PC Game -- Hitman: Blood Money

As if to outdo the opening scene of Hitman: Contracts, which had Agent 47 staggering into a seedy hotel to have bullets removed by a backstreet doctor, Blood Money starts with our favourite bald assassin's funeral - though this isn't made apparent until later on.

The latest episode of the successful stealth franchise sees Agent 47 returning to what he does best - sneaking up behind people and killing them. Of course, the storyline makes sure that all of his targets are morally destitute paedophiles or arms dealers so you don't feel too bad about being a soulless, heartless killer, albeit a sharply dressed one.

The first thing you'll notice about Blood Money is that the graphics engine has been completely overhauled, and looks far more impressive now. Character models, textures, details and lighting have all been updated, though 47 hasn't lost his purposeful stride. Something you'll particularly notice in later levels is how populous some of the areas can be - the New Orleans carnival and nightclub scenes, in particular, have you pushing your way through crowds of people on the tail of your quarry.

As before, tactics and timing are key and, while you get a wide variety of weapons to play with, most levels can be successfully cleared with your trusty fibrewire and undetectable close-quarters weaponry. The less disruption you create in the pursuit of your objectives, the higher your rating and the more money you earn for each contract, which can then be spent on weapon upgrades and special equipment - or making sure witnesses don't talk and buying a new identity if things get too hot.

The skill level now includes a notoriety value, which makes guards and targets more suspicious of heavily-set bald guys creeping around the place. Harder settings restrict the number of saves you can make during a game (or disabling the save option entirely), and you can post your times online.

It must be said, however, that the AI still isn't particularly smart: guards will chase you into a room only to lose interest because you're now wearing a different outfit, or insist on scanning you for weapons when you're only walking past the room they're minding.

While the graphics have changed, the underlying engine has not, so garrotting victims is still a little problematic at times, and you'll probably spot familiar character animations that have been recycled from previous titles. That said, the plotline is intriguing, and the last level brings a unique twist to the proceedings.

It's disappointing that most of the changes to Blood Money are largely cosmetic, but I guess if it ain't broke, then fans of the series will get as much out of this one as they have out of its predecessors.

Click here to view screenshot 1, and here to view screenshot 2.

Verdict: A complex and intelligent combination of stealth and tactics that fans will love. The gameplay hasn't changed significantly and there are still rough edges to the engine, but the backstory strings the chapters together well.
Score: 4/5
Publisher: Eidos
URL: www.hitman.com
Price: $79.95 (PC), $79.95-$109.95 (console)

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Laurence Grayson

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