Agent 47 walks fast. Unlike every other character in Hitman 2, his hands are clenched as he moves. He is always ready for violence. Many of his movements are slow and everything he does is precise, whether it’s coming in through a window or changing into new clothes. But the violence is quick, ready at the push of a button. Agent 47 is wound like a spring, ready to be unleashed at your command: quick, controlled, brutal. All you have to do is get him to his targets and determine how you’d like them to die.
That’s what Hitman 2 is, really: a lovely, complex, and unsparingly creative murder simulator. Like nearly every sequel in a long-running series, its successes are built on the back of the games that came before it, but this one in particular owes an enormous debt to 2016’s Hitman, the numberless soft reboot that was a balm for fans and got the series back on track after the disastrous Hitman: Absolution. In fact, it wouldn’t really be a stretch to say that Hitman 2 is simply a better version of its predecessor, one built on a flood of minor improvements, new modes, and a complete understanding of what this series is and why it works.
"But being good at Hitman isn’t just about being good at murder; it’s about getting away with it, killing your targets so effectively and covertly that no one knows you were there at all. Being good at Hitman is about being a ghost."
Hitman has always been unique. Most stealth games encourage you to sneak by, using violence either inconspicuously or as a last resort, but mostly not at all. Killing is an option, yes, but non-lethal approaches are the way to go. Hitman requires that you kill. But being good at Hitman isn’t just about being good at murder; it’s about getting away with it, killing your targets so effectively and covertly that no one knows you were there at all. Being good at Hitman is about being a ghost.
Hitman 2 picks up after the story of the last game, as Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood become involved with Providence, a secret organization of powerful people that pull the entire world’s strings. Problem is, someone after them, and high-profile members of Providence are turning traitor at an alarming rate. Diana and 47 are hired to take them down. What they don’t know, however, is that that someone knows that they’re after him and he may be the key to unraveling 47’s mysterious past.
Hitman 2’s story isn’t bad, per se, but it is ridiculous and campy and more than a little hard to follow if you’re not caught up with the previous game, which makes sense for a series that has allowed you to kill people dressed as a clown, vampire, and giant chicken. The game tries to get newcomers caught up, but the preponderance of betrayal, shadow organizations, and turncoats make it hard to follow for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the previous game and continually paying attention. What it really is an excuse for 47 to travel to exotic locations, meet interesting people, and kill them. And at that, it excels.
"I tailed the mechanic to a portable toilet. After making sure no one was watching, I knocked him out, stole his clothes and keycard, and stashed him in a dumpster. Disguise and keycard in tow, I made my way over to the racer’s pit crew, where I sabotaged her car when she came in for a pit stop. It crashed shortly thereafter. One down."
At its best, Hitman is defined by two things: its systems and its level design, with the latter being the more important of the two. Level design is important for many series, but Hitman lives and dies on it. The levels – and the opportunities and variety they provide you – are what make Hitman work and fortunately Hitman 2 delivers. There’s a great variety here; the game’s levels include Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand), Miami (Florida), Santa Fortuna (Columbia), Mumbai (India) and Whittleton Creek (Vermont). Each has its own variables – people to impersonate, who (and how many people) you’re assassinating, and what level specific options are available to you. A typical mission operates something like my first run through Miami, which I’ll use as an example.
I was dropped into a race event, tasked with killing a race car driver and her billionaire inventor of a father. After I got through security, I passed a mechanic on his phone. He was fed up with the race car driver and had quit the pit team, leaving them a man short. This was my opportunity. I tailed the mechanic to a portable toilet. After making sure no one was watching, I knocked him out, stole his clothes and keycard, and stashed him in a dumpster. Disguise and keycard in tow, I made my way over to the racer’s pit crew, where I sabotaged her car when she came in for a pit stop. It crashed shortly thereafter. One down.
Next, I headed to the expo where her father was showing off the prototype for his newest race car. I switched my mechanic disguise for that of an expo engineer by sneaking into the building’s coat room, and acquired a screwdriver from one of the backstage areas. After that, I overheard two characters talk about a prototype fuel that the inventor’s company was developing. It was powerful, but highly unstable. I snuck into the area where it was being stored, grabbed it, and headed for the prototype. I used the screwdriver to disable the car’s engine (which prompted the inventor to come running down from an area I couldn’t access without a different disguise or sneaking up there). I knew he’d come running down from another conversation I’d overheard. While he made his way down, I poured the fuel into the prototype. After he fixed the engine, he asked me – thinking I was one of his employees – to start the car. I did, with him standing behind it. The explosive backfire killed him – and no one in the room knew I’d done it. I retraced my steps (and disguises) back to the exit, where I walked out scot-free. Silent Assassin.
"You always have choices to make. Are you going to bring a pistol or the piano wire? What about a lockpick? Maybe a concealable explosive hidden in a briefcase capable of beating security checks? Each level is like a jigsaw puzzle, and its your job to solve it."
