Blood Money is an astonishing game, and after playing it I understand why the developers packed in the Hitman franchise temporarily and started crapping out Kane & Lynch games. After Blood Money, there was simply nowhere left for the series to go. It had reached its peak. I should stress I’m not saying Blood Money is astonishing in terms of raw quality. It’s a very, very solid game, to be sure, but its strength lies in the game’s major stylistic choice. Blood Money isn’t a Hitman game. Blood Money is a parody of Hitman games.
The gunplay is solid, if a little unsatisfying, but Blood Money’s stroke of genius is that while using firearms to kill the targets is a perfectly valid choice, they’re extra bits of kit you have to physically select to take into a mission with you. You can murder everyone in a level and face no repercussions other than a money penalty at the end, but this is unimaginative, and Blood Money offers the player so many convoluted, ludicrous ways to kill people it really has to be seen to be believed. It gets to the point where sneaking a bomb into a briefcase or poisoning somebody’s food is positively pedestrian; it’s far more amusing to sneak into a party in a Santa costume and stab everyone with a knife you found in the kitchen. Or decapitate your target with a pair of gardening shears while dressed as a clown. Or track them for twenty minutes through the streets of New Orleans before dropping a piano on their head.
Eventually the game gets to the point where you’re not going for the cleanest, most silent kill, but rather the funniest one. I broke my “no guns” rule just once in the game because the most dickish way to take out a guy on his wedding day was to shoot him from the other side of the level while he was kissing the bride. The developers are very aware of the insane nature of their game – as evidenced by the increasingly bizarre series of costumes 47 dresses in to allay suspicion, the highlight of which is the mission where you dress in a giant red bird suit so that you can hunt down a team of hitmen dressed in giant black bird suits – so there’s always at least one way of killing the targets while making it look like an “accident”; a lot of the time this is simply pushing them off a cliff (they spend a lot of time next to very high drops or large open pits), but it’s often the case that there’s something far more elaborate available, like the aforementioned piano. Jim’s showcased a lot of these deaths in his Amateur diary.
Flaws? Well, Blood Money is a fairly specific sort of game, and it’s very well put-together for a game occupying its particular niche, offering just the right amount of sandbox freeform-ness while retaining enough scripting to keep the scenarios interesting. There’s more than a few niggles though, especially seeing as how it’s getting on for five years old now; the camera controls get a bit frustrating on occasion, and the visual cues for stealth kills are inconsistent at best. Probably my biggest issue is with the game’s treatment of women, in that there’s a fifty-fifty chance that any given woman you run into will be dressed in lingerie and nothing else, and a one-in-ten chance that they’ll proposition you for sex. Given how self-aware Blood Money is in most other respects this is something that struck me as unusually lazy and offensive.
Still, even having read Jim’s diary I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Blood Money anywhere near as much as I did, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover a very competent game lurking beneath its comedy exterior. In fact it plays kind of like a third-person Commandos, a genre I thought died out years ago. It’s nice to know that throwbacks to that era exist, especially when they’re done this well.
Note from glorious space-year 2013: Hitman Absolution was also released and also turned out to be a parody of Hitman games, but not in a good way.