It was only two months ago IO Interactive and WB Games launched HITMAN 2, a game that we called "the best this unique series has ever been" in our review. Now the new partnership between publisher and developer has spawned the surprise Hitman HD Enhanced Collection. It brings two of Agent 47's prior jobs to the modern generation with improved visuals and performance, although in each case these enhancements can't wash off other blemishes from Agent 47's hands, making this collection one best left to established fans looking for some nostalgia.
The Hitman HD Enhanced Collection is split into two games, 2012's Hitman: Absolution HD and 2006's Hitman: Blood Money HD, which was a cross-gen game on the original Xbox and Xbox 360. For fans, it's a very interesting pairing as many would respectively regard them as the lowest low and highest high for the nearly 20-year-old series. Only recently had IO put it all together in 2016's entry, and revisiting them in 2019 mostly serves as a reminder of just how great the soft reboot era of 2016 and onward has been, with each game in this collection having deficiencies where the other has strengths.
Beginning with Blood Money, most Hitman fans will tell you it's the best in the series. However, the years have not been especially kind to Blood Money. The physics and gunplay, humorously clunky even for their era, are now unforgivable for anyone who isn't weighing nostalgia in their experience. Aiming is just a mess and it doesn't help that the control scheme is so different from every game since then, including its collection partner. The physics of bodies going limp in a doorway, over a sink, on a railing, and wherever else you creatively kill your targets is consistently ridiculous, although if you're returning to the game after playing years ago it's probably just funny. Newcomers will not be as pleased, however.
The game's detection meter is starkly less informative than more recent iterations, leaving you always unsure of what you can or can't get away with. Hitman thrives on experimentation, but not this kind. In this case, it leaves Agent 47 feeling like a start-and-stop imbecile, regularly crossing thresholds where he isn't allowed only to upset the guardians therein, with some instances seeming to permanently annoy them and other times not. There's no doubt the game is over a decade old with this kind of trial and error being so central to the experience. Later the series would better inform players of how the world would react to their behavior, but in Blood Money it's something of a guessing game.
That's not to say Blood Money has completely soured over the last few years. What was always its best attribute, the level design, is still great. The mission sandboxes are now less impressive since 2016, but they're absolutely still fun. Some of the most iconic, series-defining missions are found in Blood Money. In fact, there's not a bad one in the bunch, with a few of them showing off the earliest attempts at now commonplace huge crowds, but back then they were so exciting. Mission after mission, Agent 47's globetrotting will allow longtime fans to reminisce of the ancient history that is 2006 through the eyes of their favorite emotionless assassin. That nostalgia is really key to enjoying this game in 2019, but if you have that, it holds up pretty well if you have a sense of humor.
You could make a Greatest Hits compilation from Blood Money's levels alone.
Absolution, meanwhile, toyed with the classic formula of Hitman quite a bit in 2012. These changes were controversial then and, like Blood Money's gunplay, have only gotten worse since more recent better sequels have released. Adopting a southern gothic tone and a twangy soundtrack akin to True Detective, Absolution is in a category of its own in the series and for several reasons. It takes Agent 47 on his most story-driven mission yet. With more to see in the cutscenes and intent for better pacing, some levels in Absolution betray what makes Hitman special. There are few levels that feel like they capture the sandbox discovery that defines every other game and much more often you move Agent 47 through cover from checkpoint to checkpoint like he's Sam Fisher. The few sandboxes that are present are still well done, it's just they are hardly present, making Absolution a strange organism in the Hitman taxonomy.
When things do more often break down into gunplay, that part of the game is so vastly improved over Blood Money, but ultimately Absolution serves few players and even fewer fans since it's such a dismissal of what Hitman actually is — it becomes just another good stealth-action game. The best levels, the Silent Assassin ratings, come without ever taking out a gun. Absolution seems to encourage it sometimes, and it never feels at home. When it does allow experimentation, it feels like there's a "right" answer, and that is perhaps the most egregious error of all for this franchise.
That's not to say they shouldn't try to innovate at IO. Rather, it's good that they did, as some things from 2012 were still present and built on in the wonderful soft reboot that began four years later, like the improved control scheme and contracts mode, although these are now unavailable in this collection due to former partner Square Enix hosting the servers during the original launch. Absolution, as different as it is from the rest of the series, did lay groundwork for some of what makes the later games so awesome, but the tentpole features like the Instinct ability and the more linear delivery are elements that have rightfully not returned to the series and never should.
The visual enhancements are noticeable in both games, mostly because of the smooth 60 FPS at which they run even if you don't play on an Xbox One X. If you do, they're upscaled to 4K as well, making these two older games look the best they ever have, although each still resembles something from their respective eras with Blood Money's muted environments and Absolution's grainy cutscenes all still present. The latter game adopts a noir aesthetic at times and the neon haze looks better now than it did back then, naturally. In terms of these upgrades, they're par for the course. Remastered collections have been popular this generation, and although they're not created equally, the pair in this bundle both look as good as they could without a full remake. The frame rate is an especially welcome improvement.
Absolution does things with its storytelling not attempted in the series before or since.
Both achievement lists return in nearly their same form as before, although Absolution has done away with the online leaderboard game mode, Contracts, and its related achievements. As mentioned, that was hosted on servers by the former publisher, Square Enix, and IO has said they're looking into ways to bring them back but can't promise anything (translation: buy Hitman 2). Neither list is very long, although Blood Money's is pretty stingy for anyone who tends to get sloppy with their assassinations. You'll need to really excel to unlock many achievements. Difficulty stacks are now in place, however, whereas they weren't before. Absolution's list is much more generous and will regularly dole out gamerscore for major and minor events, and of course even more for the story beats. Each game includes 1,000 gamerscore and completionists could, in theory, play one without ever acknowledging the other.
SummaryThe pairing of Blood Money and Absolution ends up being a flawed but interesting Hitman history lesson. It's as though each game's deficiencies are the other game's strengths. Where Blood Money offers classic levels and assassinations with unwieldy controls and gunplay, Absolution offers smart, tight controls and better action but unfortunately few sandboxes for which the series is famous. You can see in hindsight how IO put it all together for 2016's relaunch of the franchise, and how they built on that even further to release the very best Hitman ever this past November. The Hitman HD Enhanced Collection, thus, makes for a fun and nostalgic trip for longtime fans, but a contract not worth taking for most everyone else.
- Blood Money's level design is still excellent after 13 years
- 60 FPS is the standout visual upgrade, making both games super smooth
- Nostalgic fans will easily forgive some of the rough spots and have more fun
- Absolution's level design betrays what makes Hitman special
- Blood Money's gunplay and physics are laughable and often frustrating
- Both games feel like one half of what makes the newer, more complete Hitman games so special
EthicsThe reviewer spent 25 hours across both games, being present for countless freak accidents and earning a combined 27 achievements. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
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