Let's Talk About How Amazing Hitman: Blood Money Was

Here’s an anecdote from the Hitman beta. I’m clarifying this upfront, because Hitman anecdotes always sound like stories of actual murder and mayhem if you don’t state ‘it’s about a videogame!’ upfront.

I’m standing at a bar on the second most upper deck of a ship, blending in with the other staff thanks to the white uniform I nicked from the now-unconscious chef moments earlier. I watch my target as I wipe down the bar with a cloth, waiting for him to return to his drink. While he chatted with a clearly agitated woman (I can hear their conversation but can’t quite follow it), I’d slipped the contents of a box of rat poison into his glass.

I was confident he’d take another sip – not because he seemed thirsty, or even because I could tell whether the glass actually had anything left in it, but because Hitman has rules, and because one of the level’s challenges explicitly suggested that I poison the target.

My target slugs down his drink, and within moments he’s staggering around, looking sickly. I press circle to stop blending in as he started staggering to the toilet. I follow him in, and as he chunders into the toilet, I fulfil another one of the game’s suggested challenge conditions – I dunk his head into the bowl and drown him in his own vomit. I feel the exact sort of thrill you’re not meant to feel when you do something like that. It’s that old Hitman feeling of pulling off a perfect murder.

But still, part of me wishes the game hadn’t explicitly told me that I should try poisoning and drowning this man, or that something had gone wrong along the way. In another attempt at that mission, my plan to set up an accident (which, again, the game itself had suggested) went array when I was spotted planting explosives on the life boat on the top deck. The thrill of concocting a new plan on the fly was far more exciting than simply meeting the game’s prescribed conditions. Because that’s the other, arguably more important feeling Hitman can evoke – the panic of a botched hit, the elation of pulling things back and making it work.

This, of course, got me thinking about Hitman: Blood Money. That game remains one of my favourites, and one of the rare games that I make an effort to return to every few years. What makes Blood Money so great is the way its systems mesh together to create a perfect anecdote-spawning machine. I have a story of course-correcting a botched attempt at the opera mission that I have been feasting off for nine years now. I have told it on PAX panels, I have written articles about it for Edge, I have told it sober, drunk, and in every state in-between, and it never fails to interest people. That’s not because I’m an amazing storyteller; it’s because you can’t play through Blood Money without coming away with beautiful stories.

Hitman: Blood Money is one of my favourite games to talk about, because every success or failure I went through in that game felt like a perfect synthesis between my own ideas and the game’s various systems. I love the mission where you have to kill the groom and father of the bride during a wedding, for instance – partly because it’s one of the few missions where the suit 47 wears fits in perfectly, and partly because of all the many wacky ways I’ve managed to off the groom. The father has a clear and obvious ‘best’ death – whack him with a shovel while he stands over an open grave in the family cemetery plot – but the groom is a bit more open. You can sneakily garrotte him, you can creep into the attic and shoot him with a sniper rifle (it’s difficult to evade capture after this one), or – you’re in the mood for some real dramatic panache – you can plant a bomb in a bucket of chicken, leave the bucket conspicuously on the wedding aisle, and then blow it as he walks up to meet his bride.

In Blood Money I committed assassinations by shooting the bottom out of glass spas, by rigging barbecues to explode when turned on, and even by walking up and shooting people point blank in the face, every now and then. I loved the newspaper reports that would pop up at the end of each level, reporting on the incident and describing the kill. There was always a ‘right’ way of doing things – a method that would make everything look like an accident – but finding these methods, experimenting and failing and figuring out new options – was part of the fun, because the game never explicitly said ‘hey, here’s a fun idea’ – it was up to you to figure things out.

Blood Money was the guiltiest of pleasures, a game that relied on your ability to be despicable above all else. It’s a game where walking up to a cop who has spotted you, grabbing his gun, shooting him in the face and stealing his clothes to blend in felt like a massive achievement. It was a game that encouraged you to be silent and deadly, but also let you be loud and weird and stupid in how you solved your problems, to search and experiment and see if your crazy ideas would work. Yesterday, I watched a speed run video in which the player killed two targets at once by hurling a coin through a skylight, showering them both in broken glass. It was beautiful.

