It has been a somewhat uneven road that this generation’s spate of HD re-releases have travelled along. They have varied from the exceptionally crafted Metal Gear Solid HD Collection to the particularly pitiful Silent Hill Collection. There is one characteristic that these re-releases all share, something inherent, and that is the ability to disappoint more than any original IP ever could. Perhaps it is nostalgia and the fear of a misinformed memory, perhaps it is the realisation that you are getting old brought into high fidelity when you realise the disparity between games ‘then’ and now. Few things age gracefully, a good wine and Patrick Stewart notwithstanding, but what is a necessity is that those things of age are treated decently and with care; thankfully, to a degree, this is where the Hitman HD Trilogy has found itself.
On the face of it you cannot really fault the value of the package, Silent Assassin, Contracts and Blood Money all on one disc make for a collection that by its pedigree alone is absolutely tantalising. It is a shame that the original Hitman: Codename 47 has not made the generational transition, it is unlikely that we’ll ever get the complete package, but given that it was only ever released on the PC and the headache porting it would cause you can forgive its absence. Contracts does have some of the missions from the original instalment built into its mission roster so players aren’t completely starved of experiencing the original delights of the series, if not in absolute completion.
As expected the HD remastering has given Agent 47 a decent facelift, each game looks passable at the higher resolutions that today's gamer expects and the frame rates are less of a headache than the releases at the time. The textures however seem to remain seemingly untouched and although some angular edges seem to be rounded off you cannot shake the feeling of how dated the game has become. Adding to the creaking, aging bones of the series is the animation which leaves a lot to be desired by today's standards, and while it feels unfair to critique a decade old series on its animation it does remove you from the feeling of a fluid experience. At times the animation can be erratic and jerky, your intended marks traversing the landscape without a real feeling of actual weight in the world.
Where once it felt like 47 was a murdering machine casually blending in with the world around him it now feels that you are a very separate entity, negotiating bemusing and at times unforgiving AI with controls that could be accurately described as a little bit wonky. On numerous occasions a simple fibre wire takedown is foiled purely due to some combination of animation and physical detection. It can be infuriating and perhaps it has never felt as cumbersome to be Agent 47, however, these are issues that you can eventually live with and once your gaming mind reverts itself back a decade there is a lot of fun to be had.
The Hitman series has always been about providing players with inventive sandboxes of death and black humour, and this core conceit has survived the passage of time more than any temporal aesthetic. It is easy to forget simply how brilliant a lot of the levels in the series were and for those who are new to the series some real treats await them. There is a design ethic at work across the series that maximises player experimentation and patience which is sorely lacking in recent stealth based games, this to a degree could also be said to apply to Hitman: Absolution. Whether you are taking out a Russian general at a party, committing murder most foul in an abattoir or visiting the opera to help give the understudy his big shot you will see a creativity that deserves applause. Unlike the latest release in the series there is a real sense of choice when approaching your objectives, but you have to wait, be patient and study your environment.
The joy of Hitman has always been similar to the lining up of dominos in an elaborate way, you construct the method of dispatch and then watch it all unfold as the kinetic energy of each of your decisions informs the next. It is ultimately satisfying when your plan comes together but what it also offers is a real desire to replay, to find a more ingenious method and to achieve the ultimate goal of remaining completely undetected. While all the games have moments of pure quality the strongest title in the collection is Blood Money and it is worth the admission price alone, for people returning to the series or for those catching it for the first time there is still an inordinate amount of fun to be had.
Despite the technical issues and the unstoppable feeling of being aware of how badly the game has dated it is impossible to not recommend this collection. For the money you would be hard pressed to find a similar release with this correlation of quality and quantity. Thrown into the mix and improving the value for money is the addictive and fantastically realised Hitman: Sniper Challenge that originally came with Hitman: Absolution pre-orders. This is basically a shooting gallery dressed up as an assassination mission, but with score bonuses, mini tasks and hidden ways to dispatch your targets you will find yourself inexorably pulled back in to push for that elusive high score. Its addition rounds off what is a very worthwhile package, the technical issues are more of an immediate distraction but as you sink further into the world of Hitman their existence becomes less important.
What you are left with is a collection of some of the finest missions ever created in videogaming history set around one of the industry’s most iconic character. It also ignites a hope that we will see a return to glory for Agent 47, the latest entry into the series played it fairly safe but if the magic that once fuelled the series can return then we are all in for a treat. Agent 47’s exploits may not have aged well but his past experiences are as devilishly violent and ingenious as they always were. That is why they are timeless and that is why you should own this.
Murder most foul?