Hitman 2, released simultaneously for the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 platforms, is the sequel to a PC game released two years ago by Denmark-based developer IO Interactive. The original Hitman: Codename 47 featured some undeniably impressive technical elements, but it also had a number of serious problems, you played as a genetically engineered contract killer and were tasked with stealthily eliminating a number of well-guarded targets. The sequel takes this same idea a step further and fully realizes it, proving that IO Interactive has the ability to back up flashy graphics.
The game begins with the enigmatic man known only as 47 working not as a hired gun but as a gardener. He’s given up his violent ways and is now serving as a humble groundskeeper in a Sicilian church. But when the church’s kindly minister is kidnapped, 47 has no choice but to once again don his black suit and unpack his deadly arsenal of firearms and close-range weapons. He contacts his former employer to try to track down the priest, but he’ll need to perform a few jobs before they’ll cough up any details on his friend’s whereabouts. So much for early retirement. Yet though the story unfolds vividly using beautifully staged cinematic cutscenes rendered using the game’s 3D engine, the actual story of Hitman 2 doesn’t really get too far off the ground. It’s largely an excuse to send 47 around the world to exotic locations like Japan, Russia, Malaysia, and India, where you’ll help him infiltrate heavily fortified locations from an ancient castle to a high-tech software corporation.
There are six new locations in the game, in addition to a reworked tutorial segment that is largely identical to the first game albeit with some minor alterations. The game comprises more than 20 missions in all, which you’ll play through one after the other. Though the settings and the details of each mission are different, most all of them share some basic themes: getting in, eliminating a key target, and getting out.
The levels from the original game are largely all killer, no filler. It’s only the hostile Colorado that really suffers in comparison, punishing you for curiosity, something the rest of the game tries to indulge as much as possible. The second game’s levels maintain that quality. They all still reward curiosity, barring this game’s last level, which takes place in a castle full of sprawling corridors and suspicious guards. IO Interactive have a mastery for building Hitman’s areas into densely packed killing grounds full of things that you can exploit or be hindered by, and with this latest release, they’ve cemented their position as best in class. These levels are intricate and deep, a feel like a snapshot of an existing world that you can dive into again and again like some sort of murderous Groundhog Day remake.
The game feels a little easier to play, which could be down to the refinements the team have made to the game’s UI, introducing features like a picture in picture mode that highlights exactly which body has been found, or the focus on assassination stories, opportunities that guide you by the hand into a variety of different situations.Hitman has long been a game that’s been simple to play but hard to master. Silent Assassin was often as complicated to pull off as a real hit, and i’m pleased to say — without having pulled off any real assassinations — that this seems to be the same. Death comes easily, but pulling out the vaunted Silent Assassin: coming in, snuffing your target and vanishing without being seen by anyone, is still as challenging as ever.
The additions are thoughtful: the new gadgets are things that the game was screaming out for, while the new gameplay mechanics are either things that make sense like NPC’s being able to see things behind them if they’re looking at a mirror or even dispatching guards to your location if you commit a crime in front of a security camera, or things that empower the player like the picture in picture mode for conveying information, or the ability to blend into a crowd. Notable additions are a fully featured Sniper Assassin mode reminiscent of the excellent Hitman mobile game, and a multiplayer Ghost Mode, that has you and another agent fighting to assassinate your targets in parallel universes, which has a lot of potential but isn’t yet fully fleshed out.
The most notable aspect of Hitman 2’s graphics is its use of what’s now commonly known as “rag doll physics,” meaning that characters don’t die in any prescripted fashion, but rather go limp as they’re struck by the simulated force of your firepower. Hitman 2 is exceptionally well done in most every way and represents a major improvement over the original. A true multiplatform game, it wasn’t developed for the lowest common denominator, but it instead showcases the best of what the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 have to offer, as though the game were specifically designed for each.