If you ask to most other Hitman fans, they tend not to like Contracts. This makes sense, as it’s atmospherically different from Codename: 47 and Silent Assassin (despite cribbing many of its missions from the former) and the difficulty was brought down quite a bit. In terms of scope, as well, where someone who’d played the other two might expect another epic globetrotting adventure, Contracts was very small and self-contained.
I think it’s sort of interesting that way in that the first two games, sprawling and grandiose with large conspiracy plots, were thematically about the search for self. Throughout Codename 47, as 47 is hired to kill each of his genetic donors off one by one, he’s given information about who they are and where he came from whereas before he knew very little. Silent Assassin follows through on that and 47 briefly tries to come to terms with his place in the world until the brother of one of the dudes from the last game kidnaps the preacher whose church he’s living in and he has to work for the Agency again for them to use their sources for information to find him. ‘Cause Diana loves you, bro, but this ride ain’t free.
By contrast, Contracts‘ plot is tiny. As far as it has one, it’s not even revealed until the very last cutscene. So you would expect a game with so little in the way of that would be heavily character based and introspective, but no. 47 is out of his goddamn mind for most of it. I think perhaps, though, the point is that Silent Assassin ends with 47 having to decide where he’s going with his life. Contracts is more of about looking at where he’s been. He assumes he’s going to die in that shitty hotel room, so a “This Was Your Life” is appropriate.
The premise of Contracts is that 47 has been recognized and injured on a job, the first time it’s ever happened. He manages to get back to his hotel hideout, but passes out from blood loss. Then he remembers about a bunch missions he’d been on before, some of them literally edited versions of missions from the first game.
Most fans think it was cheap, but without a contrast between the originals and the hallucinatory versions, the concept isn’t as clear. How could you realize it wasn’t just a coincidence that it’s dark and raining on all the levels if you weren’t “replaying” one that was originally set in broad daylight? It makes clear then too that the changes and omissions to those levels were deliberate, meant to inform you that 47 was not remembering these things as they actually happened, as opposed just laziness on the part of the developers to meet a deadline.
Mind you, if you were playing Contracts as your first experience with the series like I was, you weren’t going to get that because you hadn’t played the first one. But that was another thing I liked about it.
I played Silent Assassin after that and I had a very hard time getting into it. As I say, it’s entirely different. The levels tended to be much larger with a lot of walking over vast expanses involved and many of them were set in military bases or otherwise utilitarian places. (I’m not a fan of military themes.) Had I not played Contracts first, I probably would not like Hitman. Contracts was just a lot more inviting. Cozy, even.
Especially since you really didn’t need to know any of the lore. To be sure, the game is weird and confusing at first, but I think even if you did know 47 is a clone and all the accompanying history of that, one would still wut at the weird-ass intro cutscene and then heading right into Asylum Aftermath where there’s dead 48’s all over the place with no explanation. The first level makes sense if you’ve played the others, but it’s not necessary to know these things. All that’s important to know is that 47 is a hitman, which you should’ve gleaned from the box.
Speaking of, Contracts is when 47’s face starts being fleshed out and made to look less gaunt and sunken and just weirdly alien. I know normally we’re supposed to frown on characters being made to be more attractive, but I don’t care. I think this was a good change.
In general, Blood Money is my favorite of the series because it has the world adventure aspects the first two games had, but it’s heavily informed by the things they did in Contracts that deviated from the original formula. They put more traps in (and in fact added a variation on it in creating “accidents”), made better use of their space within level designs, and made most of the levels really memorable individually by giving each more attention and personality. One of these levels is, cleverly, the mission that 47 went on preceding his being spotted and shot at the beginning of Contracts and his escape from Paris in the final mission. (Asylum Aftermath does this as well, as its objective is to escape after the final mission in Codename 47.) The whole of Contracts, little as that substantially is, feeds directly into the plot of Blood Money.
Will say that Blood Money is kinda heavy on the cutscenes and direct storytelling, though, where Contracts is extremely Spartan with speech in its story. It takes a lot of skill to tell a story without words. Although what few they did use in Contracts are often melodramatic and kinda silly.