Agent 47, a stern, well-dressed man with a serious face and confident walk, is the kind of person who should come across as being right at the top of the Paris Opera’s food chain. While it’s sometimes questionable when he shows up for a job wearing his trademark dark suit, it makes perfect sense here. But the Hitman games often toy with the idea of how class and privilege operate with their costume changes. In a world where a well-tailored suit opens some doors, it’s really the ugly green maintenance uniform – best acquired early by quickly sedating a poor workman as he goes to the toilet – that gets 47 the fastest access to the backstage area.
That backstage zone can at times seem like a labyrinthine nightmare. The majority of the space is irrelevant; the theatre exists independently of your mission, full of workmen, garbage, and pieces of various sets. In some ways, it’s pleasing to be allowed to be disorientated – the game doesn’t simply lock every door that you don’t need to walk through. But it’s easy to be thrown off balance by a level that could, for many players in 2006, only be navigated easily if their screen was big enough to make the signs pointing towards the dressing rooms noticeable. A first-time player has little hope of replacing the gun and rigging the chandelier to drop before the first rehearsal is complete, and for those unaware that the rehearsal is repeated, D’Alvade’s performed, non-fatal execution can be a moment for panic – an indication that the plan has failed. It’s no wonder the WWI pistol that 47 is carrying contains nine bullets when D’Alvade’s death only requires a single shot. Panic may not be ideal for a good assassination, but the Paris Opera seems designed to encourage you to think on your feet and take opportunities as they come.
Deviate from the plan and getting at either target with a gun usually means entering the theatre proper. It’s the most open area of a level filled with corridors and small rooms. The overspill of violence from the stage or screen into the audience is a common enough theme, but this scenario brings its own sense of franticness. Escaping through the exit, having battled your way out over balustrades and plush red seats, can be far more thrilling than any ironic execution.
The flawless path through the Paris Opera, as with so many stealth games, is all about perfecting your slink and timing your movements perfectly. But it’s no mistake that the level in which you ruin an opera is also the one that best exemplifies how well the game works when planned performances go awry, and that best explores the deeper elements of class structure that lie at the core of the series. Whether you fail or succeed at pulling off a ‘silent’ assassination, a show – either yours or theirs – is ruined in spectacular fashion. And that’s what Hitman: Blood Money is really all about.
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