than aggression which means minimizing shots and kills among some other specific things. One mistake can fuck it up so you do need to be careful. Missions will often task you with multiple objectives and you’ll not only have to kill people but also rescue people and retrieve items. If you want to take the stealthy route, the gameplay will be trial and error. You’ll want to study the map layout and enemy locations and patrol patterns. See where people go, where they stop, what they do, who they interact with, etc. Can you sneak by them? Do you need their clothes? Can you isolate them? Can you lure them somewhere? It’s all about experimenting and trying different things and will require patience.
Maybe it’s just me but finding and collecting weapons in this game does offer a rewarding feeling. After I beat the game, I replayed some missions not only to try different approaches but also to find and collect more weapons. Some can only be found in certain missions and even though you’re encouraged not to use most of them, there’s just something cool about seeing them displayed on those glass panels. At least I think so. The mini gun is a bitch to acquire. You need to find a key in one mission which is hidden in an area very out of the way I might add, and then use it in the mission with the mini gun to access the area where it’s located. It just seems like a very obtuse secret. All that work to get a weapon that’s not practical most of the time. It can mow enemies down easily but you obviously can’t hide it and 47 moves extremely slow when carrying it. That said, the gunplay in this entry does feel pretty good. There’s just something about the way it’s presented in both the third and first-person viewpoints. Muzzle flashes are bright and illuminate dark areas, blood puffs appear when enemies are shot, and smoke will fill the air during firefights.
The darker tone of the game is very much conveyed in the missions. Many environments are dark and rainy and the game puts you in some let’s say “seedy” situations. One contract puts you at a BDSM party at a slaughterhouse, you’ll encounter people being tortured in some missions, and every location kind of has a gritty feel. You’ll get to kill people in Romania, Siberia, Britain, Rotterdam, Budapest, Hong Kong and Paris. The missions from Codename 47 that have been “remade” do feel different. From the map layouts to the obstacles and ways to approach, if you’ve played the first game, you’ll certainly notice some similarities here and there but, overall, I thought most of them felt completely different. I also had an easier time getting through them here but Contracts is also a more forgiving game in general.
I think Contracts does look better than its predecessor. The character and weapon models and texture work still hold up rather well. The lighting, visual and weather effects help add to the atmosphere but once again, it’s the Jesper Kyd soundtrack that really drives it home. There’s a lot of dark and moody tunes that not only help give the game its cinematic charm but also heighten the tension. The audio work in general is really well done. From the sounds of footsteps to the sounds of suppressed gunfire, it all sounds great. On the technical side, the only bug I encountered was 47 moving like he was in slow motion but this was when I first fired it up and the game’s PCGamingWiki page does provide a fix. Other than that, the game ran smooth and I had no other problems. I did install a widescreen fix and apparently it’s been reported to cause some bugs and even crashes during one of the missions but I’m happy to say I did not encounter any major problems or crashes.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say the franchise has only gotten better with each release so far. Before Blood Money, I always thought Hitman 2 was the pinnacle of the series but now that I’ve played through the first three games again, I think Contracts is the best. The best up to this point. It may not break new ground but it feels like a much more polished and refined experience. I didn’t encounter any bugs that negatively affected the gameplay, you can get around faster so the gameplay just doesn’t feel as slow, and the dark and gritty tone make for a very atmospheric experience. As a result of all of this, I find Contracts to be the most enjoyable entry so far. Plus, the weapons room is awesome. My biggest gripe is that the game is too short. I still don’t think Contracts feels like a remake and I don’t think playing through this should be seen or suggested as an alternative to playing through the first game. For one thing, not every mission was remade and the ones that were feel very different. It’s a different experience. Second, Contracts does not tell the same story.
I would absolutely recommend Hitman: Contracts. I think it eliminates much of the frustrations I had with the previous entries and is by far the most accessible Hitman game up to this point. That’s not to say it’s not punishing. Just like it’s predecessors, it’s a puzzle game disguised as a stealth game and it’s still a trial and error experience. But the formula has been tweaked and refined to a point that makes it more welcoming and enjoyable. Definitely check it out.