HD collections, at their conception, have an uphill battle. At their very best, without adding anything new to the original game, they can only live up to that first game’s reputation. At their worst, however, they can completely ruin a game and, potentially, even the memory of a game that was once held dear. If you’re worried that the Hitman HD Trilogy did the latter, rest easy; each of the three games within the collection maintain everything that made them good in the first place. What the revamp doesn’t do is re-suit the trilogy for a new generation of consoles and players. In some ways, this is good for the games in question; in others, it is less so.
When regarding the two last-generation Hitman games included in the HD collection—and even the newer Blood Money to some extent—one of the biggest elements at play is the overall barrier to entry. Silent Assassin and Contracts were made for the type of gamers who, nowadays, can be spotted playing Dark Souls, as opposed to the Call of Duty crowd. That is not a slight against first-person shooter enthusiasts. Simply stated, the older Hitman games are tough.
If you’re a long-time fan of the series, this probably won’t come as much of a shock to you, but if your first Hitman experience came via 2012’s Hitman: Absolution, this HD collection may surprise you. Despite the variety of assassination techniques, disguises and approaches in Absolution, the most recent title seems like a fairly linear experience when compared to the earlier adventures of Agent 47.
When playing through various episodes of the first two games in the HD collection, I found myself wondering (early and often) how I ever managed to play these successfully when I was 12. There is, of course, the chance that I might have played these games back then completely “incorrectly”—i.e., running in first-person mode and shooting everyone in sight—but that’s not how I remember it, so the question stands. Unreliable memory or not, playing Silent Assassin and Blood Money while striving for the “Silent Assassin” ranking that accompanies near-perfect play is not for the impatient or faint of spirit. Even on “normal,” guards are hard to circumnavigate, impossible to distract, and tend to have a keen eye when it comes to spotting disguised infiltrators. The various missions call for a great deal of trial-and-error play, and with limited saves, inherently slow pace and no checkpoints, players are bound to be frustrated. This, however, is simply part of the game, and in order to stay true to the old-style experience, Square Enix and IO Interactive made the right call with regard to the game’s level of difficulty.
The graphics of Silent Assassin and Contracts aren’t quite beautiful, but they do the games enough service to be playable in an HD world. Much like post-production 3D in films, you simply can’t fake HD, but IO did a fine job of updating the look of the older games. Your jaw will not drop, but you’ll be able to see what you’re doing, and that’s the important part. If you are bothered by the game’s seemingly last-gen look, try closing your eyes every once and a while and simply listening. Throughout the games, Hitman’s music and sound design remain superb, with Jesper Kyd’s soundtracks bringing the house down once more.
Purists might disagree with me here, but there are a few changes IO could have made in re-hashing the early entries of the series. One unfortunate side effect of the fact that these games were originally released years apart is that the controls for each game vary from one another. It may seem a minor inconvenience, but—save for the few controls that didn’t exist in the older games—this kind of unity doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult to arrange, and it would go a long way. We’ve seen it done before, like in the Medal of Honor: Frontline HD release, wherein players could choose between modern controls and the classic configuration. As it stands, it almost seems like IO didn’t care enough to worry about standardizing the controls.
Likewise, the first two Hitman games play host to a few enemy NPC peccadilloes that are hard to overlook. For instance, in Silent Assassin, during the first mission “Anathema,” I found it impossible to sneak through different parts of the mob boss’s mansion, as the guards seemed to know where I was at all times. In one room, after entering from the roof, my in-game map revealed guards standing outside each of the room’s doors, facing them as though the doors themselves were going to attack. However, upon entering the same floor of the house from a different route, I found the guards diligently facing my direction again. I had no choice but to mow them down. Again, it’s not a huge deal, but taking the time to tweak the AI just a little bit might have made for an experience better suited for this generation.
If you’re playing the Hitman HD Trilogy on the PS3 (like me), this may be your first experience with Hitman: Blood Money. Often hailed as the hallmark of Agent 47’s video game career, Blood Money had never before been released for Sony’s current generation. Despite the retro-allure of the elder two games, Blood Money is where Hitman really hit its stride. In gameplay (and, of course, with its original HD graphics), it bridges the gap between Hitman’s past and its present standing. With Blood Money, players will catch a glimpse of Absolution, as 47 is able to interact with his environment more, while the open-world aspect of Silent Assassin and Contracts remain a staple. Even after 7 years, Blood Money still delivers with its innovative cumulative notoriety system, some kickass locations (The White House – are ya freakin’ kidding me?!) and the “accident” kills available to the more creative players. It also happens to be the prettiest game in the trilogy, thanks to its HD origins.
The biggest success of the Hitman HD Trilogy is simply its value. As advertised, the collection grants players “more than 40 intense missions” over the course of three games for the low-low price of $39.99. It’s a solitary experience, yes—with no online leaderboards, co-op, or any meaningful communication with the Internet—but if you don’t mind only being able to brag about assassinations via Facebook, Twitter and your personal gaming blog, that shouldn’t bug you too much. The collection’s value is further increased by its replayability. Some people argue against the overall replay value, but as a long-time player of the series, even if you achieve “Silent Assassin” in a mission, chances are there’s another creative way of taking down your target you haven’t yet tried.
As with all HD collections, the Hitman HD Trilogy runs the risk of alienating new players. The first two games in the trilogy do not hide the fact that they’re eleven and nine years old, and there is no doubt that the style and culture of gaming have shifted since then. Even Blood Money, despite being a dual-generation release for Microsoft, is still six years from its original market date. If you can get past this, however, there is a lot of fun to be had with the Hitman HD Trilogy. It’s challenging, frustrating and, in many ways, a callback to the days where men proved themselves on the gaming battlefield and little boys stuck to LEGOs. Yes, there are a few bugs and IO could have polished some mechanics, but all told, the Hitman HD Trilogy elicits enough bang for your buck that it’s worth the time-traveling hassle.
The Hitman HD Trilogy was developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. A PS3 copy of the collection was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.