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The old best Hitman game is the best new Hitman game but not the new best Hitman game

Have you played Hitman: Blood Money? Did you know how easy it is to get a hold of?

A screenshot of Agent 47, dressed in a clown costume, inching against the side of a second story window in Hitman: Blood Money — Reprisal. Image: Feral Interactive/IO Interactive
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Danish studio IO Interactive is primarily known for one thing: Elaborate video games where a suit-wearing bald man with a barcode on the back of his dome stealthily assassinates people from all walks of life, all for a clandestine agency. The developer has been making games about this man, codenamed Agent 47, for 24 years, since 2000’s Hitman: Codename 47. They’ve gotten very good at it — 2016’s soft reboot Hitman and the trilogy it kicked off are among the greatest games released in recent memory, clockwork marvels of murderous possibility and broad satire. A decade before that, though, the series hit its peak with Hitman: Blood Money, which just got a brand-new version to play dubbed Hitman: Blood Money — Reprisal.

Ported by Feral Interactive, Reprisal’s main goal is twofold: Updating Blood Money to look and play a little more closely to the modern trilogy, now called World of Assassination, and bringing the game to handheld platforms like smartphones and the Nintendo Switch (I played the Switch version, as I prefer to keep my smartphone games quick and casual). Reprisal’s biggest, most noticeable changes are to the interface: There’s a minimap now, an Instinct mode that highlights objects and targets like in the newer Hitman games, and some tweaked controls. It’s all pretty welcome for anyone who might find the less slick, slightly more fiddly version of Hitman that existed in 2006 a little rough to get back into.

A screenshot of Agent 47 disposing of a body into a furnace, prominently featuring the new mini-map in Hitman: Blood Money — Reprisal. Image: Feral Interactive/IO Interactive

And if you’re a purist for which any sort of concession offends you, Blood Money is pretty easy to get a hold of these days. The original PC release is right there on Steam, console gamers can play it as part of the 2019 Hitman HD Enhanced Collection for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (which offers its own set of tweaks to controls and visuals) bundled with Hitman: Absolution, and Xbox owners can also pick it up as a standalone download via the Microsoft Store. There is no shortage of Blood Money to be had.

This is ultimately a good thing, because while previous entries in the franchise were well-received, Blood Money is really where IO figured Hitman out. Its levels have little stories unfolding in them — not nearly to the degree as the modern Hitman games, which have full-blown subplots for you to discover (or miss )— and little routines for you to insert yourself into, with the right disguise.

A refined sandbox, full of little Rube Goldberg sequences of cause and effect the player can steadily execute, solving mini-puzzle after mini-puzzle until they are alone with their target. A world that starts to push back on your recklessness, with characters that will start to notice if you act too out of pocket, making the game harder. And throwing items to kill or knock out targets, a mechanic that became a comedy gold mine circa the World of Assassination trilogy? That all first showed up in Blood Money, baby.

Not everything holds up to modern scrutiny. Tonally, Blood Money, while too over-the-top to truly take seriously, still comes across as sleazy at times. The franchise has long used caricature and genre tropes to keep its central premise of contract killing from veering into bad taste, but some choices made — like its tutorial mission focusing on a drug kingpin that employs an army of gangbangers led by a Snoop Dogg parody — read as questionable at best and racist at worst.

But Blood Money’s missteps — and any game’s, really — are just as worth preserving as its successes. The readily-accessible nature of the majority of the Hitman series, and IO’s relatively singular focus on the franchise, makes it one of the rare cases outside of franchises like Final Fantasy where you can play through a studio’s output and not just see them iterating on their own ideas, but responding to shifting social mores and adjusting their presentation.

In 2006, this was the best Hitman had to offer. It’s not anymore, but with the release of Reprisal, and a good long wait likely in store before the next installment arrives, it’s the best new Hitman game you can play right now.

Hitman: Blood Money — Reprisal is available on Apple iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch.

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