The new Hitman, in the short beta I played, felt a little less open than Blood Money did. Once I got caught out because someone spotted me dragging a body, even though I was in a closed room with absolutely no one else in it – they spotted me through the wall. That’s a glitch, of course, and they’re easy to patch out. But then there were other characters who saw through my disguises from massive distances, involved themselves in affairs that they had no stakes in, and made me wonder why there was no button I could press that would have 47 say ‘it’s my first day on the job, that’s why you don’t recognise me, my name’s Arthur and I’m looking forward to working with you’. The AI isn’t necessarily any smarter than before, it’s just a bit more thorough and suspicious.

Another quick anecdote – in the beta’s second mission, you’re encouraged to kill the target by sabotaging a jet plane. By dressing up as a maintenance crew member, you can tamper with the plane’s ejector seat, and then ask the target to come down for a safety test. Do it properly, and the ejector seat will go flying out of the plane while your target is seated in it, killing him. The game guides you through this step by step if you overhear a certain conversation, and for some reason, no one questions whether this might not have been an accident. The whole thing feels a little empty. I much preferred my botched first attempt to complete this, when one of the other maintenance crew spotted an imposter and ran off to warn everyone, and I realised I couldn’t safely go back down to complete the demonstration. Instead, I walked in to the room my target was in, introduced myself, and asked him to come down…and then pulled out my silenced pistol, shooting my target’s personal guard in the head. The target had a moment to realise what was going on before I put three bullets into his chest. I nodded to myself as I climbed out the window, noticing that the guards outside had come in to investigate the commotion the maintenance man was making. This was, I reflected, the Hitman feeling that I really loved.

So while the beta felt a bit more prescriptive than I would like, I’m optimistic about the final version of Hitman. It reminded me of Blood Money, and that’s genuinely all I could have possibly asked for. Hopefully I’ll come away from it with some more anecdotes – I think I’ve told the story about that botched opera mission enough times now.


Comments

    Anytime someone asks me what the GOAT video game is i always say Blood Money, the level design is just so amazing.

    I can't for the life of me remember if I have ever played Blood Money....
    Is there a mission that has you in a grey/wintry suburban area that has you going through the sewers to a perch to assassinate 2 targets meeting in a park? Or am I dreaming this up?

      The level you're talking about took place in russia i think. But it wasn't in blood money, it was in an earlier hitman but i can't remember which.

        Probably 2: Silent Assassin? Big chunk of that was in Russia.

      You're thinking of the Third Mission in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin =)

    Blood Money was excellent! Hoping the new Hitman's gameplay is much more like Blood Money's.

    Fantastic game, I'd love the ability to play this on my Vita.

    Blood Money... so great in theme, as well. Pretty sure the 'fake funeral' and Ave Maria were directly and almost solely responsible for inspiring the Hollywood abomination.

      The opera house was arguably the best level in any game of the era, so much potential to just get things done in increasingly weird ways. Also, Tosca is cool, I often broke off an assassination attempt to just listen to the rehearsal.

        I played that level so much back in the day that my sister now curls up into the fetal position and cries whenever that song plays...

          Ditto for my brother if he ever heard the FF7 battle music again!

    so what is the anecdote?

      I'd also like to hear it!

    Christmas party level is hands down one of my favourite gaming memories of all time. I swear if I ever had an inclination to shoot a dog, it would be the one in that level...

    I hate overly scripted assasinations, part of the reason I can't stomach assassin's creed games anymore. "Go to this location" "Kill this guard" "Go to this specific vantage point" Ugh you just end up feeling like a robot following orders with zero flexibility.

    THat would be hitman 2:Silent assassin i believe. blood money you had the bday party, christmas party, Steamboat party etc. A lot of parties to assassinate targets at.

    Blood Money is what makes Hitman Hitman to me. I would love a less clunky remake of Blood Money but I am so excited every time they bring out new Hitman games regardless.

