In today’s ruthless industry, few franchises get to enjoy the longevity that Hitman has. First releasing eighteen years ago, the series has gradually struggled to balance everything just right. The first two games are incredibly unforgiving. Blood Money was great, but too easy. Absolution took the series in a different (controversial) direction entirely that I’d argue most didn’t enjoy. With the pseudo-reboot HITMAN, IO Interactive tried episodic delivery with a renewed focus on tight level design and were largely successful. Now, no longer episodic, HITMAN 2 refines everything from it’s predecessor almost perfectly to offer one of the best experiences in gaming this year.
HITMAN 2 follows on from the story of HITMAN, where Agent 47 and Diana discover all their targets thus far have been assigned to them by the same person, a mysterious “shadow client”. The Shadow Client has one major goal to bring the fight to another shadowy organisation known only as Providence, an Illuminati-esque cabal that controls the worlds in secrecy. While not totally aligned with his motivations, Agent 47 and Diana continue to take contracts from these groups to get closer to them and discover who they really are.The story of HITMAN 2 is much more on-the-nose than the previous game, but still does a great job at tying in and referencing games further back while also moving the series forward. It’s by no means a groundbreaking story, but it did keep me eager to play through story as quickly as possible. It also sets up some great beats that I hope will be explored more in future downloadable content or even another game.
But story isn’t the reason you’d play a game like HITMAN 2. You play a game like HITMAN 2 for its quality level design and absurdist sense of humour. The game delivers this in droves. The move away from an episodic model obviously means you can easily rush through the story and call it a day, but to do so would be a betrayal to the strong design that’s on show here.The original HITMAN had one or two locales that were weaker than the others and quite frankly a bit of a chore to play which affected the pacing of the game. In HITMAN 2, there’s no such thing – every level is a joy to explore, a treat to unpack and almost infinitely replayable. There is admittedly less content here than 2016’s HITMAN, and some of the locales are naturally smaller scaled than the other, but the diversity of experiences on offer here easily trumps the original game. Though the original missions are playable with all the bells and whistles of HITMAN 2 if you owned them previously.
Going back to HITMAN 2 – New Zealand, for example, is a smaller mission that subverts your expectations in the way it plays out but acts as a perfect introduction to how Hitman games work. Vermont and Scotland both have clever gimmicks that change up how you approach your targets, despite the former being smaller than most Hitman maps. Whereas Miami, Colombia and Mumbai all offer a massive area with countless opportunities and great use of crowds and social stealth.There’re some small improvements made to the underlying systems that just makes everything play so much better too while also bringing the games closer to the first three games more than ever. Agent 47 can now blend in crowds and vegetation to avoid attention, as well as smuggle dangerous items in a briefcase to avoid suspicion too. These are great additions, but the suitcase quite frankly feels underutilized – there’s hardly a need for it as levels aren’t designed to require it’s use, though it does offer players more options regardless to hide in plain sight.
But despite offering less locales to visit, HITMAN 2 does feel like its locations offer a lot to discover. While I’m nowhere near finishing absolutely everything the game has to offer, the first two levels alone (one of which is much smaller than your typical Hitman level) had taken me twenty or so hours to master before I moved on to finish the story – but I could’ve kept playing those levels to discover even more ways to murder someone. There’s just so many ways to kill a person in each area and the design of these crowds and locales are so alluring, so inviting that you’ll want to jump straight back in after your first, fourth or twentieth runs.
For those who find it all a bit overwhelming, Opportunities return as Mission Stories. These are paths in each mission that give players waypoints to their targets to take them out using unique methods. Mission Stories are great because they give newer players a way to finish the game without being overwhelmed. Whereas Opportunities were a bit linear, and almost always lead to a straight kill in HITMAN, in HITMAN 2 they feel a bit less restricted in the way they play out. You can, of course, turn them off entirely if you want too.
There are a few other modes that round out the whole package. Every mission can now be played in a “casual” mode that makes the more rigid systems of the game more approachable to newcomers. Other modes introduce multiplayer to the franchise – Sniper Assassin is just like it sounds and puts either Agent 47 or two new agents in a situation where they must take out enemies from a single stationary point on a map. Ghost Mode is interesting and lets two players inhabit a map and compete to take down their targets while amassing the most points.These modes are great little distractions but quite frankly feel incomplete. Sniper Assassin takes place in one location and one location only, whereas right now Ghost Mode can only be played in the Miami map. Miami is huge, and great, don’t get me wrong, but it would’ve been nice to have the mode be playable across all maps at launch. Regardless, these are great ways to make a game like Hitman an experience that can be shared with friends, and I’m sure both these modes will blossom into something great as more content gets added to them. But in their present state they feel a bit bare-bones.
Perhaps the only real niggle I have with HITMAN 2 is how the story is presented. Presumably due to a lower budget, the loss of Square Enix as a partner, or both; the story is presented through static images with voiceovers rather than proper full motion cutscenes. This takes a bit of the impact out of the more critical moments of the story, and quite frankly feels a bit cheap which is strange given how much of a step up the game is from the last one in every other aspect.Thankfully, the presentation is otherwise stellar. The user interface is cleaner and even more minimalistic than the previous game, while still managing to convey all the information a player would need at any given time. While still running on the same engine, HITMAN 2 is still a notable step up in terms of visuals. Some cracks do start to show in larger crowded areas, especially in Miami and Mumbai, but overall the game runs well and looks better than its predecessor.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX ONE X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Though some elements are clearly still being developed and will evolve in the future, HITMAN 2 is a great example of games-as-a-service done right. Specifically, the base game is a an already strong offering that will no doubt grow into something even better as time goes by. Eclipsing the previous game in practically every way, HITMAN 2 successfully leverages strong level design, creative kills and absurdist situations to offer the best Hitman experience to date.