When 47 burst on to the scene many years ago on the PC, it offered a new style of gaming for players. You were thrown into levels as a Hitman with a few designated goals to complete but how you reached those goals was entirely up to you. This appealed to many gamers but some may have been put off by the fact the game didn't dictate much and therefore was more difficult than other stealth games around at the time. Eidos and IO Interactive with Contracts are releasing their third game in the series and they have made a few changes, not many, but enough to broaden the appeal of the game to more gamers.
The prelude FMV to the game shows a documentary about how guns work which leads into the actual storyline portrayed in the game. As Contracts begins we see 47 stumbling after being shot. Holding on for dear life his life flashes before his eyes and this is where the gameplay for half of the game comes in. You play out the hits he remembers from his life before being thrust back to the storyline. Halfway through the game this structure changes however until a twist brings the game to a thrilling end.
Hitman: Contracts like its predecessors is a third person action game. You again take the role of agent 47, a human devoid of any real life, built to become a contract killer. As 47 you are dumped into a level by the company you work for and must carry out the current contract be it an assassination, recovering some deadly bombs or both. The open ended style of the game has returned but gamers will find it a lot more action packed than previously and this is where the wider range of appeal stems from. For instance in the first mission you're tasked with escaping the asylum agent 47 was housed whilst learning the traits of a contract killer. After a while SWAT teams storm the building and you can either try and avoid them or go in all guns blazing.
This is why Hitman is a game that hasn't gotten old even after its third iteration. The completely open ended style of the game means that no two gamers will tackle the challenges the same and this offers a great level of replay to the game as well. One time you may complete a mission in a slow, sneaky fashion but then decide to try your luck using no stealth and just the high powered weapons that 47 can be equipped with. Sometimes the game does force restrictions upon you such as losing weapons when you pass through a metal detector, but then it is up to you to use your stealth skills and use less effective weapons to finish the job.
Hitman: Contracts is very much a game where you determine just how hard it can be. Chances are if you take you're time and use the utmost level of stealth, it will be much easier than trying to blast your way to the end. To give an example, obviously as 47 you will be found easily and shot, but like in previous games he can change his clothes and blend in. Guards will easily pick up suspicious activity such as a bell boy not doing the correct job, or someone moving suspiciously or carrying a weapon. The AI isn't overly smart in terms of strategy during battles and nor do they have powerful weapons most of the time. However at times they do work together and will alert each other of your presence. The game does give some help in this regard with a map included that can sometimes be more confusing than helpful, especially when moving between stories in a building, and there are guides and cheats available if you really need them.
47 uses both conventional and non-conventional ways to take down his targets. The game at the outset equips you with a silenced pistol and twin berettas with items such as night vision and other standard stealth fare. As you progress through the levels and come across new enemies such as the SWAT team or gang members, you can take their weapons, actually if you're using their clothes to blend right in its almost necessity. If you don't want to use fire power, you can use items such as poison or a choke wire. This enhances your stealth rating which gives you more bonuses during the game.
There is no auto-aim employed in Contracts and for the first few minutes you may find yourself stumbling with the controls but credit must go to IO Interactive for the control system as they have managed to make it non-frustrating without auto aim capability in a third person environment but a wrong button press can be fatal to 47 in cases such as drawing a weapon in front of a number of guards.
One great thing about Hitman: Contracts is it never really seems repetitive. In essence the task of the game remains the same throughout but the large variety of environments help mix up the action and keep the game fresh. While the game does have an ongoing storyline to an extent, many of the missions in the game are contained within themselves and do not link to each other except in a very subtle manner. One mission you will find 47 trying to infiltrate a mansion, whilst another get involved in a Hong Kong based gang war. They all offer different challenges. The game is set in the real world and can be more specific than country names with the example of De Gaulle airport in France mentioned during the storyline.
Hitman: Contracts is a very detailed game and as such has some decent graphics. They aren't going to win awards for the best around, but they do the job well. Only a small hint of frame rate loss can be seen throughout the game, and this is only when the action on screen is coming thick and fast. Each of the levels are quite unique and feature some great design and many different ways to complete each mission. Do you barge through the front door or go through the back stealthily? Questions like these will be asked of you in each mission due to the great level design. For the soundtrack IO Interactive have asked Jesper Kyd to produce it and it suits the game well. The voice acting is decent and there are some sublime graphical effects such as the flash from firing weapons lighting up a dark room.
Hitman: Contracts may be the third in the series, but it has bucked the trend of sequels usually being a less impressive game and continued the Hitman tradition well. If you were a fan of the first two games then really you know what to expect but there are a few changes. Those of you who haven't really liked the game in the past may find something new and fresh about this series and should still check it out. 47 may have had a few more competitors join the stealth genre recently but he still manages to hold his own and there are indications in the game that IO Interactive are not done with 47 just yet.