Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC
It’s odd that so much of the thrill in Hitman 2 comes from the ways in which you don’t kill people. As you walk around the game’s gorgeously crafted locales, often populated by hundreds of NPCs, you’ll pass countless opportunities for murder. A pair of scissors on a secretary’s desk can be picked up and stabbed into someone’s neck. A loose brick in a building site can be smashed into someone’s skull. Almost every food and drink item in the game can be poisoned in multiple ways. Even a rolled-up newspaper can be deadly in the right circumstances.
In Hitman 2, you can barely walk five paces without the game highlighting an object you can kill someone with, never mind all the guns and bombs and knives that Agent 47 can bring with him on-mission. The whole game pulses with violent potential, yet in most missions you’ll ignore 99.9 percent of it, completing some without laying a hand on your targets at all.
This is because Hitman isn’t really a game about killing; it’s a game about planning. You’re figuring out not simply how to professionally murder but how to do it in the most subtle and surgical way possible. To do this well requires restraint and consideration in environments that thrum with potential chaos, and that is where the thrill of playing Hitman truly lies.
It’s taken a while for IO Interactive to get the formula right. But it was a delight to see them do so in 2016’s episodic reboot of the series. Unsurprisingly, Hitman 2 leaves that formula largely unchanged, offering another six lavish and highly open-ended missions while also adding cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes.
Indeed, Hitman 2 is really a direct continuation of Hitman: Season One. The story picks up exactly where that of the first one picked up, although it’s hard for me to tell you where that is because Hitman’s story is as confusing as it is uninteresting. It’s a knotty and self-indulgent tale involving a mysterious figure called the Shadow Client and an organisation called Providence. It’s all intended to sound very cool and clever but ends up merely complicated and not very interesting instead.
Fortunately, this doesn’t matter, because we’re playing as Agent 47, and all the motivation Agent 47 needs is for someone to point a finger and say, 'Kill that person.' With the exception of the first level, each of Hitman 2’s missions is a vast and intricate sandbox featuring multiple targets who need to be eliminated. As with the first game, you can do this however you choose, but you’re rewarded for being stealthy and clever and punished for unnecessary acts of violence.
Six missions may not sound like much, especially given the price-tag. But replayability is a major focus of Hitman 2, even more so than it was in the first. You’re guided into this via the mission stories, a half-dozen little quests that help you slice through the carefully crafted puzzle of each mission and assassinate your targets.
The second mission, for example, takes place at a racing-expo in Miami, and you’re tasked with offing the head of the Kronstadt corporation and his petrol-headed daughter. With the latter target, there are at least three different stories that will help you dispatch her. One of these sees you disguising yourself as a mechanic to tamper with her car, while another involves using the threat of blackmail to lure her to a quiet location.
To complete all the stories, you’ll need to replay the mission three or four times, and that’s just to complete the scripted stuff. Each time you play, you’ll unlock new weapons, gadgets, starting locations, and drop-off points, as well as identifying other environmental methods for dealing with your target.
At a time when it can be an enormous challenge simply to play a game once (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey), it’s a treat to play a game that not only offers the chance to replay levels but actively encourages it. It helps that Hitman 2’s environments are so wonderfully crafted. Miami is the most dazzling, a kaleidoscopic and flamboyant venue that lets you mingle with crowds watching the race, venture through the VIP area and down into the racing paddock, and explore the quieter Marina, within which lies the expo centre itself. Other highlights include the urban sprawl of Mumbai, and the suburban idyll of Vermont, where you can disguise yourself as a cake-stall attendant and kill people with poisoned muffins.
The only downside to the mission design is that some of the stories are a little overly scripted, with some leading you by the nose to the point of assassination. Others are more flexible, requiring you to find an opportune point to knock out a character and steal their disguise, or bring your target to an area where there are multiple opportunities for execution. Even the weakest ones make up for their limiting of scope with their off-kilter dispatch methods and wry humour. Dressing Agent 47 up as a drug-addled hippie is almost worth the price of admission alone, especially when he drops the line, 'Peace and love are really not my thing.'
Mechanically, Hitman 2 is little different from the game that IO Interactive released two years ago. What Hitman 2 does add over the previous game is multiplayer. Titled 'Ghost Mode', this new mode allows you to compete with another player to assassinate a sequence of randomly designated targets on any of Hitman 2’s levels.
You can’t interact with that other player directly – which is why they’re represented as a spectral outline, so you can’t deliberately attempt to foil one another’s plans. Nonetheless, Ghost Mode is a surprisingly tense and fast-paced experience, often showing off the dynamic and reactive nature of the game better than the main story. It’s also a great way of experiencing those amazing Hitman environments from a different angle.
In the end, what makes Hitman such a triumph is that it is genuinely a game to be played with rather than a project for the player to complete. You could spend dozens of hours messing with each of its self-contained worlds, but you’ll also get something out of it even if you only have a handful of hours to spare. And whether you simply pass through each level once or solve its puzzle from every angle, the game will still leave you wanting more.