Thing is, that’s only one way to take out both characters. There’s a ton of other ways. I could have cornered the inventor by disguising myself as a high-roller and sneaking into the private lounge. After that, it would be a simple matter to spike his drink with rat poison and follow him to the bathroom, where I could drown him in a toilet. I could have killed the race car driver by sabotaging a different part of the car, poisoning her, or rigging the podium to blow after the race. Or I could have just shot them both, either from afar with a sniper rifle I smuggled in, or up close with a silenced pistol. I could have done the entire level dressed as a giant flamingo. And let’s not even talk about 47’s affinity for kills via piano wire.
The point is, there’s a few dozen ways to tackle any level and the level’s story – and your available opportunities – change depending on what you overhear, what you find, and how long you wait. Better yet, you always have choices to make. Are you going to bring a pistol or the piano wire? What about a lockpick? Maybe a concealable explosive hidden in a briefcase capable of beating security checks? How the heck would you do it as a giant flamingo, anyway? Each level is like a jigsaw puzzle, and it’s your job to solve it. The difference is that the puzzle can be assembled in multiple ways (many of them ridiculous) and the choices you make at any given point change the opportunities available to you.
Walk into a place you’re not supposed to be? You’ll make people suspicious. Somebody see you carrying a body or interacting with something you’re not supposed to? They’ll report you to the authorities and you’ll have to change disguises to avoid detection. Get caught on camera? You’ll have to destroy the evidence. Get frisked with an item you’re not supposed to have or leave a body out in the open? That’ll cause problems. And on and on it goes.
"The brilliant thing about Hitman 2’s levels is they feel real and lived in while managing to balance themselves as a game. Each one feels like a place and the characters you’ll meet – even the ones you don’t have to assassinate – have things to do, stories to tell, and places to go. The world feels like a real, detailed place. But it also feels like a game of systems."
Hitman 2’s levels offer mounds of replayability. Completing a level and performing certain challenges (unlocking certain opportunities, killing targets in certain ways, finding intel in the environment, etc) will earn experience that increases your levels of “mastery,” which unlocks new bonuses, like new items for 47 to use and different starting positions and starting disguises.
The brilliant thing about Hitman 2’s levels is they feel real and lived in while managing to balance themselves as a game. Each one feels like a place and the characters you’ll meet – even the ones you don’t have to assassinate – have things to do, stories to tell, and places to go. The world feels like a real, detailed place. But it also feels like a game of systems. Characters have paths they’ll follow and things they’ll do, and you can abuse these systems if you’d like. For instance, you can sabotage the inventor’s car prototype repeatedly, and he’ll come down each time without being the wiser until you eventually kill him or get bored. It’s not a perfect system and the way it is structured will sometimes break immersion, but the game manages to balance things well while allowing you to experiment, which isn’t an easy task.
The mechanics help. Hitman’s mechanics are largely unchanged since the previous game. 47 can still interact with much of the environment, pick up items, fire weapons, change clothes, carry bodies, sneak, climb, and hop over small obstacles. That said, the new additions are impressive. You’re now hidden when crouching in tall grass or standing in large crowds, which adds an important tool to your bag of tricks and gives IO’s level designers a bit more freedom, even though it makes it a bit too easy to hide when you’re being followed. The briefcase, absent from the 2016 release, makes a much-needed return and mirrors matter when being stealthy for the first time. These things come together to create a game that rewards exploration and encourages replayability, all while pushing you to pay attention to your surroundings and make the perfect run, however you want to, for that glorious Silent Assassin rating.
"The core appeal is the same it’s always been – excellent levels and great mechanics that, when combined, make for an intensely replayable, personal game. Hitman 2 isn’t for everyone – it’s violent and requires real attention on the part of the player to be good at. You have to learn the levels, explore, and learn what does – and doesn’t – work."
Once you’ve got the main missions down, you can play Ghost Mode, IO’s take on competitive one-on-one play. It’s a novel concept: two players, each playing their own version of 47, compete within the same level to see who can kill their targets the fastest and with the best score. There’s also Sniper Assassin, a cooperative mode that allows two players to work together to take down targets. Both are fun additions to the Hitman formula and it’s especially nice to be able to play with others, but neither is the primary appeal. Elusive Targets – limited time contracts that you only get one shot at – return from last year’s game, too, and IO’s continued support means we’ll be playing this game for a long time.
All of these things make for one of the best Hitman games released. But the core appeal is the same it’s always been – excellent levels and great mechanics that, when combined, make for an intensely replayable, personal game. Hitman 2 isn’t for everyone – it’s violent and requires real attention on the part of the player to be good at. You have to learn the levels, explore, and learn what does – and doesn’t – work. When to hide a body. When to change a disguise. What events happen where and when. And how to chain it together into a beautiful, quiet symphony of perfect execution. Or you can just walk in and hope for the best. It really is your choice; you’re free to play it however you want. It’s that freedom, the freedom to uncoil that spring, to release that violence when and how you want, that makes Hitman what it is. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Levels are gorgeous and brimming with choices. Strong gameplay mechanics. New mechanical additions work well. New modes are fun and add variety. Systems balances allowing you to explore with creating a believable world. Elusive Targets are back. Silly, campy story.
Story is a bit hard to follow. It can be too easy to escape into a crowd. The level of freedom can sometimes be immersion-breaking.