Over the years, stealth games have steadily inched away from stingy trial-and-error gameplay and embraced a more freeform approach that allowed for messy recoveries. Hitman has also given players that ability but not without sacrificing that elusive, perfect hit that takes planning, grit, and a little bit of luck. And even though HITMAN 2 is very much a continuation of the previous entry, it retains that satisfaction of watching a devious plan come together while also giving the player an exhaustive amount of freedom to improvise.
While not divided up by separate episodes this time, Hitman 2 is almost identical to 2016’s Hitman from its UI to general look and feel. It even has the same tutorial missions. Strong similarities like this would make most other games feel like rehashes but Hitman 2 mostly avoids this by using that blueprint as the means to give players drastically different scenarios within that established framework. It may look and feel like you remember but the variety and depth within the levels set the scene for a bunch of new opportunities that keep this hitman from growing predictable or rusty. Additions like the waist-high grass and fewer overly crowded spots, however, do add more options and generally make sneaking better and slightly more forgiving than the last game.
Stages are huge and packed with a plethora of paths, people, and different ways to tackle your objective. Sprawling, but compact level layouts are filled with enough memorable areas that are realistically handcrafted in a way that few other games are. They feel less like video game levels and more like actual, living places and that encourages exploration because you’ll want to see what new thing is around every corner. You’ll likely even miss entire chunks of the world on your first go, only to find them upon subsequent runs, which is exactly what Hitman 2 is about.
Hitman 2 Review – Kill, Kill, and Kill Again
Dashing through each mission once does a disservice to the game and its many options. You’ll probably mess up a ton, not know where anything is, and look more like a confused Mr. Clean with a garrote than Agent 47. Taking different routes allows you to study the level and get a better idea on how to pull off some slick kills. Routines, item locations, and new opportunities present themselves each time and the game gives you the freedom to go about them as you please.
Depending on the difficulty, the game doesn’t always exactly spell out what to do but presents you with enough contextual clues to give you an idea of how to murder in cool, efficient ways. For example, you may learn that a target may be getting a special injection from a certain doctor that’s just walking around being too conscious and not knocked out, naked in a bin. Situations run the gamut from timed to player controlled, meaning there’s a decent balance between fairly easy objectives to difficult ones that take extra timing and knowledge.
But those are just the unique hits that each stage has. The game is open enough to let you work between the lines and use the many tools at your disposal to think up your own assassinations. Lighting the winner’s podium on fire might be cool, but so is throwing some bombs on the pedestal and waiting for the right moment to deliver the explosive payload. The interlocking systems interact with each and allow for the game to go well beyond what the designers have planned out, as YouTube will soon teach us.
Hitman 2 Review – Hitmen
The freedom translates to the other modes as well and makes them each unique even if all the pieces are not there. Building contracts for others is easy to do and lets players make whatever type of hit they want by doing instead of going through the typical obtuse menus that usually obfuscate user-generated level creation suites in other games. The sniper challenge is the culmination of the game’s freedom. Even though it locks you to a single place, there are still plenty of branching ways to eliminate your targets and complete the mission. It’s a shame there aren’t more included in the main game since its mechanics also work well in co-op.
Hitman 2 can also be played competitively but the mode still has kinks to work out. Two players go head to head in taking down a target and while it uses some of the same mechanics as the campaign, it usually devolves into chaos that’s hard to recover from. The pressure of trying to rush and kill your target before your opponent urges in this chaos that you can’t quicksave out of. Items are locked in certain random boxes and reset upon death, making this mode far more punishing and cuts out some of the experimentation that Hitman needs to survive. Novelty and the solid core of Hitman give this mode promise but it needs to give players more tools and a lower score count to fully make good on the freedom from the solo campaign.
Hitman 2 Review – The All-Seeing AI
Multiplayer or not, there are a few times when that freedom bites back as all of the independent, disparate elements clash in ways that can be a bit unfair. You may have planned for your target to walk down that path to trigger that explosive but you probably didn’t foresee the random guard that decided to stroll by your hiding spot and expose you. Watching well thought out plans get foiled by unexpected variables is frustrating but, in a weird way, it solidifies how organic the game is. This, however, is not as excusable for the few times I got spotted through walls. Both inconsistencies happen just enough to make some of the sneaking a little wonky at times when the game’s AI decides to put a hit out on you for a change.
You can even do all of the above as a flamingo mascot, a dancer exclusively draped in denim, or a suit of armor, which plays into the game’s sense of humor. It cleverly balances the slapstick physical comedy of watching an evil person tumble through the air and the dry, tongue-in-cheek dialogue from Agent 47’s monotone voice. Witty, self-aware humor isn’t essential to the Hitman experience but it is that red, bloody cherry on top that gives the game a surprising bit of flavor that its gritty outer shell doesn’t foreshadow.
It’s outer shell does come out in its regular story where it ditches all attempts at humor and puts on its big boy pants to tell a mature tale. Overly serious dialogue in the noir-like voiceovers try too hard to justify your globetrotting murder-a-thon and are made even worse by the static cutscenes. Glorified slideshows and a rushed, complicated plot full of one-note characters lose out every time to Hitman 2’s hilarious and fantastic player-driven narratives found in the gameplay.
Hitman 2 was obviously meant to be attached to the previous Hitman game as both are nearly identical on the surface. The commitment to replayability, thorough assassinations, and large, packed environments are parallels that worked then and work now. And while it hasn’t completely fixed the occasionally unfair AI or lame story, Hitman 2 has a better wealth of levels that have been improved by small but effective additions like foliage and fewer cramped, guard-infested areas. Hitman 2 is another contract in the same mold as the last, but like that bomb I placed into one of the target’s prized cars, it still knows how to be surprising when it counts.
Hitman 2 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.