A huge fan of Agent 47, I found myself nodding in agreement after reading Scott's evaluation. The first time I laid hands on a Hitman game was a genuinely unforgettable experience. Contracts delivers more of the same, which is not a bad thing.

Much as Scott suggests, one of the main reasons why the series made such an impression on me is that I could actually use logic, common sense, and my imagination to successfully solve the game's challenges. This combination and the level of freedom it affords is extremely gratifying, not to mention quite rare when it comes to consoles. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (the game prior to Contracts) is overflowing with these kinds of open-ended opportunities – and it's also a very tough act to follow. Hitman: Contracts tries to live up to the standard set, but falls a little short. Don't get me wrong-Contracts is still great stuff, but it felt a little too unpolished in certain areas. This was a little disappointing after the long and painful wait for a sequel.

Specifically, there are five levels at the end of the game connected by a shared Chinese "Triad" theme. These levels don't feel as well-developed as the rest of the game, and actually bring down the overall experience somewhat, a problem when you consider there are only twelve stages in all. A little more structured than Agent 47's last outing, I could feel the developers nudging me in certain directions. There was still some flexibility, but as a whole these segments weren't as accommodating as the rest. It was a subtle shift in design, but definitely noticeable.

There were also a few times that I felt Contracts defied its own logic to an unlikely degree. The most irksome example asked me to believe that simply putting on Chinese-style clothing and sunglasses could fool dozens of Asian gang members on high alert. I would never imagine a silk shirt to be an effective disguise in real life, so why would I expect it to work on a mansion full of gang members in this game?

There are a small number of other rough spots, like the near-impossibility of using your fiber-wire garrote without perfect positioning, and a few instances when cover-blowing alarms get raised that really shouldn't. (Does inserting a syringe really make that much noise?) Playing Hitman can be frustrating and even mystifying at times, but you've got to expect that when learning to think like a professional killer. What you don't expect are little inconsistencies and deviations that strip away some of the believability.

I don't want to blow things out of proportion, though. Like the way one tiny chip will catch your eye on a smooth glass surface, these issues are minor (but noticeable) blemishes on what I consider to be the sort of superior vision and excellence that's far too rare these days. It may not have the ability to knock the phenomenal Silent Assassin off its perch, but there's no denying that eliminating an entire stable of horses, sniping a swimmer from a skylight three stories above, and serving warm mugs of rat-poisoned tea are all uniquely enjoyable activities to be savored. It may not be perfect, but Hitman: Contracts is still well worth the price of admission.Rating: 8 out of 10

 Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Brad Gallaway
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