Even though I run around saying Hitman 4: Blood Money!! is one of the best games ever, I can’t really say that without having played Hitmen 1-3. Maybe they’re good too? Is it possible for greatness to have been begat by greatness? Sonic to Sonic 2? Freddie Prinze to Freddie Prinze Jr.? Edith Beale to Edith Beale? Maybe there is a shred of greatness in all origins, some faint light that has grown in the darkness of time until suddenly it looms large and bright, bright enough to cast judgement upon all peers past and present.
For you, dear reader, I decided to face these sunbursts with both of my critical eyes wide open, and my heart pinned to my sleeve.
Hitman 1: Codename 47 (2000)
Played on PC
Genre: Mysterious Ways Tech Demo
The first thing I see are low-res textures and low-poly models and I think about how much technology has changed in nine years. If I’d only known. In a world where I can experience nostalgia for Oblivion’s polygon mountains and bump-mapped snow textures while looking at real mountains capped with real snow, perhaps there is no place for Hitman 1.
The game starts with a tedious training level that is non-skippable and possible to fail in. You play a bald man who wakes up wearing jammies or a hospital gown or something, and there is a goofy foreign voice telling you to do stuff. Stuff includes climbing a few ladders, opening doors, picking up items, so on and so forth. The first hiccup came when I completed the “obstacle course” trainer, which basically serves to inform the player that yes, when you see a ladder, you can press your guy against it and he’ll start climbing. Like in every other 3D game you’ve played in the year 2000.
Right, so after I “beat” the obstacle course, I ran into this elevator that would not take me anywhere. It’s the one in the picture to your right, in front of the year 2000 bald-head polygon. I pressed and pressed that damn button and the only time it would go up was when I would step out of the elevator and walk away. I figured this must be some stupid y2k bug, one that has gone unnoticed for 9 years and only I have discovered, and that there must be some way to time my exit from the elevator and its phantom ascent, so that at the exact moment in time that it thinks it will actually be leaving me behind, I’ll have sprinted right back on and be carried to the heavens.
I run off.
I run on.
Off, on. Silence.
Off, wait a second longer, run on.
The elevator is still. I notice moody ambient music in the background which sounds like distant industrial fans. I step off and stand there, just in front of the gates, ready to pounce. I wait.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (2002)
Played on PC
Genre: Righteous Judgement Tech Demo
After my inability to figure out how to use an elevator and subsequently play the rest of the game, I had some considerable worries and concerns going into the second one. Would there be elevators? Would there be an extensive tutorial on how to interface with one? Ladders be damned; it’s elevators that’s the problem.
This one starts with 47 seemingly retired. Guilt riddles his soul because he is a bald man who apparently killed some people in Hitman 1 (I wouldn’t know), and so now he lives in a shack behind a church in Naples or Sicily and walks around wearing an Olive Garden apron. Whatever, dude. One should note, though, that IO has a general trend of morality in its characters. On the one hand none of them feel great about doing bad things, but on the other none of them care about doing them. Or perhaps it’s that they feel guilt for actions that are beyond their control, because they are mere puppets to their creators’ and players’ whims. The sins of the father (IO) will be repayed unto his sons (the players) for seven generations (47, Kane, Lynch)? Eh? Eh? No? Alright.
47 is pushed back into action when his favorite priest gets kidnapped by a bunch of fat Italian gangsters in overalls and held for ransom. He calls up his old contact for help in locating the padre and she tells him something like “yeah, we’ll help you but you have to do like 10 missions for us and probably kill 20 or 30 people.” No problem he says, and then turns to the camera and looks the player in the eye for a long minute before shedding a single tear and sighing.
No, he’s actually like, “yuppers cool lemme just unlock the gun closet and blast back into action.” Aside from fixing the obvious mistakes in moral consistency, the only possible improvement for this segment could’ve been having The Boys are Back in Town as the soundtrack.
After the tutorial is over (which thankfully does not have any elevators), you get dropped outside some mansion with the task of sneaking in and killing a dude and saving your priest. The two best ways (the lowest-friction ways) involve stealing someone’s clothes and pretending to be them. Above, you can see the two candidates IO has supplied us with, and both of them are peeing. That is when you are supposed to sneak up and kill them, and then steal their clothes: when they are peeing.
Fine with me. I took the postman’s duds and jogged up to the gate and the guards shot me. A hint appeared at the top of the screen: running attracts attention and might alert guards.
