Hitman: Blood Money was, and still is for some folks, the peak of the assassination franchise. Whilst the core ideas remained largely the same as the three previous titles, IO Interactive managed to improve on virtually every aspect of the game, from graphical fidelity to various gameplay mechanics. Features previously not possible in Hitman became essential to achieving the ever illusive ‘silent assassin’ rating – bodies could now be stored in containers, hidden from the view of guards and pedestrians, and Agent 47 had countless new ways in which to make each assassination look like a complete accident. It was, for all intents and purposes, murder simulation perfected.
Hitman: Blood Money grabbed me right from the beginning, with ingenious levels set in exotic vineyards and grand opera houses. But it wasn’t until the game’s fifth mission, ‘A New Life’, that I became hopelessly hooked for hours on end. The mission, set in a suburban cul-de-sac in San Diego, sees Agent 47 tasked with eliminating a gangster known as Vinnie Sinistra, who is under a witness protection program pending an upcoming court appearance, currently planning a birthday party for his youngest daughter. The other objective is to extract a piece of microfilm containing vital evidence, located within a necklace worn by Sinista’s wife. Naturally, this meant that the poor woman also became 47’s target, albeit one that can merely be sedated, not killed.
The true star of any Hitman game is the environment in which its levels are set, and ‘A New Life’ had this nailed to perfection. The ingenuity lies in its simplicity – a quiet suburban area is an environment that almost everyone can relate to in some way. Everything you’d expect to find is there – the neatly cut hedges, the garden sprinklers, the garbagemen going about their daily routine. It’s all very idealistic, of course – not many people can relate to owning a swimming pool in their back garden, or the convenience of having a group of armed federal guards protecting the house, but nonetheless the area as a whole is one that most people can easily recognise, whether you’ve lived somewhere similar yourself, or know someone who has.
This simplicity gives way to some outrageously fun gameplay options. At first glance, Sinistra’s house seems impenetrable, with guards and security cameras watching every entrance. Access primarily relies on which of the NPCs are allowed inside, and which one you can successfully disguise yourself as. Chief among these was a party clown, who, once granted access to the house, could oddly enough roam about pretty much the entire residence without much cause for alarm. It’s exactly this kind scenario which gives the level, and the Hitman series as a whole, its reputation for wondrous absurdity. Not many games will give you the opportunity to dress like a clown in order to assassinate someone.
The manner in which the assassinations could occur are equally bonkers. The objective, should you choose to do so of course, is to eliminate your target without alarming any other NPC. In other words, you need to make it seem as though you were never there. Killing Sinistra could be as simple as breaking out the fibre wire whilst he is watching TV, or you could rig the upstairs bedroom with explosives for a more grandiose finale to Vinnie’s life. His wife meanwhile, could either be lured into a quiet room by donning the clown costume and swiftly sedated, pushed into the indoor swimming pool (her swimming ability has to be called into question here), or you can rig the back garden barbecue to cause her to light up in a ball of flame, ending her life and allowing you to swoop in to grab the microfilm necklace.
The variety of gameplay options available in ‘A New Life’ are no more numerous than any other Hitman level, but it’s the apparent innocence of the suburban lifestyle that makes it so much fun. In a similar way to The Sims, there’s a macabre fascination in watching an apparently idealistic family break down as each of their lives come to an abrupt end. Only here, you’ve directly taken on the role of Death as you wreck havoc upon their home. Getting caught doesn’t dampen the fun either – it may mess up your ‘silent assassin’ rating, but the game’s relatively forgiving difficulty makes it fairly easy for you to quickly rid the street of any opposing federal agents. It’s a great way to vent frustration, and thanks to the level’s small size, getting back into the action after failure doesn’t take long at all.
Hitman: Blood Money still holds up graciously to this day, and it’s clear that IO took a lot of inspiration from the game for the ‘Sapienza’ level in the 2016 title Hitman, particularly from ‘A New Life’. Strolling around the coastal Italian environment brings back fond memories of the classic level – it’s much larger in scale, and far more densely populated, but at its core you’re still infiltrating a grand, closely guarded house to eliminate its owner. The influence is obvious. ‘A New Life’ continues to be a glorious high point in the Hitman series – a great lesson in how to execute murder with absurd hilarity.