In the honour of the recently released Hitman: Game of The Year Edition, I went back and played one of my personal favourite Hitman games – Hitman: Contracts. The game has certainly aged, and whether it’s aged well or not is a matter of opinion. However, it is considered one of the darkest games in the Hitman series, and it’s pretty clear why as soon as the game begins. Although the cutscenes, and to a large extent the story, haven’t aged particularly well, it’s certainly bearable enough to focus primarily on the gameplay itself.
Contracts begins with us, as the titular bald-headed hitman himself, having to fight or sneak his way through a lab/mansion. The controls are very much archaic by modern standards, but recognisable to anyone who has played a Hitman game before. It’s a good introductory level being relatively easy, but challenging enough that you do need to pay attention and use the game’s traditional stealth mechanics to succeed. Unless, of course, you decide to shoot all of the SWAT members you can find and charge right out of the front door. It’s an option even if it is understandably discouraged. This is true for the most part of the game as with sufficient luck one can usually manage to mow down any enemies, targets and civilians alike to succeed.
As far as Hitman games go, Contracts leans towards a significant degree of linearity that will seem possibly strange or even restricting to anybody used to other Hitman titles. As the story is told primarily via flashbacks, each mission is very disconnected with only the rewards that are gained from completing previous missions with a certain rating carrying over to ensuing missions. This is both a benefit and a detriment to the game – it provides the ability to jump into the game with relative ease, without any connection to the storyline, and play in a self-contained mission with relatively clear objectives.
Gunplay has never been a particular strong suit of the Hitman series and Contracts is no different. It’s clunky, frustrating and slides between being unbelievably unmanageable to laughably easy, but if you’ve come to Hitman series to play a shooter then you’re looking in the wrong place. The stealth-oriented assassination sandbox proves to, at the very least, allow a whole lot of replayability. Its levels don’t tend to hold up to the much more polished and varied ones of the later Hitman: Blood Money or Hitman (2016), but if this is excused due to the age of the game then they’re enjoyable nonetheless. Compared to the aforementioned later titles, the stealth assassination options are more limited – following the exclamation marks on the map is your main way of discovering them, but they’re certainly there and you’ll be so proud of yourself when you discover one yourself. Although you’ll likely also be proud of yourself no matter what, as long as you kill the target, so don’t beat yourself up for having to blast your target with a shotgun and disguise yourself as a maid to escape.
Jesper Kyd, the renowned composer, shows his skills once again with the excellent soundtrack that is arguably the best of all his Hitman soundtracks so your ears are in for a treat so long as you avoid the shooting long enough to appreciate it. Hitman: Contracts is a game much the same as its predecessors, it’s outdone by its sequel, but manages to still be an enjoyable game. So put Hitman: Blood Money to the back of your mind, and you’ll manage to appreciate Contracts as a great game in a (mostly) stellar series.