There is a special place in my heart for stealth games. However, that doesn’t mean that I play them a lot . An avid reader of Retro Saturdays might recognize me as a hardcore oldschool rpg and fps fan. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy other genres too. Back in the 90’s then you were either a Playstation, a Nintendo or a PC guy. Well if it’s not apparent already, I belonged to the last group. By 1998, three pioneers of the 3D stealth genre had been born. The Playstation crowd had Tenchu – Stealth Assassins and Metal Gear Solid while the PC got ‘Thief – The Dark Project‘. In fact the first time I stepped outside of my safe zone was when playing Thief – The Dark Project demo. Although I sucked bad at Thief, I began to fall in love with the game and this new genre itself. My status quo with stealth games changed from outsider to acquaintance to backdoor lover. But it wasn’t until 2002 that I’d meet my stealthy soulmate. Gather around sonny Jims and listen to my love story with a blue eyed, Italian suit loving, mysterious assassin Agent 47 from Hitman 2 – Silent Assassin
It was the summer of 2003. The time of the year when even the youngest of scrotum begins to sag down and you feel like someone had brought a flamethrower to your face. It was goddamn hot man. As was customary, I would go to my cousins place for the summer vacations and come back a week before school starts. But this time, it was special. He had bought a shiny new pc. i think he had one of those Pentium 4 processors coupled with a shiny new Nvidia Geforce 4 gpu and a whopping 512 megs of ram. I’m pretty sure that was a decent setup back then. Anyways I’m getting in over myself. I went there and was astonished at his setup. I still had a crippled computer back then and it was normal for me to be jealous. The first thing I asked him upon setting foot in his room was; (Yes, I remember correctly) “do you have any fps bro?” Thing is, he wasn’t a big fps fan. He has always been a racing guy. But I didn’t want none of that. After my constant pestering, he closed some Hotwheels racing game he was playing and opened this game. Man the opening theme still resonates in my head. Oh god it is some amazing stuff composed by none other than the legendary Jesper Kyd. “Hitman 2 is the name of the game”, he told me. “It’s not an fps but there is a first person camera. Now shut up!”
Oddly enough, there was a mission selection menu right after clicking new game. You were treated to the shiny bald head of a dude with some barcode tattooed in the back. He was in a church, tending to the gardens and there was a creepy scarecrow there which turned its head wherever you went. Soon, the guy goes into a confessional and..well confesses. He says some things like “padre, I have sinned. I have killed many people” and the priest replies something in the lines of “You are also a good person. I have seen you taking care of the garden.”
Satan : 0 Christianity : 1
Suddenly, the padre is kidnapped by the Italian mob and you are asked to pay a hefty sum to get him back. Now this was all very confusing. Because neither of us hadn’t played the first game (so few have) and didn’t know who this bald guy even was. But whatever, the music and the atmosphere had me hooked. The bald guy, after realizing he can’t afford that much says; “time to dig up the past.” Now to an 11 year old, this dialogue was lit af (isn’t that most people say these days?) At that moment I knew this guy was a total badass. You are then asked to go back to the garden house (where he lives) and the guy lifts the floor planks and picks up these sexy looking dual pistols from a box. He then contacts someone named Diana from some agency and begins to test his shooting skills…on some watermelons…But eh I got to strangle that crazy looking scarecrow and that was enough for me.
Sooner than later, the game transitions to the first mission of the game titled ‘vengeance’. Wait..that isn’t the first mission? The first mission is ‘Anathema’? Well turns out, the version we were playing was a leaked beta. It had some differences to the final game like half the missions were missing or were named differently, all the guns had real-life names and this bald guy could punch people in the face awkwardly. The first mission is undoubtedly my favorite mission in the entire game. Why? Well sonny Jim, keep on reading.
A New Kind of Stealth
Hitman 2 – Silent Assassin is classified as a stealth game. But it was different from the likes of Thief or Metal Gear in the sense the game never requires you to stay out of sight or sneak around everything and everyone slowly. Hitman series invented a gameplay formula I dub “blending-in-stealth”. You see, Agent 47, the titular hitman has the unique ability to pickup and wear the clothing of almost anyone without having to worry about the size. Ever seen a bald turban wearing Sikh or a European Ninja? Well the npcs of this game will not pose a threat even if you jump around wearing nothing but a tutu (dammit why not?) as long as you are not peering into keyholes suspiciously or seen mixing poison in someone’s breakfast. Talk about being a master of disguise.
