Hitman 2 (PC)

With Hitman 2, IO Interactive has delivered more of the same. With the exception of a few minor gameplay tweaks, Hitman 2 (2018) is a lot like an expansion to Hitman (2016) instead of a fully fledged sequel. Familiarity can breed contempt, but it’s going to take a few more of these excellent Hitman games before I get bored with Agent 47’s crazy antics.

The story was a little lacking in Hitman. There was a nice twist at the end that got me interested, however, before that point, it was just a bunch of random excuses to go and kill strangers. I didn’t particularly care about who they were or why I was killing them. That’s not the case in Hitman 2, which is a more personal character piece diving into the past of not just Agent 47 himself, but also his handler Diana Burnwood. It’s as simultaneously silly and serious as the game itself; one minute you have borderline comical scenes of secret organizations holding meetings via VR headsets and then the next there’s a young girl standing over her parents’ graves. Despite some of the weirder moments, I’m now completely invested in the story. This is all despite some budget cutbacks that have affected the presentation, with lots of static animations instead of CGI this time around.

The tutorial does a poor job setting expectations. From the way you come ashore at night and take out security cameras, you would be forgiven for thinking you’re playing a darker and more serious stealth game such as Splinter Cell. Fortunately, Hitman 2 also includes the two training missions from Hitman which do a far better job introducing players to the wackiness you can achieve if you put your twisted mind to the task. If you own Hitman, you can import all the old maps and play them with the slight gameplay and UI tweaks on offer in Hitman 2, such as blending into crowds and hiding in tall grass. This is a wonderfully consumer-friendly move. Being able to play those old maps again without even needing to switch games is perfect to keep Hitman relevant in an age when games only get a week of attention before people move onto the next one.

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Once you know what you’re doing, the real fun can begin. You’re dumped into a new map with little more than a nice suit, a silenced pistol, and some loose change in your pocket, with the goal of killing two or more designated targets, ideally without being spotted or killing innocent people. Your first instinct will be to sneak around, throw items to distract guards, and use your silenced pistol to take out your targets. Sounds a lot like a stealth game, right? Well, it’s really not. Or at least, it’s not a pure stealth game. If I was forced to define the game by lumping a load of random genres together—and by the laws of gaming journalism, I am—I would say it’s a stealth game mixed with a point and click adventure game, that takes place in a sandbox environment. What could be clearer?

You do often have to remain unseen but not if you can find the right disguise. Security guards can often go wherever they like, so perhaps you can find or “acquire” one of their uniforms. Sure, you could shoot your target, but wouldn’t it be a lot more exciting to engineer an accident involving a large fan? Hitman is as much about finding equipment and using it in creative ways as it is sneaking around and staying out of a guard’s line of sight, hence the comparison to point and click games.

To give an example from the first map, you can kill a target by finding dirt on her, luring her to an alley, hitting her over the head with a shovel, and then escaping in a speedboat, all while dressed as a pink flamingo. This is one of the more extreme examples, but every map has moments of sheer brilliance. Eventually, some repetition sets in though. As with the pink flamingo assassination described above, most targets have a convenient way to get some alone time with them by disguising yourself as someone they are supposed to meet. The specifics vary each time but it does get tiresome by the end. Plus, there are a couple of assassination options that are incredibly similar to those of Hitman in oddly specific ways.

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Setting up these whacky situations is all the more satisfying because of how many rules there are and ways it can all go wrong. Despite the freedom on offer, Hitman 2 makes you follow more rules than my favorite dominatrix. The rules are implemented clearly and consistently with sensible restrictions You can easily knock people out however if anyone sees you they will call for help or even attack you themselves. If you’re witnessed then security will be on the lookout for someone dressed in whatever you were wearing, but you can avoid suspicion by changing clothes. You can tamper with film equipment but make sure you’re dressed as a member of the crew or it will look suspicious. None of this is complicated and it never requires guesswork. The UI always tells you if something you’re about to do will arouse suspicion.

Hitman 2’s outlandish moments aren’t restricted to highly skilled or devoted players because the scenarios are hinted at via conversations that have about as much subtlety as the flamingo costume. You’ll be casually walking around when you overhear a conversation about a dodgy pyrotechnic display that is ripe for abuse or find a grumpy mechanic who refuses to return to work and is just begging to be deprived of his outfit.

