Professional

Election news is beginning to show some consistency: More administration choices for officers have awful reputations, who said awful things and who have known conflicts of interest. Famous people sound off in solidarity with marginalized groups. (Though Kanyé claims he would have voted for Trump if he had voted at all.) The GOP dominated congress is rearing to make fast, hard changes according to the longstanding GOP agenda, also to dismantle Obama’s legacy. Editorialists continue to ponder and blame for the failures and mistakes of the Clinton campaign. Muslim registration and internment is getting legitimately floated around as a policy option, and the Japanese internment of WWII is being reframed by Trump appointees as sound. Because, wow, I guess we needed more indications that we’re going full Nazi here in the United States.

I need more break time. Thankfully, the break time I’m taking is helping.

I’d been playing Hitman: Blood Money off and on for months now. That is to say I’d boot the game up, play through the tutorial until things weren’t working the way they’re supposed to and I’d give up.

A specific segment featured two gangsta guards and the instruction to distract them with a coin. The guards would fail to be sufficiently distracted and I’d discover, instead Agent 47 (the player) was really good at hand-to-hand combat, including a slick disarm maneuver. I realize in retrospect that Agent 47’s sweet kung fu is what the tutorial was trying to demonstrate, but as a stickler for instructions I’d interpret the situation as a failure to sneak, and I’d give up in frustration, until another time.

Chris Remo‘s enjoyment of the newer Hitman (discussed on Idle Thumbs, Eps 268 and 269) inspired me to give Blood Money another try and slog through the tutorial level. I finally did, with some additional frustration and a dash of tweaking my control profile. Hitman is a continuing game series, and it is still seeing improvement with each new iteration. That said, Blood Money has a lot of solid design, including the the ability for 47 to attack challenges from multiple vectors, but many of the rougher aspects (about some of which I will gleefully rant) belie its age.

Agent 47 is an assassin who works for a secretive syndicate. I’m very unclear as to who 47 is or why he works for this syndicate or what’s with the bar-code in the back of his head. He gets his mission briefs from a woman with received pronunciation who really wishes 47 was James Bond. She tells him his targets and notes unusual obstacles and opportunities, interjecting mission-topical quips all the while. 47 is an assassin of the professional, classy and tasteful-when-possible sort, maybe a colleague of James Bond or Léon. Thus, he is supposed to minimize violence, casualties and footprints (that is, indicators of his trail of death).

I proceeded with the second mission (that is, the first non-tutorial). Agent 47 comes to a wine-tasting party at a small Chilean commercial winery. 47 has been tasked with murdering Fernando and Manuel Delgado, the father and son team that own and run it. Wine profits have been insufficient to keep the winery in the black, so the family business has added processed cocaine to its selection of outgoing commodities.

As the syndicate I work for provides information only on a need-to-know basis, so I am not aware yet how incidental the drug trade is to 47’s contract. For all I know, a rival winemaker feels threatened by this family’s Pinot noir, and has chosen to engage in anticompetitive market suppression.

The beginning of the level takes place in an open-air wine-tasting party in a villa courtyard, and I really wanted the ability to mingle, that is behave inconspicuously like a party-goer. Taking a page from SpyParty, there were a few incidents throughout the level in which a contextual do what everyone else is doing would have felt appropriate, whether tasting wines and chattering, or gawking at the accident, or pointing he went thataway! Without this skill of social blending, 47 just lurks and broods and creeps out nearby partygoers. I walked around in loose circles in order to dissipate my ambient aura of discomfort and suspiciousness as I cased the site. That seemed to work.

The stealth game did not account much for subtlety. The most obvious problem (my bane in the tutorial) is the toss-a-coin-to-distract-passersby. About half the time, the sound of the coin would instead reveal my location and make everybody angry. Also, peeking through a keyhole would attract the attention of everyone in the courtyard. Hypodermic needles loaded with poison or tranquilizer were also visible across the courtyard. Wine enthusiasts may just have amazing eyesight. I understand that later Hitmen (that is, episodes in the Hitman franchise) are more particular (and more forgiving) about what counts as suspicious behavior, that their AI (to determine if suspicious activity is adequately perceived and suspected) is vastly improved.

I’m still getting used to the controls. In my last play-through, a guard decided I wasn’t where I should be. He was nice enough to tell me to return at once to the common areas, and I was trying to comply. Instead with a misstep 47 decided to pick a lock. The guard found this behavior highly suspicious and opened hostilities.

The fight that ensued featured all the guards in shotgun-earshot. A convenient vanity allowed me cover and to my surprise I wasn’t dead at the end of it all. I finished the job, murdered my targets and escaped. Still, my client and employers admonished my performance (and my pay) for the necessity of too much violence.

Occasional playthroughs (plays-through?) were cut short when the nice guards insisted I return to the common area, yet my back was to a wall and those nice guards didn’t want me going the way behind them. Eventually the nice guards would run out of nice and go ahead and shoot me.

Much like Urchin as my non-franchise suggestion for a spiritual successor for Thief: The Dark Project (since Thief 2014 wasn’t it), I may posit Greyman as an alternative stealthier, minglier, less shooty game of spying, sabotage and assassing as I would rather it (though it sounds like Hitman is going in that direction with each iteration) In this case, the gray man is a spook notion of the ideal field agent: slightly short, bespectacled, of average complexion; so mediocre he has trouble getting wait service in a cafe, or getting a word in while conversing, or being remembered by the hosts of last weekend’s party as Beth’s husband…what’s his name again?

Image: Aquamirral understands why we really peek through keyholes.

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