I’ve wanted to check out the earlier Hitman games for some time now, especially after last year’s Hitman: Absolution made my top ten list for the year. The Hitman HD Trilogy seemed like the perfect way to catch up on some old games and get some backstory on Agent 47 himself. While it’s interesting to watch the series evolve over time, ultimately the trilogy is a reminder of how far the franchise has come, and only those who are nostalgic for these games will want to pick it up.
The Hitman HD Trilogy includes three games: Silent Assassin, Contracts and Blood Money. The choice of games for the trilogy is somewhat curious, since it includes Blood Money (which is from this console generation), and not the original, Codename 47, which has never appeared on a console. While I’m sure it would have been logistically tricky to port the original game, it seems like fans of the series would have been more excited for a game that some have never had the opportunity to play.
Silent Assassin begins with 47 living in a monastery, reflecting on his past and his faith. When the priest who mentors him is abducted, he is forced back into the service of The Agency to rescue him. Unsurprisingly, it’s the least refined of the trilogy, and I periodically got stuck walking through half closed doors or couldn’t get the map to display when I selected it. Like the other two games, stealth is the key to success, and discovery means enemies will swarm you.
Contracts features missions that are primarily flashbacks to the original Hitman game. It takes the framework of Silent Assassin and makes some simple tweaks, like a more easily accessible map. Both Silent Assassin and Contracts look essentially the same as their original counterparts, and some cleaner lines were the most noticeable difference. Somehow, the cinematics in Contracts look worse than those in the previous game, and are very grainy and muddy. Overall, neither of these is greatly aided by the enhanced resolution that the HD upgrades bring.
The final game, Blood Money, is the fourth game in the series, and often cited as the best Hitman experience. Compared to the other two in the collection, it’s a night and day difference, which isn’t surprising. Unlike the others, it was originally made for this generation of hardware. In addition to much nicer visuals, Blood Money stands out with a much more helpful tutorial and objective system, and the first appearance of the Rookie difficulty setting. Control-wise it’s the best feeling of the three, which is a good thing because the penalty for detection seems even harsher than in the previous games.
The thing that most dates, and defines, the early Hitman games is the punishing gameplay. One slip-up will trigger a flood of enemies, usually resulting in 47’s death. The challenge comes from completing a level using only the seven allotted saves, and the expectation is that you will fail again and again until you find a path to your objective. While I understand the accomplishment that comes with finally getting it right, it undercuts the realism of the game that you often need to die several times in order to accomplish your task.
One of the problems facing the Hitman HD Trilogy is simply poor timing. The collection came out just over two months after the release of Hitman: Absolution, which evolves the series in every conceivable way. If released prior to Absolution, this collection might have found more success among fans eager for the next game in the series. Instead it has to sit on store shelves next to a game that, for most players, will be much more enjoyable.
HD re-releases are difficult to score, because there are two dynamics at work. One is how the game fares in relation to the original version, and the other is how it stands up in the current environment. For those who have fond memories of the early Hitman games, the HD trilogy accomplishes its goal. It is faithful to the originals (although in the case of Silent Assassin and Contracts, probably too faithful). However, for those who don’t have those nostalgic ties or are new to the series, Absolution is unquestionably a better choice, and those who enjoyed Absolution and are looking for more Hitman will want to think twice.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.