Hitman: Blood Money is a sick, sick game. We suspected as much after playing the training mission, but now that the credits have finally rolled, we're sure of it. How developers get away with this kind of thing is beyond us. We feel sullied by the experience - changed, even. You see, a lifetime of playing videogames has given us an unquenchable thirst for instant gratification with no thought for the consequences - bloody gunfights, wall to wall explosions, steaming plates of gung-ho for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a moral compass so bent that needle points up.
And Blood Money promised more of the same. You're a paid assassin for pity's sake. Sam Fisher may be a killer too, but at least he can say he's doing his bit to protect the free world while he's waist deep in liberty-hating terrorist guts. But playing through Agent 47's latest stealthy whack- 'em-up has left us with, (and there's no nice way to say this), unpleasantly virtuous feelings. We've developed patience; professionalism suddenly means something; we know how to plan ahead and delay pleasure... worst of all (and please don't judge) we've started taking pride in our work. What is the world coming to? You know, if it wasn't for all the poisoning, garrotting, stabbing, crushing, exploderising, electrocuting, and, yes, shooting, Blood Money would have to be reclassified as educational software. Mercifully, as it is, Agent 47's third outing on PS2 isn't just the best Hitman game yet, but it's possibly the best stealth game ever on PS2. Just mull that over for a second or two. Take your time, we'll meet you in the next paragraph...
Let's be clear about something; for all its brilliance, Blood Money doesn't dump the series template in a shallow grave and start over from scratch. If you've played either the last game, Contracts (good), or its predecessor Silent Assassin (better) you'll feel instantly at home here. You're still Agent 47, a bald, impeccably-suited and booted clone assassin working for 'The Agency', taking whack jobs around the globe for six figure paydays. You've still got a variety of conventional weapons (including 47's beloved, customised dual Silverballer handguns) and environmental killing implements (a carpenter's nail gun, a sous chef's knife, etc) and, as ever, stealing clothes and changing disguises on the fl y is still integral to mission success. And naturally, you've still got the suspicion meter bottom left on the screen, gauging just how successfully you're keeping a low profile. What Blood Money does, though, is refine the Hitman concept to its purest expression yet, and in doing so raises the bar for all other sneak-'em-ups. In earlier outings, developer Io Interactive tried to give gamers of all tastes freedom to create their own style of Hitman game - twitch gamers could use a hammer to open an egg and recklessly blow and blast their way to mission success. On the other hand, those after the prized Silent Assassin rating could meticulously scout, plan and execute (literally) their mission without raising a single alarm.
With Blood Money, however, Io has taken the bold (but smart) decision to remove choice from the high-body count gangbangers and give it all to the stealthy professionals. That's not to say that 47 can't sometimes successfully 'go loud' to get the job done, but it's not where the game's enormous, core satisfaction lies. By making bull in a china shop murderising harder to pull off, and by secreting so many clever and innovative routes to subtle mission success in the game's beautifully designed maps, Io has polarised Hitman's appeal and ramped up the pleasure gamers can derive from exercising intelligence, and carefully setting up the perfect, untraceable kill.