Hitman HD Enhanced Collection Review
We’re big fans of the Hitman franchise and its protagonist, Agent 47. Personally, I’ve even enjoyed the two movies it spawned. Part of that was down to the casting of Timothy Olyphant in the first one and Zachary Quinto in the second, but they were also silly fun. So I was mightily surprised, and delighted, when IO Interactive announced that they were going to release Hitman: Absolution and Hitman: Blood Money in a remaster on the Xbox One. Whilst both can be played via backwards compatibility, these remasters feature improved 4K visuals and gameplay at a smooth 60fps.
Working backwards, Hitman: Absolution is the more recent of the two, originally released in 2012. The Glacier 2 engine has aged well though you can definitely see the improvements on the rendering and the textures in its new 4K environment should you be able to play this collection on the Xbox One X. Couple this with the bump to 60fps, gameplay is fast, fluid and most importantly fun. If there’s one thing Hitman: Absolution got right it was its gunplay and general control of Agent 47. Whilst it was no slouch or even that ugly back in its 360 days, the enhancements brought about by this remaster really do spruce things up nicely.
What IO Interactive attempted with Hitman: Absolution was to try and tell a cohesive story whilst, at the same time, offer the sandbox assassin playground that its predecessors had. If you ask most fans of the franchise, Hitman: Absolution marked a low for the series. It wasn’t quite as well received as Hitman: Blood Money — released six years prior — and was marred in controversy surrounding the “Attack of the Saints” trailer featuring gun-toting nuns. Whilst apologies were quickly made it certainly tarred what was, overall, a decent entry in the series. It lacked Hitman: Blood Money’s excellent level design first and foremost but it also seemed a little uncomfortable in its own skin.
Many who play any Hitman game aim to achieve the coveted “Silent Assassin” ranking. Doing so in Hitman: Bloody Money meant you barely caused a ripple. No witnesses, no collateral damage and definitely no casualties beyond your targets. Hitman: Absolution sort of wanted you to do that but it was a point-based system meaning you could do some bad things but make up for it elsewhere. There were also some missions — we’re looking at you Terminus Hotel — which were an absolute pig to complete without us starting a mini massacre on your way. It was as if it knew fans of the franchise would aim to be the perfect assassin but at the same time wanted to reward the rowdy yahoos that just wanted to blow stuff up. By doing so it muddied the waters, leaving longtime fans with an overwhelming feeling that things were dumbed down just a bit too much.
It was an absolute revelation to play Hitman: Blood Money and see a totally different approach. Up until now this reviewer had never played what is considered, by some, to be one of the best Hitman games released. Though if I’m honest, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. I’ll concede that the level design is excellent but beyond that, it’s a bit of a mess. Its enhancement to 4K helps it a touch in the graphics department but it still shows its age. Character models are repeated and you can definitely see where some graphical shortcuts were taken given that Hitman: Blood Money was released in 2006. Not only that but its control scheme and general gameplay is shocking.
Running through its tutorial level, “Death of a Showman”, we had to distract a couple of guards. After opening up our inventory to select a coin we then had no idea how to throw it. There were no prompts beyond a helpful hint telling us we had to distract the guards. Eventually we discovered we had to click and hold the left stick but there was no explanation why couldn’t use the right-trigger like we’re used to. Next we had to use the classic fibre wire to take out an enemy but getting the targeting reticule in the right place took longer than it should and we were often discovered. Eventually we hit the sweet spot and took one of our targets out. In contrast, Hitman: Absolution only requires you to sneak up on your target with a button press moving you in to take out your target. Aiming your weapons, should you choose to use a gun, is equally clunky in Hitman: Blood Money, doubly so when you compare it to its stablemate in this collection.
Taken in isolation each game highlights the other’s weaknesses. It’s also easy to see the influences of both titles in the soft reboot of the series in 2016. HITMAN had the expansive and tight level design of Hitman: Blood Money coupled with Hitman: Absolution’s control scheme and gun play. It was glorious. The expansive levels had a myriad of ways of dispatching your targets with a control scheme that was quick and satisfying to use. What we loved about Hitman HD Enhanced Collection was that it shows two instances where a developer was willing to experiment and, even when things fall short — as they did with the story in Hitman: Absolution — they still learn from and improve things in their next entry.
Really, the only big shame here is the omission of Hitman: Absolution’s contract mode. Its lack of inclusion is a sad omission as it was full of community-posted contracts and targets with goals and challenges to keep things interesting. Its likely omission is due to Square Enix in that they originally published Hitman: Absolution and we’re crossing our fingers whatever licensing issues there are will be resolved and it’ll eventually be patched in. If you’ve never played either of these Hitman titles before then you’re in for a treat. However, if you already own or have played them in the past there’s no reason beyond nostalgia to reacquire them. Sure they’re decent entries in the franchise but the more recent titles give a more satisfying return if you’ve got that stealth assassin itch to scratch.
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