In this long, ranting essay I’ll review Contracts and explain the reasons why I believe it’s the best Hitman game.
Contracts is the darkest game in the series, and that’s where much of its appeal comes from. Each Hitman has a different tone (H1- Action film. H2- International assassin. H3- Dark. H4- Over-the-top. H5- Grindhouse. H6- Spy thriller), and Contracts is probably the most ‘realistic’ in portraying the life of a nitty-gritty contract killer. The game’s rushed development to meet a strict deadline moulded a darker tone (the same thing happened with Majora’s Mask, the darkest Zelda)
Although 90% of the game’s levels are rainy/snowy, I feel that they mostly carry their own distinctive look and atmosphere- The Meat King’s Party is oppressively grey and stormy, the Bjharkov Bomb is oppressively blue and snowy, the Wang Four Incident is oppressively black and stormy and The Seafood Massacre is oppressively orange and stormy. They do, however, all share the same theme: Bleakness. Contracts really does feel nightmarish at times.
The game’s presentation adds greatly to its atmosphere- the menu screens are minimalist, black and grey. The target’s photos are white and washed-out, which aptly makes them look like ghosts. And Diana’s briefings seem more detached and curt…There are no pleasantries, it’s just business.
There’s a good mix and variety of locations, and in contrast to Hitman 2’s focus on the exotic and grandiose, Contracts focuses on the seedy and gloomy. There’s still a lot of globetrotting, but as each country’s grittiest parts are shown, they’re not exactly a flattering portrayal- a frozen military base, run-down biker club, slaughterhouse, insane asylum, claustrophobic Hong Kong streets to name a few.
Contracts’ story can basically be summed up in one sentence- 47 gets shot and recalls past assignments. I think all Hitman games should have stories like Contracts and Blood Money- flashbacks on 47’s various missions with no connections to each other which make up a loose story.
Just about every target in this game is a bastard: Crooked coppers, obese slaughterhouse owners, crime lords, terrorists. And it’s not just the targets- all the NPCs seem rude and Diana and 47 are at their most callous.
Jesper Kyd’s soundtrack has been endlessly praised over the years, and for good reason. Contracts’ dark visual presentation is beautifully complimented by its menacing, brooding electronic music. It’s tense and unsettling, and a world away from Hitman 2’s heroic orchestral score. Hong Kong Underground is the best song, although it’s used too often.
Disguises are a little bit more forgiving than Silent Assassin and there’s more scope for different kills- poisoning tattoo ink, dressing up as a SWAT member and assaulting your target’s boat, hiding a knife in a fat man’s chicken, etc, are just a few examples. There’s also a tremendous variety of weaponry on offer, plus the fiber wire is visible (woo!) and the sniper rifle has a briefcase (woo!)
The series’ best level gets its own section (that’s how good it is!). Beldingford Manor’s setting- in an English aristocrat’s creaky old estate, with a mansion, stables and grounds- is dripping with atmosphere. Sneaking in on a stormy night and offing bad guys when they’re in their pyjamas and at their most vulnerable is a great feeling.
There’s so much to explore and discover- dropping gasoline down into the fireplace, feeding weedkiller to horses, sneaking past guards in undergrowth, navigating a hedge maze, discovering secret passages, poisoning Beldingford’s milk/suffocating him with a pillow/sniping him from the stables. All of these aspects are quintessentially Hitman.
Once again, the atmosphere is superb. Although the two targets aren’t fleshed out much, the premise of humans hunting humans is a unique one (to Hitman). The endless rainfall and thunderstorm really sells the level. If you imagine Beldingford Manor in a sunny daytime setting like A New Life it simply wouldn’t work. The music as you enter the mansion gives a nice over-the-top haunted feeling as a woman laughs creepily and weird sound effects occur. There’s also an out-of-place coffin in the basement and a painting that bleeds when you shoot it. And who doesn’t love the accents? “Don’t believe you’re on the guest list, mate!”
So, yeah. A good level!
-Half of the levels are rehashed from Codename 47. Some are better than the originals- Deadly Cargo, with its SWAT element, and the Seafood Massacre, with its Blade Runner-esque atmosphere, are much better, but others are worse. Traditions of the Trade is still brilliant, but feels a lot less lively than the original with its closed pool, shops and restaurant, and its lack of guests. The Lee Hong Assassination, too, is drearier and seems smaller and less involved than the original.
- There aren’t that many levels. The level select screen looks like it should be much bigger, and being spoilt by Hitman 2, I expected there to be twenty levels. Ah, well.
- Guard AI is still paranoid as hell.
Contracts is my favourite Hitman game, and it’s unlikely we’ll ever have anything else quite like it. Although I do love Hitman 6, I hope Season 2 can embrace a little of the darkness of Contracts. Thanks for reading! Fellow Contracts fans, please share your thoughts on this wonderful game and why you think it’s the best!