Hitman 2 is basically just a slightly more perfect version of Hitman, easily one of the best games of 2016.
As sequels go, it doesn’t do much to shake things up. Mirrors work now, so if you’re sneaking up behind someone standing in front of a mirror, it’s not going to go well. The user interface is also improved, with clearer indicators to let you know when you’re in an area that’s off-limits for whatever disguise (or non-disguise) you’re wearing.
The heart of Hitman 2, the stuff that really matters, is just as it’s always been. You are Agent 47, the bald, barcode-tattooed super-assassin who grasps all the angles and can disappear into any crowd after knocking out some innocent passerby and stealing their duds for a quick costume change.
47’s ability to disappear feels like a joke. It probably is a joke. When I showed my wife how this giant mountain of a white man could walk around in Hitman 2‘s Mumbai slums level and pass as a local, fists constantly clenched underneath his ill-fitting stolen robe, she turned to me and asked: “Why is everyone so stupid? He’s clearly a hitman.”
It’s true, he is. The biggest joke is how the game never laughs at that fact. It just asks you to accept that 47 is the ultimate hitman, so of course he can disguise himself even when his physical size, his strikingly bald head and prominent tattoo, and really just the way he carries himself gives it all away.
Hitman 2, and the series as a whole, is all the better for it. Newcomers to Hitman quickly realize that this isn’t your typical video game. There’s only a small handful of levels in each game — six in this sequel’s main story — but you’re meant to play and replay each one. Your murder targets always remain the same, but the real joy lies in figuring out the many creative approaches for offing each one.
Some of those approaches are scripted into “Mission Stories,” where you can set off a chain of events that lead to Hitman 2‘s set piece-style assassinations. You can tweak the in-game settings to have checkpoints guide you from one step to the next, or you can turn off the hints entirely and try to puzzle out the scripted murders yourself.
Really though, the true delight of Hitman 2 — and any Hitman game — is playing a level until you know every inch of it and, in the process, actually becoming the master assassin you’re supposed to be.
The true delight of Hitman 2 is playing a level until you know every inch and actually becoming a master assassin.
You learn and memorize the paths each person takes. The locations of various items — screwdrivers, rat poison, discarded coins, all manner of everyday objects — that can be used for distraction, combat, or straight-up murder. The points of interest. The ever-watching surveillance cameras, and the secret paths you can take to avoid them.
As you come to master your environment, the need for guides or even scripted assassinations fades into the background. The thrill shifts over to figuring out how you can exploit Hitman 2‘s many moving parts and, in essence, build a better mousetrap. You learn by following the rules so you can ultimately break them and bend the challenge of offing some evil schmuck to your own designs.
You’re rewarded for those efforts too. Each level contains a multitude of challenges, story-related and otherwise. The more you complete, the more XP you earn. Every time you finish a level, all of that XP from unlocked challenges gets tallied up, and your Mastery Level for that location climbs. Each one opens up more options: new starting locations, new tools, new disguises.
It’s a satisfying feedback loop, even if you’re the kind of player to lean on the guides and their checkpoints. There are usually multiple Mission Stories per target, so as you play through Hitman 2‘s most scripted assassinations, you’re also getting acquainted with the totality of each environment. And if you’d rather puzzle things out for yourself, relying purely on observation and hints peppered into the intel you collect, that option is always there.
Hitman 2 offers more than just a story mode, however. The new Sniper Assassin mode (playable solo or with another player) is an evolved take on the wonderful Hitman: Sniper mobile game. Instead of creeping around an expansive map, you’re dropped into a fixed location overlooking a Hitman-style map. You’re equipped with a high-powered sniper rifle, unlimited ammo, and a handful of targets.
It’s fundamentally the same type of puzzle you’re presented in a more traditional Hitman level: take out your targets by making creative use of the surrounding environment, and without letting your presence be known. Your tools are different — it’s just a sniper rifle, and the various chains of events your shots can set off — but the end result is the same.
There’s also Ghost Mode, a completely new way of playing Hitman. In this 1v1 competition, two players are dropped into the same map. You can see your opponent but not interact with them. The goal is to take out a string of randomly assigned targets, one after the other, before your opponent. The first to reach five points wins.
It’s a smart evolution of the Hitman formula, this Ghost Mode. Competition hasn’t ever really been a factor in this series, but being able to see your opponent and what they’re up to at any given moment injects unexpected tension into every match. When you’re both approaching a target — each player has separate targets, but they’re close to one another — the pressure to get your kill without anyone spotting it ratchets up quickly. It’s exciting.
Hitman superfans or players who finish the story and just want more are in luck: a $20 add-on pack opens up access to all of the levels from 2016’s Hitman (there’s also a $30 pack that includes some bonus targets that were originally released as add-ons for the first game). All the levels have been updated to support the same new features and quirks added in Hitman 2, so they manage to feel fresh even if you played the earlier game
In one sense, Hitman 2 is really just “more of the same.” For lots of games, that kind of minimal-evolution sequel would be a letdown. But in Hitman, a series that developer IO Interactive has dialed in and perfected over the past 20 years, more of the same is just right. And Hitman 2 builds on that finely tuned foundation in all the right ways.
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