Where many open-world action games are akin to sandboxes, Hitman: Blood Money is perhaps best viewed as a series of toy boxes. Each level is relatively small in scale, its parameters easily defined, but the possibilities for inventive play are numerous. The game offers several testing grounds for crazy assassination ideas, whether that’s working out the ones the developers have designed and signposted, playing out scenarios cooked up entirely within your mind, or setting up old-fashioned shootouts.
The game’s third mission, Curtains Down, is set in the Paris Opera during a rehearsal. The targets are Alvaro D’Alvade and Richard Delahunt, lovers who are involved in a child smuggling and prostitution ring. When Agent 47 arrives on the premises, D’Alvade is rehearsing the execution scene of the suitably dark Tosca on the stage, while Delahunt watches from his private box.
There’s a brilliant method for taking these men down, even if the logic behind it is esoteric. You can sneak backstage and replace a fake prop WWI pistol with a loaded gun (discreetly hidden in the pocket of a jacket waiting for you in the cloakroom). The execution scene will end far more gruesomely than intended, and Delahunt will, in his confused horror, run towards the stage to get to his deceased lover. He trips midway there, at which point the well-prepared player will set off the bomb they’ve rigged to the overhead chandelier, crushing Delahunt in what the papers will write off as a pair of bizarre coincidences; perhaps they were the handiwork of a suitably operatic phantom. No one will know what really happened bar 47, who can access a private balcony from the roof and witness this scheme unfold without fear of suspicion.
But in Blood Money, perfect murders are rare. If the series made these crimes easy, it would lose much of its sense of dark comedy, as well as the chaotic dramatic escalation that’s integral to so many good yarns about murder. Some of the best moments in Blood Money are the ones in which everything goes horribly wrong, a lesson Curtains Down is particularly intent on teaching you.
After the tutorial’s amusement park and the enormous mansion-cum-winery of the second level, the Paris Opera seems comparatively contained. Its different areas are divided up by the game’s class system: a maintenance uniform is enough to get you backstage; a police outfit opens up your options; and a private security uniform, which is tricky to get quietly, will get you the highest access possible. Even so, the paranoia of your targets means getting right up close to them is never easy.
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