How ‘Hitman: Contracts’ and ‘Blood Money’ Had Players Loving the Alien Agent 47

IO's stealth series was never better than during its mid-noughties highs, where people became creatures, just targets to "switch off."
March 3, 2016, 5:00pm

All screenshots from 'Hitman: Blood Money,' via Steam

The central problem in my adult life is that I'm not Nathan Drake. I'm also not a soldier, a warrior, or an astronaut. I'm just some hairy, kind of overweight man who, if he ever saw a real explosion, instead of walking away from it nonchalantly, would have to call his therapist and talk about how it made him feel. I feel like an imposter when I play video games. Deus Ex: Human Revolution's Adam Jensen is supposed to be the world's greatest super spy, but in my hands, he's a bumbling clown—he can barely sneak past a single guard without accidentally jumping when he meant to crouch. He also gets shot in the ass.

I have the same problem in IO Interactive's Hitman games. Agent 47 is meant to be the epitome of a cold, calculating killer, able to assassinate anybody, no matter how well protected, without even being noticed. From gala balls to upmarket hotels and the White House itself, 47 routinely infiltrates classy and exotic locations—disguised as an aristocrat during Hitman 2: Silent Assassin's "Invitation to a Party" level, scanning the ballroom for a corrupt Russian general, 47 is the pinnacle of cool. But thanks to the Hitman games' ruthless style of stop/start stealth, where even the slightest mistake can send guards into a frenzy and force a retry, it's not always easy to break into character.


2012's Hitman: Absolution tried to make 47 more accessible. By giving players improved combat abilities, more maneuvers, and dodges when it came to sneaking. With an "Instinct Mode," which highlighted items and persons of interest, Absolution wanted to put you behind the eyes of 47. But it was ham-fisted. The new abilities made Absolution feel more like an action game, and the extra on-screen and heads-up elements stripped Hitman of its typically elegant aesthetic. Hitman 2 made you feel clumsy. Those latter stages in Afghanistan and India were impossible to finish without hours of chaotic trial and error. But Absolution was too far the other way. You weren't an assassin. You were an action star.

However, when it comes to getting you into the mindset of 47—when it comes to how games, generally, can ingratiate players to superhuman characters—the PlayStation 2–era Hitman: Contracts (2004) and Hitman: Blood Money (2006) are graceful examples.

Contracts opens with a fantastic, striking image: 47 shooting another version of himself in the back of the head. The first level then takes place in a laboratory where dozens of dead bodies, all identical to 47, all wearing the same clothes, lie strewn around. It's a great way of showing rather than telling that 47 is not human, not in the strictest sense. He's part of a project to genetically rear the world's greatest assassin, just one in a series of clones, and as of the beginning of Contracts, itself a flashback to the end of the very first Hitman game, he's the last one left standing.

This sets up the central aspect of 47's character. When we see him kill an identical copy of himself, we understand immediately that there is something wrong with him: He is not stringently a person, because people are individually unique. But rather than distance us from 47—rather than make him seem to us mysterious and inexplicable—both Contracts and Blood Money are styled after 47's world view. Human characters are consistently made to feel "other." Playing as a genetically perfected superhuman, we are made to see people as beneath us and as lesser beings.

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The new Hitman game (which is pretty good, based on what we've seen so far) is released on March 11 for Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4. More information on the game's official website.

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