Since 2002, five Hitman games have been released taking the ruthless, lethal and deadly Agent 47 to locations ranging from weddings, Russia, hotels, witness protection, a Mardi Gras, a vineyard and even a BDSM party in a meat factory. Some wielded exciting, interesting results while others have left a sour taste not easily remedied.
With the recent release of the Hitman HD Trilogy, containing HD remakes of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman Contracts, not to mention Blood Money, I will look back on a decade’s worth of Hitman levels and choose my favorite five from this glowing franchise.
Of course, my selections are entirely subjective and based on nothing other than my personal opinion so it’s possible you won’t agree with some of them. But that’s life, right?
5 – Curtains Down (Hitman Blood Money)
2006’s Blood Money certainly provided arguably the best, and most enjoyable, Hitman game to date. It had the gameplay mechanics, the excitement and in this case, the levels that worked wonderfully. The third mission in the game, Curtains Down saw 47 tasked with offing an American ambassador to the Vatican and a prominent opera star…while he’s on stage. It was unique, incredible fun and was the first instance in Blood Money that you truly got to saw what the game had to offer.
Freedom was a staple of the earlier Hitman titles and several of Blood Money’s levels raised the bar for how much freedom they allowed you. In Curtains Down, you could switch the actor’s fake gun for a real one and watch as the unwitting participant in your heinous crime murdered his co-star in front of an audience, all while you’re laughing maniacally like a Bond villain. Then, when the ambassador came to check out the commotion, you could detonate a bomb above a chandelier and watch as it came crashing down on his head, before quietly slipping out with a job well done.
Curtains Down was the first level in Blood Money to give you a clear picture of how the increased focus on making kills look like accidents fitted in seamlessly with the Hitman gameplay style, and it was a magnificent job.
4 – Anathema (Hitman 2)
Back in 2002, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was a brutal game that never forgave any mistakes you made as it cast you back to the start of the level and demanded you do better or die trying. Anathema was the first level in the game that directly proceeded the prologue and although it was initially tough as nails to conquer, it set in stone exactly what Hitman is about and how enjoyable it is even when you’re failing miserably around every corner.
Your first foray into the Hitman 2 universe involved infiltrating the mansion of a notorious mafia don, brutally murdering him and rescuing your priest friend who had been kidnapped by the target in the beginning of the game. It sounds simple but obtaining a disguise, breaching the security, killing the target and then escaping wasn’t easily achieved on the first go. But Anathema’s fortune lay in how it displayed the key elements of of the Hitman series and managed to make it fun in the process, signalling the start of a brilliant gaming series that would continue for years.
I spent many an hour replaying Anathema back in the good ol’ days finding various ways to complete the target, from sniping him from afar to the traditional strangulation-in-the-office method or simply sprinting into his room and putting a bullet between his surprised eyes. Whatever you did, however you did it and however difficult it was, Anathema remained fun throughout and that is what I expect from a Hitman level.
3 – Beldingford Manor (Hitman Contracts)
Posh, luxurious English country home? Check. A house full of secret passageways and mirrors disguised as doors? Check. A bizarre plot to play a hunting game with a captured prisoner? Wtf…check. Beldingford Manor, the third mission in Hitman Contracts, put Agent 47 in unfamiliar territory with a level that managed to define the words ‘exciting’, ‘brilliant’ and most of all, ‘bloody good fun’.
Of the many things that Beldingford Manor did right, its choice of locale was easily amongst the best. Right from the start the entire environment looks eerie, with the mansion in the foreground shielded by darkness and pouring rain and guards wearing hunting attire patrolling the grounds. Inside, things didn’t get much lighter as the many meandering hidden passageways made the house feel like one of those old, abandoned, spooky mansions that people ghost-hunt in.
As well as an excellently crafted atmosphere, Beldingford Manor also gave you some of the most unique ways to kill your targets in the whole game. You could smother one of the two targets with a pillow as he slept next to his oblivious wife, poison the other’s whiskey or even drop a gasoline can down the chimney and watch as the target below was engulfed by flames. Killing people in Beldingford Manor was just incredible fun and combining it with the perfect atmosphere made for a level that was enthralling no matter how many times you played it, and I played it a hell of a lot.
