Whenever Dateline NBC or some other scrap of journalistic trash airs footage of a husband/wife/mistress trying to hire a hit man—usually in a bland hotel room, always for below the expected market price—I can't help but feel disappointed. Not in the current state of broadcast journalism (that ship sailed long ago) but in how the style of the hit man in Hollywood movies—hammered into us for decades as polished, intelligent, and technically savvy—in no way matches the hit man in reality. It's a rude reminder; we expect Carlos the Jackal, but instead receive Cliff from the muffler shop, and the art of contract killing, refined by a legion of screenwriters, is once again exposed as little more than fantasy.
Hitman: Blood Money, the fourth installment in developer Io's venerable franchise, helps maintain the sheen of Hollywood's hired kill. You play Agent 47, a chrome-domed sociopath under the employ of the shadowy International Contract Agency, which sends you traipsing about the globe to snuff out villains for a tidy sum. Your arsenal runs the gamut from fiber wire (good for quiet strangling) to explosives (good for loud detonating). Intel and a real-time map are also at your disposal—more-than-handy accessories given your lone-man status.
Throughout the game, both third-person and standard FPS viewpoints are available to play, making your style of killing largely dependent upon your mood. Do you sneak about, or find inspiration in the bleaker works of Sam Peckinpah? Will you march onstage and open fire on that opera singer, or swap out the production's prop gun with a real one and watch as his costar does your work for you? The choice is always yours, making each level agreeably replayable.
Less agreeable, however, is the game's technical prowess. Though nice to look at, even on last-gen systems (I played it on my creaky old Xbox), collision detection is often appalling, and enemy AI is sporadic at best. Sneaking past enemies makes for a thrilling experience; standing directly in front of them without their apparent knowledge is embarrassing, especially when the game lives and dies by CPU choices. Thankfully, major AI hiccups aren't prevalent, especially on the game's more difficult settings, and as you progress through the missions your enemies seem to grow smarter—not bright bulbs, but not entirely dim either.
In an attempt to shake the dust off their franchise, Io has added polish like upgradeable weapons and notoriety rankings. These, though harmless, are also largely superfluous. The greatness of the Hitman series remains the visceral thrill of killing for hire—the promise of experiencing, and enjoying, completely amoral behavior—and Blood Money, even without reinventing the series, more than lives up to that promise. At one point or another, we've all entertained the fantasy of knocking off someone we despise; Agent 47 and his complete disregard for human life gives us that chance.