To keep your typical sequel expectations in check, it’s probably best to think of Hitman 2 as season 2 of the 2016 revival; it doesn’t have many new features, but it does deliver all six of its clever murder sandboxes at once. The huge variety of options for pulling off stealthy kills makes playing and replaying them a majorly satisfying draw. Beyond that, though, Agent 47 barely gets any new toys to play with and the story around it is just embarrassing on multiple levels.
Unlike most games, which love to send you to outlandish and exotic places, the Hitman series works best when you’re taking down targets in the most relatable, everyday environments possible. Everyone remembers Hitman: Blood Money’s classic clown-at-the-birthday-party mission, for example. Similarly, Hitman 2’s mundane suburban Vermont and dense Mumbai slums missions are the standouts in this new set. The former has you doing a bit of home invasion in between wandering the quiet neighborhood, while the latter’s three objectives are so spread out that it really feels like you’re wandering a packed city with a wealth of ways to accomplish your mission. By contrast, the finale takes place on a ludicrous Bond-meets-Eyes-Wide-Shut island of cultists, which borders on the comical. It’s still a challenging and complex mission but isn’t quite as memorable.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
Hitman 2’s sandboxes are as full of gadgets and disguises as ever. And I mean exactly as full – there are only a handful of new weapons, and none of them are game-changers. There’s a dart gun that can be used to knock out targets at mid-range, which does make things a little more convenient, but my favorite are coins that can be used to distract or (more often in my case) lure a bad guy to where you want them to go so that you can take them out quietly, away from prying eyes. I preferred to use the good old-fashioned fiber wire for that, because doing so automatically transitions you straight to dragging the body, saving you a step and precious time as you look to hide the corpse. As far as Agent 47’s other new tools go, I never felt the desire to use the fragmentation grenades or mines, probably because loud Hitman is not my personal brand of Hitman. It’s there if explosions are your thing, though.
And that’s part of the point. There’s always a ton of room for experimentation because it is genuinely impossible to see and do everything a mission offers in one playthrough. Side stories tell little tales within the framework of the larger story…if you overhear their details. I really enjoyed these playable novellas, and some of them are even time-limited: if you don’t trigger them quickly enough, the moment of opportunity passes and they expire.
Loud Hitman is not my personal brand of Hitman. It’s there if explosions are your thing, though.
A highlight was when I impersonated the corpse in a cult’s funeral ritual and then sat up and stabbed my target in the neck as she paid her last respects. But it took a hell of a lot to get myself in that position to gloriously, violently succeed: I had to steal a ceremonial dagger, which required infiltration, which required multiple disguises, which required studying people’s routes and behaviors, and on and on. For better and for worse, playing Hitman 2 is like building a house of cards: glorious when it’s finished, but one wrong move or breath sends the whole thing tumbling down.
Some other great moments from my adventures with 47: I stacked a good eight or nine bodies in a suburban backyard bush, poisoned a fumigation machine, sadistically triggered a killswitch connected to a nano-bomb in someone’s neck, yanked a guy off of a cliff’s edge while hanging from said ledge a la Sam Fisher, strangled a slumlord with a measuring tape while posing as a tailor fitting her for a dress, stabbed an octogenarian Russian spy in the neck as he reached for his pack of cigarettes after meticulously dispatching of over a dozen of his guards to finally get to him, and…well, I could go on, but you get the point. You’ll come away from Hitman 2 with plenty of memorable gameplay moments.
I was quite fond of poisoning people in general, which is another classic 47 move. Ruthless drug lord expecting a world-famous tattoo artist to come to his home to fix an old bit of ink? Why not intercept him at the bar, poison his beer when he isn’t looking, and then follow him into the bathroom to knock him out cold while he vomits?
Helping to add to those moments are the new item drops, starting points, and other sandbox-altering perks you can unlock when you play the missions a certain way so that the next time you go back in, the replayability is both built-in and actively encouraged. Even the difficulty levels change the gameplay parameters by removing UI hints, upping NPC intelligence, etc.
Patience Is a Virtue
Like any good stealth game, Hitman 2 doesn’t just ask for your patience – it demands it. The slightest failure can completely ruin your entire mission (or turn it into a big, loud shootout, which isn’t really the point of this game) but smartly deployed autosaves and the ability to do a manual save anywhere mean you never lose too much progress unless you’re on the highest difficulty, which limits you to one save per mission. It can still get frustrating to fail over and over, but you have to remember that there are so many choices in any given level that you can completely change your approach if something isn’t working. When I wanted to pick off one specific guy in a room first but had no luck luring him over with a tossed coin without someone else noticing the kill, I simply went into an adjacent room, found a radio, and turned it on in order to distract the guy who was noticing my illicit shenanigans. Problem solved! There is always another way in this game.
That said, Hitman 2, as smart as it usually is, can sometimes be really stupid when the AI goes wonky. In Vermont, I hid in the bathroom of a heavily guarded house, overflowed the sink, and then cleaned out a dozen or so dimwitted goons who just kept coming to investigate the distraction, one at a time. It was funny, but it’s hard to feel good about winning that way. What good is being a master assassin when your targets literally line up to be murdered?
As smart as Hitman 2 usually is, it can sometimes be really stupid when the AI goes wonky.
Then again, the opposite sensation arises when a murder you’ve been working up to for hours finally pays off: it feels fantastic. The final escapade took me three hours to pull off and it was totally worth it. I had to figure out how to clear entire rooms – watched over by cameras – in order to get an item I needed. I used a good half dozen disguises, maybe more. It took a lot of meticulous planning and some trial and error, but when it finally came together and I took down my target the sense of achievement was powerful.
The capper is that last bit of tension added by the fact that you have to make it to one of several escape points after the final kill, which leads to some of my favorite moments. Some of those will be locked if you don’t have the right key or disguise, making it an even more frantic escape when you haven’t planned ahead. If you have to get all the way back across the map to get to a way out that is open to you, getting out alive can be as tough as getting in.
When a murder you’ve been working up to for hours finally pays off, it feels fantastic.
Annoyingly, the storyline that ties Diana and Agent 47 into these missions is absurdly dumb. Case in point: an actual line of dialogue from the opening cinematic is, and I quote, “Neither know that the man they hunt is 47’s childhood friend… and unlike 47, he remembers everything!” It’s also poorly presented. Cutscenes are just narrated storyboards, and not especially good ones at that. This low-budget attempt to explore 47’s backstory is as bad as the 2007 Hitman movie starring Timothy Olyphant, and all I wanted during these overly long, poorly written interludes was to get back to garroting some goons.
Meanwhile, the Sniper Assassin mode returns with tons of customizable scenarios to further increase replayability, and Ghost multiplayer is brand new. It’s a 1v1 competitve mode, but you and your rival exist in parallel realities, so you mostly can’t interact with them unless you get the Ghost Coin, which you can throw into their reality to really throw a wrench into their plans. And while it is novel, its fast pace feels out of sync with the rest of Hitman 2’s plodding, deliberate hunts. It just doesn’t quite jell when you’re running all over the map trying to beat your buddy to the target location (because once one of you takes down the marked target, the other person has just a few seconds to match the feat before a point is awarded to the instigator).
Developer Io says we’ll also see more of Hitman’s excellent Elusive Target missions – time-limited scenarios where you have one chance (and one chance only) to take down your target – including one where we’ll get to join countless TV and film characters by killing Sean Bean.