February 04, 2013
My experience with HD remakes is zilch. Never played one. Never bought one. Never reviewed one. It's fitting then that my first experience with HD remakes is the Hitman HD Trilogy, a franchise that essentially triggered my ascent (or descent, depending on how you look at it) into becoming a hardcore gamer. I’d gamed fairly heavily throughout the 90s, but it wasn’t until Hitman: Codename 47 that repetition and that desire for perfection seeped into my gaming consciousness. I would sit there, way back in 2000, unperturbed by the degree of skill and patience needed to Silent Assassin every mission on Professional, and wouldn’t move until I was done. You could say it shaped the next ten years of my gaming life, and here it is, back again, to consume my very being once more.
Ironically enough, Codename 47 isn’t one of the three titles in the trilogy, but considering that a lot of the best missions appear in Hitman: Contracts, it’s no big loss. It’d be a shock to the system even now to play the original too, as the series has matured a lot in the past 12 years – you can see the improvements at an engine level from Hitman 2 to Contracts, so I’d hate to imagine what the step up is like from Codename 47 to Silent Assassin. I’d rather not have that nostalgia ruined either, so we’re happy with IO Interactive and Square Enix’s move.
Consisting of three games: Hitman 2: Silent Assassin; Hitman: Contracts; and Hitman: Blood Money; the Hitman HD Trilogy represents incredible value for money, especially so since the Hitman: Absolution standalone mini-game, Hitman: Sniper Challenge, is also included in the package. That’s four games essentially, for around £20/$30. You can’t argue with that.
What you might turn your nose up at though is a lot of the decisions that Square Enix has made in deciding to bring these titles back from the doldrums. From a cinematic perspective, little has been done to round off the rough edges that are ever present in the game’s presentation. Sure, the voice acting of David Bateson actually holds up, even by today’s standards, and the music of Jesper Kyd is still engaging and a joy on the auditory senses, but there’s little else that withstands the test of time. Let’s get this clear right now: this is an HD upgrade in the loosest sense of what we’ve come to expect from HD remakes in today’s industry. A lick of paint, a turn of the dials up to the max, that’s how the game differs from the same games that popped up through the early part of the last decade.
What is surprising though is how the gameplay holds up for the most part. Okay, so Hitman 2: Silent Assassin admittedly hasn’t aged that well and is unforgiving and brutal, especially if you compare it to Hitman: Absolution. It’s very robotic – which is to be expected – and archaic by today’s standards, but if you can learn the nuances of the engine and the game, it can be just as satisfying as it was ten or so years ago.
Contracts on the other hand, actually holds up ridiculously well. The little annoyances that started to seep into our Silent Assassin playthrough, like Agent 47’s incredibly slow sneak speed and the bizarre enemy AI, they all seem to be ironed out and the game is an unbridled joy to play. Funny story: I actually didn’t like Contracts when I played it in 2004, but this time around, I actually loved every minute of it. The fact that it seemed like very little change does put into perspective how little progress IO Interactive had made between it and Blood Money, as engine wise, they are largely the same. Sure, work was done between the two games on the NPC AI and crowd work, but mechanics wise, it’s hard to see the improvements made between the two games – other than the inventive use of set-pieces, which is Blood Money’s forte. Regardless, considering that both games are over five years old, they’ve aged surprisingly well, aside from the somewhat mechanical and dubious AI, but that’s to be expected. A happy side-effect is that it makes getting the achievements that much more enjoyable.
In terms of a list, there’s effectively 2,000 Gamerscore you can take from this one title: 1,000 for Blood Money, and 1,000 for Silent Assassin and Contracts. We’ve discussed Blood Money and the list before, and like that list, the Hitman HD trilogy takes a few nods. There’s some original achievements in there, some interesting ones, but actually, for the most part, they’re very generic and simple. I guess it’s pretty tricky creating a whole game’s achievements, encouraging players to try all portions of the game, and being creative with only 25 achievements per game. The main piece of good news though is that the achievements now stack, which was one of the hang-ups with Blood Money’s list.
If there’s one thing that I’ll take away from the HD trilogy though, it’s this: Absolution makes a lot of changes to the franchise, some good, some bad. It wasn’t until we went back to the three titles in the trilogy that we realised how much we missed the map in Absolution. It also made us realise that we missed a cool hideout of sorts – seeing the weapons you’ve acquired, all neatly arranged on a series of walls is something that we like to see return to the franchise. Maybe that’s nostalgia, maybe it’s common sense. Who cares? We want the map and the weapon wall back in future iterations. Did you hear us, IO?
Anyway, we’re getting away from the main point here, and that’s that despite a few hang-ups, the Hitman HD Trilogy holds up fairly well. It’s not the greatest HD remake package though, as it feels more like IO has just given it a simple lick of paint more than anything else, but in terms of value for money, it’s one of the most rewarding HD packages you can pick up. It’s brutal, it’s unforgiving and at times, it’s a little dated, but this is classic Hitman, and part of the reason I fell in love with the franchise in the first place.
A weird mix here. Jepser Kyd’s score is ace, as always, as is David Bateson’s voice acting as Agent 47, but everything else screams a 1980s porno. Odd silences, terrible NPC voice acting and more let the side down.
Contracts looks pretty ace, while Silent Assassin 2 looks like they’ve done the bare minimum to class it as HD. Blood Money looks solid, even now.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin will take some getting used to, and even then is unforgiving and brutal. That in turn makes Contracts and Blood Money a complete joy to play. The AI is classic early noughties stuff though. In short: they’re pretty stupid, for the most part.
Three full games – and Sniper Challenge – for a less than budget price? You can’t really complain.
The 50 achievements associated with the trilogy itself show a little creativity, encourage players to try all the difficulties and little more. They stack though, which is Blood Money’s downfall!
The Hitman HD Trilogy represents incredible value for money, and for the most part, it seems to have aged rather well. In terms of an HD remake though, IO and Square have seemingly done the bare minimum here to get it to market. A remastered soundtrack and some re-recorded lines would have been nice, but instead, the best you can expect is a lick of paint. Hitman HD Trilogy is brutal and rather unforgiving though, which is just how we remember it!