Okay. I restarted, took the clothes, walked up to the gate and got shot. Another hint: postmen do not carry guns.
I dropped all my guns, took his clothes, walked up, got inside, handed off the package that the original postman was trying to deliver, and then got shot when I did not leave immediately.
So I restarted and decided to just use the guard’s clothes. I strangled him (while he was peeing :(), put his clothes on, hid the body, and started walking around the compound. I walked by another guard and he shot me to death. Even though I was walking, slowly, in a guard suit.
How did they know? Mysterious ways. We understand more than we know. His two flesh eyes saw just another guard walking around, but his third eye saw a bald-headed assassin with the mark of the devil upon his soul. Monks and saints know not the difference between flesh and blood, because they see God in everything and hunger only for Him.
Hitman 3: Contracts (2004)
Played on PC
Genre: Assassin Simulator Tech Demo
The opening cut-scene shows me what I missed by not wanting to go up against divinity in the last game: 47 fights a bunch of other bald, besuited 47s! They’re all clones! Argh!
The first thing I noticed was how fat 47 had become. I chalked it up to him getting a little squished on my widescreen monitor, but I dunno. He definitely seems fatter than he was in the other games.
Which doesn’t really matter, because the game itself has continued its slimming process. Whereas in the first one you were given all sorts of unwieldy controls that included a secret mouse2 function that actually, in the end, lets one use that mysterious elevator; by the third game, we have controls that are more or less useful. The completely useless lean feature still exists, but the inventory and HUD have been revamped so that it is now harder to tell what the alert status gauge is trying to tell you because it does not make sense.
Wait. Um. Oops? Whoopsies? Is that right? The game tried to clarify its design by replacing a linear bar with two bars that wiggle at me faster and faster the more trouble I’m in? Why? I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I could grab IO by the lapels and shake it, ask why it did such a thing, why it hurts people so bad. I wish I could go back in time and fly through their window and tell them that it is a bad idea, that it doesn’t make sense, and that their stupid AI is still broken.
Although now it is broken in the complete opposite direction. Instead of going up against Terminators with a direct link to the Godhead, your opponents are those same guys 20 years later, after they’ve had wives and kids and lost about 200 boxing matches. Men who have been beat down on all fronts until the only thing they can do is stand around and hold a gun. Sometimes they forget where they are and they’ll look around, confused, trying to figure out who they are and what they’re doing in a meat-factory. Other times, in rare moments of clarity, they are as sharp as a tack and will shoot you because they still retain legacy connections to the Godhead, burnt out wiring that is still capable of receiving the odd transmission.
All of this is to say that I couldn’t get past level 2, again, although I have gotten very close. I’m not sure if it’s because the game is bad, or if I’m just not willing to play the game how it wants to be played. I know it isn’t as fun as Blood Money for several salient reasons, but that shouldn’t stop me from enjoying these games on their own merits.
Except it does, because they’re tech demos. They are all proofs of concept in creating and refining a game in which the player controls an assassin in a dynamic environment. Once each new iteration comes out, the last is obsolete. A 2 year old sports game is almost worthless, let alone a nine year old game. Oh shit, Madden ’08 doesn’t allow you to fully articulate your favorite player’s nut sack? Out the window.
People don’t play Madden ’08 unless they absolutely have to.
 Discovered only after getting bored with Hitman 3: Takin’ a Pee and not believing that I couldn’t get past an elevator.
 Ayo designers: let’s see some gender equality here.
 Which begins with 47 beating up some helpless meat delivery guy outside a rich people’s bondage party. I guess he got over those moral qualms after discovering he was a clone. You can take the guy’s clothes or you can take…wait for it…the clothes of the guy who is peeing against a wall.
 These include being able to pushing people down stairs and over railings, being able to stuff bodies into boxes and refrigerators, and what feels like greater latitude in how one approaches a level. I think it can best be described as having an excess of means, so that between the tools the player is given and the features of the environment, there is an illusion of dynamic activity. There’s a greater argument to be made about designers having complete control over their game and the means by which one has fun, vs. enacting a collection of abilities and constraints and letting the player figure out the rest, but it’s beyond the scope of this post about bad games. Suffice to say that Blood Money takes pains to reach out to the latter, even while it is the product of the former.
 Or whatever the hell is new about Madden ’10.
 What’s Madden going to be called in 2088? Madden ’88 II? Then what the hell are they going to do about John Madden Football II? Where does that fit in?