You can also switch on an additional hint system although I recommend you try playing without it first. With the hint setting on full, you’re notified whenever you get clues to a potential scenario and then prompted to take the next step and even given a waypoint marker. For example, you might be told to disguise yourself as a waiter and told where you can find the uniform. Even this option won’t hold your hand all the way. You’re still expected to do some of the work yourself, such as finding the tools you need to break equipment or the poison for the food. The minimal hints setting is similar except without the waypoints.

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There are so many different ways to kill your target that it can get a little overwhelming at times, especially on your first attempt at a new map. A minute never passes without you picking up a new clue or thinking of something to try out and it can be a little distracting. Blowing up the podium sounds like fun, but perhaps I could engineer a car crash first. A lot of information comes your way, but try not to worry about it. You’re supposed to play these maps more than once. It’s not a one and done game. In fact, after completing a map, the default option is to replay it to try and complete other story missions which reveal more information about your targets. You also unlock new items and costumes, plus the ability to smuggle in gear and start at new locations. 

The sheer scale of the maps makes up for the relatively small number of them. There are only five main maps this time around instead of the six in Hitman. I’m not counting the small introductory map, and even if I did, Hitman had two of those so it would just be six maps compared to eight. Overall, the quality of the maps is probably higher on average. There were two maps in Hitman, Marrakesh and Colorado, that I didn’t enjoy, but Hitman 2 doesn’t have any duds.

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To make up for there being one less map, there are two new modes, Sniper Assassin and Ghost Mode. Both have the potential to be a core part of the Hitman experience, however as things stand they won’t keep you entertained for long. Silent Assassin sees you assigned the task of killing three targets and their guards with a sniper rifle from a fixed position. You need to look for ways to do this undetected and keep the body out of sight. You want to time it so the body falls into water, off a roof, or through a window. It’s undoubtedly good fun, however there’s only one map at the moment. More have been promised with future DLC, however I assume this is an additional charge. You can play Sniper Assassin in co-op and time your shots to take out multiple targets at once, although given the careful communication required, I didn’t particularly want to play this with randoms.

Ghost Mode is entirely multiplayer. You play on the same map as another person but not in the same instance, so you can’t interact with each other and changes you make to your map won’t affect theirs and vice-versa, with the exception of a few loot drops which are first come first served. You are both assigned the same target to kill as quickly as possible. If you kill the target without being noticed then you get a point and your opponent will only have 20 seconds to finish off their target before a new one is assigned. First to five wins. I had a great time on my first go. It’s frantic as hell and there are tense moments such as trying to throw a hammer at a target’s head as a timer counts down, however the novelty quickly wears off. The matches never get especially tactical. The speed element means you’re always best off rushing to the target as quickly as possible and doing anything you can to kill them before running away and hoping no one notices. This mode is probably a lot more fun playing against a friend, especially if you set self-imposed rules like no guns. Ghost mode is still in beta right now, so perhaps you’ll be offered more options to customize matches in the future. As it stands, it’ll keep you amused for an hour and not a lot more. Both of these modes are also incredibly stingy with the XP rewards.

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A few parts of the main game feel rushed and unfinished, with audio being a particular problem. Multiple dialogue tracks would often play at the same time, including important updates from HQ. I also noticed dialogue not taking account of actions I’d already completed, so I was told to go and find clues I’d already found. I had a few glitches such as the time a notice about a body being discovered got stuck on the top of the screen until I quit out and reloaded and the AI does have a tendency to bug out occasionally.

Elusive targets return, starting with Sean Bean, aka The Undying. You only get one shot at these elusive targets and they are only available for a limited time; if you haven’t already done it, you’ve missed it. There will be more, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if IO brings them back at some point. I have mixed feelings about this restricted content. It’s a great reward for early purchasers, however the idea of content disappearing entirely really bugs me from a game preservation standpoint. And come on, it’s Sean Bean. You don’t restrict people’s time spent with Sean Bean.

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Speaking of game preservation, it’s a shame IO Interactive still strong-arms you into playing online. You can play offline but you won’t earn new unlocks and if you get disconnected during an online session then expect to get booted back to the menu. There’s absolutely no need for this online functionality and I wish IO would do away with it.

Other silly moments end up being an entertaining part of the experience rather than a negative. You soon get used to the completely out of place accents, such as the hispanic cleaner in suburban America with an English accent and the magical homing briefcase feels completely in line with the rest of the experience. 

Hitman 2 is my favorite $60 title of 2018. I had an absolutely fantastic time and will certainly dip back in every time there’s a new elusive target available. If you haven’t already played Hitman then I highly encourage you to pick up the two-game package because the two combined are easily worth five stars.

4/5

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