I've been gaming for over 35 years and my memories are stuffed with many fragmented snippets of games, snapshots of experiences floating in the foggier places of my mind. A few particularly prominent ones do spawn from the Hitman franchise. There was this level outside a pool party, and finally figuring out a way to infiltrate past the guards monitoring the whole complex via CCTV from a van parked outside was very memorable. Another epic final showdown that takes the fight to Agent 47 amongst the pillars and corridors of a church comes to mind. I've lost the context to match these to specific iterations in the series, but remember them fondly as with the series as a whole. So when the chance came to check out the re-release in Hitman: Blood Money Reprisal for Switch, I was eager to jump in.
Hitman: Codename 47 was a groundbreaking game. Not only did it launch a franchise over twenty years ago that now spans both games and feature films but even books and an announced but yet un-filmed television series; but it also was one of the first games to introduce ragdoll physics. Hitman created a niche for itself that spanned both action and strategy genres. The original Hitman: Blood Money followed six years later in 2006, the fourth game overall in the series. Many consider this 18-year old game, Blood Money, to be one of the best in the series, only really eclipsed with the most recent iterations in the World of Assassinations trilogy, punctuated by the sublime Hitman 3. If those are the best, then surely Blood Money is the best of the rest.
So what we have to work with is one of the apex games in the series, and Reprisal is every bit a faithful port of that source material. Fourteen unique levels presented as fourteen sandbox tapestries to paint your opus John Wick-style, silent assassin-style, or something in-between. Two of those levels are those exact memories I mentioned in the introduction that I still hold so fondly. While the levels are presented faithfully, the interface with the game as a whole benefits from a number of quality of life upgrades.
Instinct mode has been introduced. Basically, a hold of the R button brings up your spidey-sense to highlight key points of interest near your character. However, it is notably not a superpower. So strike spidey-sense from the record, this is more like an augmented reality highlighter. Unlike other iterations where Instinct mode lets you reveal targets across the map, this one only applies to objects or targets in your immediate vicinity. It's not meant to let you see through walls or give eagle vision, but highlight key objects or targets to interact with. There is also a new mini-map and on-screen indicators to more clearly clue you in when your actions are arousing the suspicion of the NPCs. There is even a gyro aiming option called motion aim. It works surprisingly well and really compensates for some of the fidgety-ness of the Switch Joy-cons or input delay from aftermarket controllers.
All of this is good, but unfortunately much of it felt like two steps forward and one step back. Instinct is good, but where is my daggum reload button? I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to reload at any point in my first hour of play. I cycled through every button on the controller without once popping in a fresh clip until I ended up googling it only to discover both Instinct and reload are mapped to the same R button. Short press for reload, hold for Instinct. Unintuitive, and unimpressed.
Gyro motion aim is excellent but not even turned on by default. It has to be manually selected in options. I, again, was struggling in that first hour or so with fiddly Switch controls further punishing any stealth mistakes by putting me at a disadvantage in the gun fights that broke out afterwards. Yes, there is a bit of auto-aim if the gyro-aim is disabled, but it pretty much snaps to center mass and isn't consistent, forcing you to fine tune frequently where it tried to relocate your reticle. And while this is a faithful recreation of a classic, the visuals end up looking pretty basic by today's standards, especially if you've seen just how beautiful Hitman's locations and mission compositions have become in the last two decades.
The mobile version of Blood Money Reprisal actually landed first, back in November. Stunted by the dated visuals yet empowered by the updated controls, this whole package starts feeling very much like this port wasn't really meant for the Switch in the first place. It's hard to shake the feeling that this is less a PS2/Xbox 360 to Switch translation as it is a mobile to Switch port. It's not a dealbreaker, but it is a feeling. And I actually thought the visuals improved when I removed the console from the dock and used the Switch in handheld mode. Even though the fidelity actually dropped from 1080p to 720p, playing on the native LCD actually felt better when that lower resolution was spread over a few inches as opposed to the higher res over feet of underutilized 4K TV. The frame rate is locked either way at 30fps.
Overall, there is nothing really new here. It is a seminal entry in the series and one I particularly enjoy not just for nostalgia but also because I find it does the best job I remember of weaving a narrative through what could otherwise be unconnected missions. And I adore the incredible crescendo at the end when all of the plot points come together.
I just struggled at first to really appreciate what I had on my screen. I struggled with reloading and aiming. I struggled with remembering even how Hitman games want you to drop, hide, or pick up objects. I struggled until I Googled the controls proper and pulled the machine out from the dock, then I finally came around and appreciated what I was holding in my hands. It's a shame because Blood Money is a great game that deserves a callback. But in bringing this game back from the ashes, it desperately needed an updated tutorial mission that walked the user through these frustrations.
The first mission is meant to serve as a tutorial for a token stealth fiber wire kill and a change of uniform, but what it really needed was a walkthrough for the button mapping and a clear direction to try the gyro-aim. With so many old gems coming back to modern systems, most of them are getting graphic overhauls - remasters not just re-releases. I feel that for Hitman: Blood Money Reprisal expectations should be tempered appropriately. And maybe that's where that mobile port feeling comes in. If I had to put my finger on it, it's because it looks like a mobile game, plays like one too, but lands on a console in the Switch. It's not a bad game or a bad port, it just shows its age. A great game in its prime comes in looking a bit weathered but still able pack a punch.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...