    Can we talk about how people who claim Blood Money is their favourite game to talk about seem to routinely chop out large parts of the game and forget that they've had ten years to explore everything in it? Comparing their highlights reel over literally years and years of play to their first playthrough of a new game?

    Can we talk about the equivalent levels in Blood Money was the painfully linear tutorial that not only suggested things to you, it made you do things that were completely counter to the rest of the game?

    Can we talk about how it's level designs were wasteful, boring and often designed around convoluted ideas like encouraging the player to shoot the bottom of a spa?

    Can we talk about how it wasn't a great game, and the reason we know that is it hasn't taken off despite all the promotion it's gotten since Absolution was announced and that it cost less than sandwich when it's on Steam sale?

    Can we talk about how it was, in fact, so unimpressive at reaching the wider audience that it led to the Hitman franchise being shelved for years and only revived when Square Enix gave IO-Interacitve a chance to re-invent it?

    Can we talk about how pretty it's cult fan base live in denial of it's many faults and keep expecting some sort of magical, impossible game that combines everything without having any problems?

      1. The comparison to Blood Money is valid because thats what people want from a Hitman game, not the depressing, completely devoid of fun, super linear Absolution. Was it perfect? No. Was it fun. Most indeededly yes! Also, pretty much all the comments here are positive towards the game so...

      2. I recall the first level was your obvious tutorial, and then the Opera pretty much let you do what you wanted. It was one of the best levels in the game too! After that there was nothing really tutorial about the game.

      3. Thats your opinion, I actually thought the level design was excellent. What are you comparing it to? Each level was different from each other, had many varied ways of taking out your mark, and at the end of the day, you didnt have to shoot the spa if you didnt want to. Choice is only a good thing in these games.

      4. Are you talking about Blood money or Absolution? Sales are not necessarily a measure of quality, as every COD iteration sells like crazy even though they are pretty much the same on-rails shooter every year. Yet Valkyria Chronicles sold like shit, but is one of the most highly regarded games of the decade. Having said that, Absolution can suck it and deserves its rubbish sales.

      5. Blood Money suffered in the sales department because there was arguably too much hitman at the time. 4 games in 8 years. We waited 6 for Absolution. It as time for a new hitman game. Shame we didnt get that. If anything, Absolution could have killed the franchise because it removed the fun. It's like IO forgot the point of what they were doing. If the new game is super fun, then it has done it's job. Again, it doesnt need to sell 50 billion copies to be a great game.

      6. Dont know about anyone else, but I just want a game that is fun and challenging and gives you the scope to be creative. If it ticks Box 1 and Box 3, fantastic, and if it ticks box 2, then thats a bonus. I just want a game that allows you to drop a piano on someone and lets you feel badass doing it. Thats really not that hard to do since they did it 4 times already.

        1. "People want" - a handful of people who declare themselves the masses and want to ignore that Blood Money was the game that got the franchise shelved for six years.
        2. You recall incorrectly, the first level was a linear tutorial, then there was a vineyard level that copy/pasted elements from the tutorial then there was the opera when you start with a ticket and it directs you to go pick up the fake gun. It held your hand all the way while giving you as much freedom as the beta he's complaining about.
        3. It's a fact that the level design on the Christmas level was ridiculous and covoluted. Whether it was still enjoyable or not is an opinion.
        4. Blood Money, the game that was so uninteresting to new players that it got shelved for six years, compared with Absolution the highest seller to date. No sales aren't everything, but if the games don't sell the studio doesn't get the money to make more of them. That's also a fact.

        Absolution was also heavily flawed, but people enjoyed it enough to play it and encourage their friends to buy a copy.
        5. This is utter nonsense. The first game did fairly well for PC, the second game blitzed then sales went down for Contracts and up a bit for Blood Money. It did poorly in the sales department because it was hostile to new players, obnoxious in it's hand holding and had many, many flaws that it's fanatics (who don't even recall how the game played) want to ignore.
        6. They allowed you to drop a piano on someone exactly once in five games and it was a convoluted scenario where the target walked under and stood under the piano waiting for literally no reason. If that makes you feel like a badass then you should be 200% in favour of hand holding

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