There aren't any games quite like Hitman. Although the series has seen numerous games and a couple of questionable movies in its eighteen-year life, it's always stayed admirably true to the core foundations that make the series what it is. For me, Hitman represents the last bastion of hope for a true third-person stealth experience in gaming. Sure, we've seen other recent games tackle the genre, but it more often than not feels like stealth is merely a side meal as opposed to the main course. That's why I have such an affinity for the series. Hitman knows exactly what it wants to be and does little to compromise its identity. Hitman 2 continues directly from 2016's Hitman and feels more like a season 2 than a true sequel. Not an awful lot has changed but some small refinements and new additions make Hitman 2 more than worth of your time.
As we've come to expect from the series, levels are absolutely staggering in scope and feel like the gaming equivalent of a matryoshka doll. It's genuinely overwhelming when you skulk through a level for the first time. Every corner presents a multitude of paths to take and each of these paths holds the potential of a new piece of story, weapons, disguises or objective opportunities. Just when you think you've found the perfect path to tackle an objective, you'll more often than not discover another layer of opportunities that you completely missed the first five times through. After more than forty hours, I'm still yet to complete all of the challenges and see everything each location has to offer. This sense of exploration and experimentation is the real driving force behind what makes Hitman 2 so incredibly compelling. There's a huge sense of satisfaction to stalking a target for fifteen minutes all the while silently studying their routine for potential kill opportunities.
Hitman 2 is at its best when played patiently. If you're looking for a fast paced shooter, you're not going to find much to scratch that itch here. 47 can only take a few bullets before expiring, so going in guns blazing is never a great idea. The shooting controls have never been solid in the Hitman series either and the latest entry doesn't do much in the way of rectifying the situation. Being a long time fan, I've almost come to expect this from the series. I don't think I even fired a gun in my first five or so hours with 47. I found far too much satisfaction from learning the intricacies of each level and finding the most creative ways to exploit them. I don't want to do the disservice of spoiling any of the games most creative ways to kill targets but rest assured, longtime fans will find plenty of memorable murders.
The satisfaction of spending the better part of 3 hours combing over the level for unique elimination opportunities is incredible. Silently making your way out of a location while everyone proceeds to lose their shit over the target deaths left a sinister grin on my face time and time again. Hitman 2 is about power. The power of life and death Agent 47 holds over his victims. Stalking your target from plain sight while dressed as a giant pink flamingo mascot is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. There is an absolutely staggering amount of ways to approach any given situation. Will you find the fastest way to your target and dispatch them with a well-placed bullet to the head or will you play the long game. Will you knock out one of their bodyguards so you can move around freely to poison their drink or will you look for a way to make their death look like an accident.
One thing I found a bit disappointing (being a Kiwi) was how average the games New Zealand level is. Compared to the other fie levels, it feels completely devoid of anything that truly captures our unique cultural flair. One background phone message with a laughably non-existent attempt at our accent, a kiwi squeaky toy and a couple of Māori paddles feel like afterthought additions. I wish the level had instead been labelled as another undisclosed location. I was so looking forward to seeing IO's take on New Zealand and wish they could have done more with the level. I know it seems like a silly thing to complain about, but when I first saw the news that NZ would be in the game I was beyond excited.
Graphically, Hitman 2 looks great. The majority of the levels are packed with an absurd amount of tiny details. Sure, it's not the best looking game out there, but a strong focus on a vibrant colour palette and excellent art direction over photo-realism add to the darkly humorous tone found throughout. There are however a few oddities. I'm not sure if it was unique to me (I'm playing in a launch console that sounds like a jet engine) but there were places where the game's grass rendered strangely when moving the camera. It looked like it was speedily flashing between its normal green colour and a stark white. The grass in certain locations was the only thing in the game that I noticed this effect with so I'm hoping it was an isolated occurrence or IO will do something about it in a future patch.
Hitman 2 introduces the ability for 47 to crouch and conceal himself in waist-height grass much as we've seen in the Assassin's Creed series. Further bolstering his stealth repertoire, 47 can also now blend in with crowds of NPCs. These are a great natural addition to the game and offer more possibilities for discreet infiltration than ever before. Series veterans will also be pleased to see 47's infamous briefcase making a triumphant return. The briefcase allows you to take carry a packed away sniper rifle without drawing any unwanted attention. An unexpected and quite possibly unintended feature the briefcase also has is a bizarre homing ability when thrown at NPCs.
Another new addition to the series comes in the form of Ghost Mode. This sees two players competing simultaneously in a race to tackle one of the game's levels. The opposing player is represented as a black and white Agent 47. While you can't do too much to foil their plans, the mode introduces a special coin that can be thrown, creating a distraction in your opponent's world. This can be both a blessing and a curse as a cunning enemy will throw a coin at the most inopportune moment, taking your run from that of a deadly shadow to bumbling. The best way to think of it is as a sort of parallel universe where the only thing visible is the ghost of your cosmic twin. You can't do much to interfere with each other but it's a fun new way to challenge friends and test your kill skills against others. I really hope IO doubles down on this mode and looks for a way to add a co-operative mode to the next game.
Sniper mode is included and is a fun diversion from the games story missions. This mode perches 47 on a ledge overlooking a huge mansion. Players can partner up with a friend or go solo to complete challenges and tick off targets. This mode reminded me of my childhood days at the arcade playing Silent Scope and have me seriously wanting an expanded VR version. The mode is fun for a bit but I found myself hopping back to the main menu to carry on with the normal levels.
Making a welcome return from Hitman 1 is the Elusive target. These are unique one-off targets that will be periodically added over the course of the coming year. Sean Bean is starring as the first target and is available right now. What makes the Elusive Target missions so fun is the fact that you only get one opportunity to punch their ticket. The high stakes this brings to the mission forces you to take your time and work out the safest way to complete the job. Having now joined the ever-growing list of people to kill Sean Bean, I can't wait to see who else IO introduces to the list. As an added bonus for those who own Hitman 1, IO has remastered all of 2016's levels with the added features of Hitman 2. Once downloaded, you can access these from the games menu along with all of the sequels content.
Agent 47 has a convoluted history but it's always been fun in a b-grade kind of way. Hitman 2's story continues the tradition and is a fun popcorn chomping ride. For reasons unknown, IO chose to forgo cutscenes and instead went the route of a voiced slideshow for the story interludes between levels. The only reason I can think of to do this is for cost-cutting or time saving and they cheapened what was otherwise a fantastic game. The story still has me interested and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. I just hope it's presented in traditional cutscenes next time.
If you just rush through the story, each mission will likely only take around an hour to complete. My first run through was over in about eight hours, but I immediately went back to the beginning to see everything each level has to offer. Thanks to the replayability of levels, all of the challenges and the inclusion of elusive targets, I'll most likely still be firing up Hitman 2 every now and then until the next game releases. I absolutely love the series and the latest entry has done nothing but solidify those feelings. While I did have a few minor issues, my overall experience was hugely satisfying. If you're a fan of stealth games or any of the prior Hitman titles, you should definitely make space in your gaming schedule for some one on one time with Agent 47 and his doomed targets.