‘HITMAN HD TRILOGY’ (M)
It took six long years for “Absolution,” the latest installment in the “Hitman” series, to reach stores, so those new to the realm of stealth assassinations probably haven’t played the earlier games, which came out reliably at two-year intervals throughout the last decade. There are five games in total, beginning with the PC-exclusive, “Hitman: Codename 47,” and culminating with the aforementioned “Absolution.” All of the many contract kills in between have been collected on this disc, with the two last-gen titles getting a next-gen facelift and 2006’s “Blood Money” appearing as is (or as was). Those already familiar with chrome-domed Agent 47’s grisly exploits will find much to enjoy in this stroll (or predatory stalk) down memory lane, but those who earned their first buck-for-blood in last year’s “Absolution” will learn that the smooth mechanics and endless opportunities for invention afforded by that game were purchased with the frustratingly hit-and-miss gameplay from the games that preceded it.
In their time, the earlier “Hitman” games were amazing, but even after an HD conversion, they feel incredibly dated. The environments lack detail, and the animations are stiff and excruciatingly slow. Paths to the target are surprisingly limited in the older games, and the A.I. is spotty — frequently to the player’s detriment. You’ll encounter scenes when you’re passing security, disguised from head to toe, only to be suddenly inundated with gunfire, feeling completely baffled as to what you did to give yourself away. But despite these intermittent frustrations, stealth aficionados may appreciate the unforgiving nature of the earlier games. In the old days, 47’s third-person shooting skillset was extremely limited, and without the option to shoot your way to success, the pressure was on to sneak your way there. That sort of difficulty lessens as you progress through the trilogy, but so too do the infuriating episodes of enemy precognizance. At the very least, “Hitman HD Trilogy” will be interesting to longtime fans and educational to noobs.
‘SKULLS OF THE SHOGUN’ (T)
Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox Live Arcade
“Skulls of the Shogun” is a grid-based strategy game, without the grid. As a samurai general, fatally betrayed by his subordinate (who subsequently dies himself), you control an army of standard turn-based units (archers, infantry, cavalry) and endeavor to avenge yourself, with the afterlife serving as your new battlefield. It’s a weird premise, benefitted by a charming art style and an abundance of humor. The lack of a grid serves to make the game more accessible to a broad audience, but fans of the genre may be dismayed by the loss in precision. Terrain has an impact on battle, and without a grid, sometimes it’s hard to be certain exactly where you’re standing.
‘BIOSHOCK ULTIMATE RAPTURE EDITION’ (M)
It’s likely that Sony and Microsoft will announce their new consoles in the coming months, and yet the most anticipated event in interactive entertainment this year is the imminent release of “Bioshock: Infinite.” This anticipation was earned by two astonishing first-person shooters set in the Art Deco, underwater dystopia of Rapture. If you don’t already own “Bioshock 1” and “2,” you should 1. be ashamed of yourself, and 2. immediately buy this disc, featuring both games at a discounted price. CV