2 – A New Life (Hitman Blood Money)
Largely considered the best Hitman level ever by some Hitman purists, or at least one of the best, A New Life came in midway through Blood Money and provided unfiltered fun, an endless list of ways to complete the level and a sublime choice of location. There is a perfectly valid reason why A New Life is held on a pedestal by so many people and it’s because it’s just brilliant from start to finish, whether it’s the first time you’re playing it or the fifthtieth.
Agent 47 heads to the suburbs to eliminate a former Cuban crime lord who’s residing in witness protection. He needs to be killed and a secret piece of microfilm hidden in his wife’s necklace needs to be retrieved. It’s all relatively straightforward and simple to understand, and the level is quite small and easily memorised, but A New Life’s true heart lies in the wealth of ways you can complete the contract.
The earlier Hitman titles often had levels containing half a dozen ways to finish the mission but A New Life raised the total considerably, which was even more of an achievement considering the small size of the map. Killing the target dressed as a clown was in there, as was flirting with the inebriated wife before murdering her for the necklace, pouring ethanol onto the daughter’s panties to knock out a perverted FBI agent (really), sabotaging the barbeque to turn the aforementioned wife into charcoal and so much more.
Anybody that has played A New Life and denies having the utmost amount of fun was either doing it wrong or simply lying. Because I played the level more times than I can count back in the day, and even now with the HD Trilogy, and every time felt different to the last and just as enjoyable. It is easily one of the most replayable levels in the entire franchise and it would’ve taken the top spot on this list had it not been for one other.
1 – Traditions of the Trade (Hitman Contracts/Codename 47)
And here we are at the top of this list with Traditions of the Trade – a level that originally featured in Hitman: Codename 47 before being remastered and included with Contracts several years later. Agent 47 has to navigate a huge, sprawling and exquisitely designed hotel to kill several targets before taking possession of a nuclear bomb and doing a runner with it. It’s fun (there’s that word again), unique and arguably the most immersive level in the entire game, and easily worthy of my everlasting adoration all these years later.
I almost don’t know where to begin with Traditions of the Trade. I replayed it more times than humanly possible when I first played the game to such a degree that I could recount the entire map layout from memory. Running through it trying to achieve Silent Assassin was incredible fun, as was running around with a shotgun retrieved from a box of flowers (a homage to Terminator 2 if you didn’t know) and putting shells into any poor soul unfortunate enough to stand in front of you.
On top of that, TotT also had some of the finest map design in the Hitman franchise. Each floor contained sprawling corridors leading to hotel rooms, bars, bathrooms and even a murder scene complete with an actual ghost roaming the nearby corridor. Yes, a ghost. Which you could kill…and drag around like an actual body. Traditions of the Trade just had it all and then some and for me it is the Hitman level that all games that released after it and in the future should look at for inspiration. This is where it went extraordinarily right.
St Petersburg Stakeout (Hitman 2)
The second level in Hitman 2 had Agent 47 roaming an area of Russia with a simple objective: eliminate an unidentified army general within five minutes. The best part was zooming in on a room occupied with army generals and waiting for a positive ID as to which one’s head you should put a bullet through with your sniper rifle. Failure meant restarting the entire level from scratch so observing the behaviour and mannerisms of the possible targets was of paramount importance, and made for a level oozing with tension and atmosphere.
Blackwater Park (Hitman Absolution)
Absolution didn’t have many strong levels, unfortunately. In fact, I’d say most of them downright sucked. However, its one saving grace was the fantastic Blackwater Park, which was big, alive and felt totally involving in ways the other levels in the game failed miserably in achieving. With the superb Contracts mode, Blackwater Park had more longevity and excitement than any other level in the game and although it wasn’t quite as strong or memorable as the missions described above, I still felt it deserved at least a mention.
You Better Watch Out… (Hitman Blood Money)
You can dress as Santa, remove a pesky dog with a poisoned sausage and even shoot the floor of a glass jacuzzi and send its occupants hurtling into the snowy mountain below (who makes a pool like that anyway?). In other words, You Better Watch Out… is unique, contains many memorable moments and doesn’t care how silly it is as long as it’s largely entertaining, which it is.