The protagonist of the Hitman series, Agent 47, is not an interesting guy. Despite his shiny, barcode-headed head, he disappears into a crowd. It can somehow fit everyone, no matter how famous; He can live her life seamlessly and look great in her pants. He uses this ability to wreak havoc everywhere. Hitman 2 examines this and asks who is 47 and why he is doing what he is doing, and the game does not respond best with his cutscenes, but rather through his gameplay: because he – and the player – can do it, because both have a keen eye for everything that can go wrong.
Hitman 2 follows the same basic structure as Hitman 2016. The cloned Killer Agent 47 flies in the shadow of a shadowy, powerful figure to locations all over the world and thereby kills other shadowy, powerful figures. Levels are interspersed with cutscenes, here full, but static, that examine the origin of 47 and its consequences in an action that is secondary to enjoying the game. In contrast, mission briefings are animated and exciting, full of high-tech intrigue and big conspiracies. It is the most basic foundation for the essence of the game: sneaking around in the third person, dressing up and murdering people.
This is the second game called Hitman 2. The first came out in 2002 and after a count this new Hitman 2 is the 10th in the series. This is followed by a structural revision of the 2016 series, which was simply called Hitman and focused on large levels, improvisation, post-release challenges and new missions.
Unlike this 2016 episodic release, Hitman 2 is the whole game at once, without the multi-stage escalation missions and elusive target-assassination challenges with a chance that will come later. The episodic release was controversial among players, but it drew players' attention to one level at a time and encouraged them to play it again until you mastered it. Having the whole game at once presents a dilemma: hurry to see what Hitman 2 has to offer before returning to the levels you want, or take the time to learn each level thoroughly, before proceeding? Given the size and variety of the levels, it is a difficult task. I wanted to see what challenges the game was going to bring me next, but I also wanted to repeat each level once I was done.
The levels are huge and varied, and even a brisk trip through them shows almost too many ways to achieve your goals. Most levels have multiple goals and occasionally secondary goals such as finding information or hurting a character. Locations include a chic New Zealand home, a wild Miami racetrack, the crowded streets of Mumbai, and a mysterious island playground for billionaires. Each level has several areas: public places to eavesdrop and uncover opportunities, buildings that you need to be searched for, and tempting private areas that require the right outfit or timed violence. Improvements in lighting, faces, and voice acting make the sprawling levels a pleasure to walk around easily as you plan your approach.
This approach can be a variety of things. In Miami I sabotaged a racing car, murdered someone in a mascot costume, tinkered with military robots, and just hid in a corner and shot at my target before anyone noticed. Fairings often bring you alone with targets and give you unique ways to take them out – tattoo gun, barber razor – and there are always sockets to detach and gas canisters to explode. 47 also has a range of weapons, from sniper rifles to exploding rubber ducks.
Hitman 2's levels feel more ambitious than the 2016 game. They are larger and contain more separate areas, which means they're full of different types of people and more assassination opportunities. You are not as sophisticated as Paris or Hokkaido. Many levels take place in regular cities in rich parties or futuristic retreats. This can be a hit or miss – infiltrating a cave network in Columbia or a gang hideout in Mumbai is not exactly what I want from Hitman. Because of the size and scope of Hitman 2's levels, these more disappointing parts were just parts of a larger level that were easy to penetrate and then go on looking for areas that I found more exciting.
Changes have been made to the Hitman toolset that make these levels even more attractive. I have most appreciated the new picture-in-picture feature that shows you where a body was discovered or what was seen on a surveillance camera. You can now hide in the foliage and mingle with the crowd (in Hitman 2016 you could only hop into them, not disappear). In Mumbai, where patrolling guards could see through my disguises, the crouching hid me in the crowd and allowed me to slip past them. Changes to combat and AI make entry into shootings less one-sided; 47 is still not a fighter, but he's tougher than before and lets me recover from a mishap instead of starting over. The revised minimap shows whether you are looking for or whether your disguise has been compromised and contains new colors and symbols. After the basic shades of gray in 2016, it felt a bit confusing, but the status warnings helped me keep track of exactly what I had done wrong. Developer IO Interactive also added many of these features to a revised version of the 2016 game built into Hitman 2, and brought me closer to the familiar levels that made me replay them.