The first Hitman game was unique in the fact that it allowed you to complete objectives and finish a mission with a wide variety of options and methods. The game was basically one big playground fueling your creativity and imagination. But it is very rough around the edges and is not very accessible to newcomers. Silent Assassin took the core formula and refined it while still keeping the soul and spirit of the game intact. It was basically the perfect sequel. IO Interactive knew that they had a gold child in their hands and were willing to perfect the formula by any means necessary. The levels were somewhat smaller, (I stress on somewhat as they are still pretty big for the genre) the objectives were more focused and a lot of improvements were made to the A.I and controls. Silent Assassin was a highly ambitious project that lived up to everyone’s hopes.
The level of freedom Silent Assassin provided to players was unforeseen at the time. Take the first level, Anathema for example. Your main objective of this mission is to take out a local don who had kidnapped the priest for ransom while searching for him. You start the mission atop a small hill overlooking the huge Sicilian bungalow of the don. From that point, how you play the game rested entirely up on your shoulders. You could kill the guard who came to take a leak outside the mansion, take his clothes, go up and shoot the don in his head. You could go retrieve a sniper rifle from the don’s car shed and shoot him from the hill and make your escape quietly after searching for the priest’s whereabouts in the dungeon. You could incapacitate a poor old postman coming to deliver some letters, take his clothes, hide your garrote wire in his bouquet, walk straight through the gate and choke the life out of the don. You could also dispose of the grocery boy, hide your guns in his cart and go straight up the stairs to take care of the don. If nothing works out or if you are plain bad at stealth, you could go in guns blazing and turn the whole place into nothing but corpses and bloodstains. I was blown away man. No game, I mean literally no game at the time gave me such freedom and opportunities to play the game the way I wanted. This is not just limited to the first level. Almost all levels in the game can be completed in a multitude of ways. Sure if you ran around making holes into each and every living person, the game would call you a mass murderer or a psychopath. True satisfaction is obtained when you pull off an almost impossible mission without spilling even a slight drop of blood and are greeted with a mission rating of “silent assassin.” But like I said, you don’t have to do that if you don’t feel like it. Guns akimbo works just as well.
Then there were the wide selection of guns. You start off with your trusty dual silverballers and a garrote wire. But each weapon you collect from missions and bring it to you to the end of the level are added to your garden shed. When you start the next mission, these collected weapons are available for you to take with you. There is the Beretta pistol, the Python revolver, Desert Eagle, .22 pistol, .54 pistol, sawn-off shotgun, SP-12 shotgun, double-barreled shotgun, UZI, HK MP5, AK-74, M4, Dragunov sniper, Walther sniper, R93 sniper, MI95 sniper, a frigging M60 and a badass crossbow. It doesn’t stop there, as there are a plethora of melee weapons like kitchen knife, combat knife, a fire axe, golf club, scalpel and a sexy katana. Plus there were other weapons like bombs, poison, Fugu fish (I’m not kidding), medical anaesthetic and your trusty fiber wire. Man all of these brings back memories. You could view their 3D models in your inventory and there was various information regarding the particular weapon available there. This was a game made with love and care man…lots and lots of it.
Putting Silent in Assassin
Agent 47 from the Hitman series is probably my favorite video game anti-hero ever. There I said it! Agent 47 is a biologically cloned human being bred in a laboratory to become the perfect assassin. He doesn’t talk much, walks slowly and methodically, most of the times doesn’t display any sorts of emotions (in fact, the only time I have seen him showing true anger is in a scene in Hitman : Blood Money when he calls his handler a bitch). His subtleness defined his character. You’d think that a guy trained to be a killer from birth would be a cold blooded masochist. But not 47, oh no. There are a few people in the world he truly cares for; his handler Diana Burnwood, the Sicilian priest Emilio Vittorio, an American CIA agent named Smith and a prostitute named Mei Ling. But his affections towards these characters is defined not by his words, but by his actions. Throughout all the games in the series, 47 goes to extreme limits to save the people he cares about or tries his best to keep the promises he made to them. Plus the sleek and deep voice of David Bateson combined with the unique design made 47 a memorable character.
