I killed a guy with a fish.
2016’s Hitman was a game that really shouldn’t have worked. A dormant franchise, the previous iteration of which strayed so far from the formula that it alienated a large part of the fanbase and critics alike. Stripping back all of the subtitles and action-oriented nonsense that Absolution brought to the table, IO Interactive’s reboot of Hitman was a superb game that lent itself perfectly to its episodic release method. The perfect sandbox of assassination, with time allowed between each mission area to fully explore, understand and master the intricacies of the maps and targets. The excitement for Agent 47 was back, and after Season 1 concluded, the anticipation for Season 2 skyrocketed.
And then IOI split from Square Enix.
Warner Bros picked up the rights to publish what many people expected to be Season 2, and… Well… That’s essentially what we’ve got here. Instead of the piecemeal drip-feed of content throughout the course of several months, however, this full retail release fires all of the content at your face like a face full of buckshot, along with everything from Season 1 being included for good measure. It’s a strange decision, given just how well many felt the “Seasonal” nature worked in the first game, but given that the first game seemingly suffered in terms of sales, I think there is a justifiable reason for the decision.
This game is ridiculous.
That’s enough about the business and historical side of the game though. If you’ve played Hitman (2016), then you’ll know exactly what to expect. If you haven’t, then you’ll find yourself slapped in the middle of a huge, expansive map, with little to no easy way of getting to your target. By exploring the area, listening in on conversations and choking out people before disguising yourself as them and dumping their body in a conveniently placed wardrobe or locker, you’ll quickly find yourself bypassing security until you eventually make your way toward the marked individuals. Of course, one of the best ways to snuff out your targets is to follow the built-in “mission stories”. These were previously known as “Objectives”, and will give you a handy step-by-step guide to pulling off some often spectacular assassinations. More often than not, they will lead the poor sod in the contract down a path that will see something “unfortunate but accidental” happen to them, such as being blown off the top of a skyscraper by an over-active wind machine, or being drowned in a pool of cement on a building site. The writing team at IO deserve a ton of credit for being able to pull off these ridiculous set pieces in a manner that are sometimes hilarious, often absurd, but always effective. In one assassination, I poisoned someone’s food so they started throwing up over the side of a pier, and then smacked them with a huge fish to cause them to plummet to their death. This game is ridiculous.
One you’ve powered through each mission, you’re treated to a somewhat stripped back cut scene, with a still in-engine shot being panned around and basic effects layered over the top. It’s a clear indication of corners being cut where IO felt they needed to, but if I’m honest, I’m not here for the story. What is here is good, however, and sheds a light on 47’s background a little more than you’d ever have expected before, and offers up an insight that I wasn’t sure I needed, but am genuinely intrigued to see more of. One interesting thing to note is that the cut scenes, and all of the missions, are playable from the get go, with no requirement to unlock them sequentially. Quite why this is the case, I don’t know, but if you want to just take in the story it’s quite easy to do so without playing the entire game.
Of course, where the first Hitman got its substantial lifespan from was the dreaded “Games as a Service” model. Only, with Hitman, it worked. Elusive targets (targets that showed up for a short amount of real-life hours, with only one attempt to take down) and community-created contracts kept the game going well beyond the lifespan of the initial map releases. Hitman 2 seems to be carrying that on without breaking its stride, with the first Elusive Target deploying around the time of this review going live, and being none other than “Mr Die in Everything” himself, Sean Bean. It’s a tongue-in-cheek appointment, and one that sums up the dark humour ever-present throughout Hitman 2.
The thing that really made me wonder about Hitman 2 before release was the quality of the maps. 2016’s game suffered from a couple of maps which were slightly sub-par (Colorado, I’m looking at you), and I often found myself sauntering back into the Palais de Walewska or the quaint town of Sapienza without a second thought. The sequel’s maps seem to be pretty diverse, with Colombia being a sprawling mass of streets, jungle and intricate cave networks, Mumbai being a phenomenally complex hive of slums and side streets, and the curiously quiet suburban mundanity of Whittleton Creek in the USA. It’s this massive change in pace that adds a bit more depth to the chaos of Hitman 2, with a leafy neighbourhood in the fictional town providing a perfect setting to try out some new approaches to assassination. In addition to this, there is also Himmelstein, a map familiar to anyone who preordered the game, as this is the setting for the Sniper Assassin game mode. This marks IOI’s dipping of the toe into the multiplayer waters with this new title, and it does a great job of offering up something slightly different to the norm. The one big mode that is really interesting though is Ghost Mode. At the time of writing I’ve yet to play much of it, but it’s essentially a score attack mode with two players on the same map. The twist is that neither of you can interact with each other’s gameplay session outside of using “Ghost Coins” to distract people in your opponent’s game. It’s a really neat concept, and I hope the game gets updated to work with more than the one map that it currently uses.
There is a staggering amount of content on offer.
Honestly, I could go on for ages about Hitman 2. The improvements to the lighting are really impressive, you can now be spotted in mirrors (and there’s plenty of reflective surfaces on display), hide in long grass, along with a litany of other small quality of life improvements (such as the much better telegraphing of when you’re compromised, trespassing etc), it all makes for a much more streamlined experience. Possibly one of my favourite features, however, is the ability to import ALL of the 2016 game’s content into this one and play through the whole lot in one package if you own the original, with all of the new mechanics and effects. It is a wonderful touch, and one that stands out in today’s landscape of excessive monetisation. Even if you don’t own the first game, you can pay £20 and immediately gain access to everything. Having the added mechanic of being spotted in reflections suddenly make those floor-to-ceiling mirrors in Paris much more intimidating! Given that the first game can be picked up used for around £10 in some places, there is a staggering amount of content on offer for around £50 if you want to get the most for your money.
My advice, if you’re going to pick up Hitman 2, is to play it methodically. Don’t just plough through the game as quickly as you can. Much like the best movies, there will be bits you miss on the first, second and even tenth playthrough of each of the locations contained within. It’s a Pandora’s box of ridiculousness, whether you want to take a sniper rifle into a level and pick your targets off from afar, or whether you prefer the personal touch with 47’s Fibre Wire, there are enough ways to skin a cat (or, er, kill a racing driver) that this game will provide you with hours upon hours of entertainment. It’s a way of experiencing things that was essentially forced on you in the first game due to how it was released, but it pays you to do the same with this one, as it’s just that damn good. If you want to just blast through the levels once, you’ll struggle to crack 10 hours on the main game, but if you learn the maps, and play Hitman 2 the way it’s meant to be played, you’ll find an almost limitless supply of fun tucked away.