There are also new, larger systems. While Hitman has given points for stealth and goal achievement, Hitman 2's new progression system rewards players for most of the actions they will take during a playthrough. You get XP to change panels, find new areas, take out cameras and get different types of kills. There is a clear sense of progress even if you feel like you are stumbling through a level. As in the previous game, these points unlock new equipment, launch locations, and equipment smuggling locations. It's strange to get points to take out two random viewers with an expertly thrown stone before they can see your target die, but it feels good. After all, Hitman is about it.
In a reddit AMA about the game, the designers of Hitman 2 explained their process: "When designing the game, one of the questions in the process is:" What could possibly go wrong here? "And work from there." It's a fascinating question in Hitman's world, where every potential catastrophe is an opportunity waiting to be done. Agent 47's purpose in life is to be the key to everyday life and to ruin people's parties, homes and workplaces. Hitman 2 feels best when you loosen the necessary screws and sabotage valuable possessions because you were smart enough to spot their weaknesses when you use people's routines and passions against them because you were patient enough to do them learn. The perfect assassination attempt on Hitman is a Rube Goldberg device made of blood and glitches that gets the rich and powerful upset, even if 47, with a limitless international agency behind it, doesn't differ so much from its goals.
This tension was most apparent to me in my favorite level, the Whittleton Creek suburb in Vermont. The layout and the mission name "Another Life" are a clear allusion to "A New Life", a mission from the Hitman game Blood Money from 2006. Whittleton Creek is full of everyday activities like neighbors clapping while grilling a jogger who does laps or a gardener who argues with the local sheriff. I laughed out loud when 47 appeared in his shiny gloves and black suit on the pleasant streets. But under Whittleton Creek's normality are secrets, conspiracies, and powerful enemies. Like 47 themselves, these people may look regular, but they are not, and that is the justification he needs to bring their small community to their knees. Whittleton Creek offers the isolated, heavily guarded areas that I don't like in Hitman. By covering this design selection in hobby rooms and sports memorabilia, Hitman 2 turned this uncomplicated stealth opportunity into an opportunity to take a quick look at people's lives to destroy them. What does it mean to construct a tragedy in such a human place? Why is it so imperative to punish them for their secrets? Whittleton Creek is a masterful mashup of Hitman's stroll around the world and the ordinary people 47 you so often rub shoulders with.
Hitman 2 culminates in an absurdly planned, wonderfully tough mission on a secret island that savages the ultra-rich and their priorities. It took me the longest by far to get through when I was desperately looking for a clear line of sight, for an empty space, for the person who had the key that I needed. 47 was the most and least interesting man in the room, and in the last level he's surrounded by people who think they're the best of the best, but ultimately feed his great designs.
Hitman 2 also includes two multiplayer modes. Sniper Assassin integrates the gameplay of Hitman: Sniper Challenge 2012 in Hitman 2 as a separate mode, in which up to two players can switch off targets from a great distance. In 1v1 ghost mode, two players compete against each other to kill targets in separate versions of the same level. I couldn't spend time with them at the time of this review, but I will update them if I do.
Hitman 2 takes what its predecessor did best and improves it optically and mechanically. It's a brain game, a sandpit that can be bloodless or messy, depending on who pulls the strings of 47. Hitman 2 is a study of both the uniqueness of 47 and the way he's just another face in the crowd. Playing with this conflict makes Hitman games so entertaining, and Hitman 2 gives you more space, tools, and rewards to explore to the fullest. Character and plot are pale in comparison to what you can do, and Hitman 2 offers a fascinating buffet of accidents to choose from.