Themes like redemption, absolution and faith plays a big role in the otherwise cheesy story of Silent Assassin. 47 knows that he’s a bad guy. He admits to killing countless people and killing one of his (yes one. Because the dude had five!) fathers, the evil scientist Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer has put a lot of questions,=; existential and moral in his mind. 47 does not knows how to cope with these thoughts on his mind and tries to hide behind the veil of Christianity, hoping to find a peaceful life amidst the tranquil atmosphere of a Sicilian church. But when Emilio is kidnapped, 47 puts on the shoes (or in this case, the finely made Italian suit) of the assassin and basically kills a lot more people. At the end of the game, 47 accepts the fact that he will always be a killer and cannot hide himself inside the aura of faith anymore. Atoning for their sins is not something everyone is capable of. In the words of Michael Corleone; “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”. All this religious mumbo-jumbo combined with Jesper Kyd‘s soul-moving orchestral soundtrack put a lot of theology related question in my young mind. That was the first and last time that a game with such a generic story touched my heart and soul.
One other thing that Silent Assassin did well is the feeling of grandeur. Agent 47 travels a lot…and I mean A LOT! You start off in a humble Sicilian village and in the next mission your’e in Saint Petersburg. Bam! Just like that. For the rest of the game, 47 will be traveling to exotic locations such as Malaysia, Japan, Germany, Afghanistan and India before coming back to Sicily for one big showdown with the big bad. The only other stealth title that had this much variety in mission placements was Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. But pretty much all missions in Splinter Cell took place at night and you aren’t given a chance to properly see each location in all its beauty. But not with Silent Assassin. Each location was unique and filled with little details to further increase the immersion by having the A.I speak native languages and add in extra tidbits like placing pictures of Indian Gods and Goddesses in some levels. This shows how much research the team did before crafting the game and is well appreciated. “Assassino! Assassino!, the maid from the level Anathema would run screaming if she spotted me doing something irregular like…I don’t know…take a golf club to some poor guard’s head? Whether it’s the Italian mafia, Afghan extremists or Indian cultists, all has their specific dialogues and design that pops up every now and then and makes you believe that you are standing in their corner of the Earth now.
Silent Assassin : 16 Years Later
Despite its age, Silent Assassin still holds up rather well. It may not be as fluid or streamlined as Blood Money, but most gamers won’t have a problem with the controls or the different mechanics. One thing that still buggers me is the fact that most weapons doesn’t use hitscan and fires at a very low velocity. So you might need a few hours to get used to that. But if you are going for the Silent Assassin rating, you will hardly need to fire your gun. Plus, the ragdoll physics effects are still very funny and wacky. You can grab Hitman 2 : Silent Assassin from either Steam or GOG for a measly sum. The game might need a widescreen fix or some tweaks to work properly on Windows 10. But nothing a quick google search can’t fix.
Legacy of 47
Now here’s the thing. The Hitman series never really achieved the same level of success and attention other stealth titles like Metal Gear or Splinter Cell received despite being a genre-changing and innovative (Even though we got two crappy film adaptations). The only game I can think of that tried to follow in the path of Hitman is a niche series called Death To Spies. Then again, that series is even more obscure that the early Hitman titles. Hitman : Absolution and the recently released Hitman has received more mainstream attention. Absolution, according me was a slap to the face of series fans while the latest title was plagued with bugs, performance issues and an episodic model that did more harm than good. But all hope is not lost as IO Interactive still holds the rights to the series and is not looking to give up on the series any time soon. Still, it’s a damn shame that more game doesn’t utilize the game’s signature disguise system and blending-in stealth mechanics. Fans of the series are looking forward to the day when Agent 47 makes a breakthrough return. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we see that. Hell even the OST of the game invokes goosebumps on my hairy Indian body.
Well that’s it for this weeks folks. We’ll be back next week with another retro game editorial for you to enjoy. Til then, enjoy the weekend and happy gaming! Meanwhile I’m heading to YouTube to hear the phenomenal sountrack of Silent Assassin once again.