Hit­man 2

Hit­man 2 is more of the same, but is that a bad thing?

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Phil Sav­age

Stabbed. Stran­gled. Elec­tro­cuted. Drowned. Tech­ni­cally, Hit­man 2— like its pre­de­ces­sor—is an in­cred­i­bly vi­o­lent game. Your job as master as­sas­sin Agent 47 is to en­sure a hit list of rich jerks meet a macabre end, prefer­ably silently, with no wit­nesses or alarms. But—again, like its pre­de­ces­sor— Hit­man 2 doesn’t revel in its vi­o­lence. It’s not grue­some or gory. Your mis­sions are more cere­bral; a puz­zle box where the win state is an ass­hole be­ing dead. I could write ‘like its pre­de­ces­sor’ a lot when de­scrib­ing Hit­man 2. Per­haps more than any game in this 18-year-old se­ries, Hit­man 2 feels like a con­tin­u­a­tion of 2016’s Hit­man. Hit­man 2: Silent As­sas­sin was a ma­jor im­prove­ment upon Hit­man: Co­de­name 47. Hit­man: Blood Money was a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade over Hit­man: Con­tracts. Hit­man: Ab­so­lu­tion… well, let’s not talk about that one.

Hit­man 2, though, is an it­er­a­tion. It looks more im­pres­sive, but not by much. Its crowds are more dense, but not by much. The UI, menus, and dis­guise sys­tem are all the same, and it shares the same crisp aes­thetic style. Even the tutorial is a di­rect copy—the same two train­ing mis­sions set in a ply­wood sim­u­la­tion tak­ing place in a mas­sive un­der­ground silo. This is more ‘sea­son two’ than what you might usu­ally ex­pect of a full se­quel.

It’s some­thing that feels im­por­tant to men­tion, but it didn’t hin­der my en­joy­ment of the game. That’s be­cause, taken as a whole, Hit­man 2 is more con­sis­tent in the qual­ity of its lev­els. Where Hit­man was episodic, this se­quel of­fers its six mis­sions at launch. And, with one ex­cep­tion, all are large and in­tri­cate—labyrinthine struc­tures and wind­ing streets full of chal­lenges to over­come and op­por­tu­ni­ties to pur­sue.

The first proper mis­sion fea­tures a com­bined race­course and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter, sep­a­rated by an un­der­ground park­ing com­plex. The Colom­bian vil­lage of Santa For­tuna is larger still, con­tain­ing a man­sion, a con­struc­tion site, an un­der­ground cave net­work, a drug plan­ta­tion, and a sec­tion of rain­for­est. Even af­ter over an hour spent deal­ing with its three tar­gets, I hadn’t fully ex­plored the space.

Mum­bai is like a bet­ter ver­sion of 2016 Hit­man’s Mar­rakesh, with large, bustling crowds that bor­der more re­stricted ar­eas that, cru­cially, are more en­joy­able to tra­verse. A con­struc­tion site that dou­bles as a movie set is a par­tic­u­lar stand­out, with a clever place­ment of guards that en­sures that—even with the right dis­guise—you’ll need to take a cir­cuitous path or scale the un­fin­ished el­e­va­tor shaft. A great Hit­man level forces you to adapt and re­spond as you go, and Hit­man 2’ s en­vi­ron­ments ex­cel at pro­vid­ing the routes and op­tions needed to ad­just your plan on the fly.

Tra­di­tions of the Trade

Re­ally, though, there are only five of these gi­ant sand­box en­vi­ron­ments. The first ac­tual mis­sion, set in New Zealand, has 47 ex­plore a small beach­side prop­erty. It func­tions more like an in­tro­duc­tion to the game’s con­cept than a level proper. The other five, while all ex­cel­lent, do suf­fer from fa­mil­iar­ity. The lat­ter episodes of 2016’s Hit­man started to play with the struc­ture of what a Hit­man level could be, lead­ing to more ex­per­i­men­tal spa­ces like Hokkaido, where ac­cess was di­rectly tied to the dis­guise 47 was wear­ing. Hit­man 2 feels more re­strained. It riffs on fa­mil­iar de­sign prin­ci­ples, in­vok­ing Sapienza, Paris and even Hit­man: Blood Money’s US suburbs.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, the way each mis­sion plays out is largely up to you. By de­fault, Hit­man 2 does a lot of hand-hold­ing. You’ll walk around the pub­lic space of each mis­sion un­til you over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion that is in some way re­lated to your mis­sion. That trig­gers a prompt for a ‘Mis­sion Story’—the new name for Hit­man’s Op­por­tu­nity sys­tem. Elect to fol­low that prompt, and you’ll be guided on a se­ries of steps that will put you in reach of your tar­get. In Mi­ami, for in­stance, I over­hear a mil­i­tary gen­eral talk about his up­com­ing meet­ing with one of my tar­gets, the tech CEO Robert Knox. In re­sponse, the game sug­gests that I steal his clothes.

That’s a ba­sic ex­am­ple—many of the Mis­sion Story strands are more com­plex—but it il­lus­trates how the ob­jec­tive sys­tem strips away the puz­zle el­e­ment in fa­vor of ba­sic ex­e­cu­tion. I’m told what to do, but

A great Hit­man level forces you to adapt and re­spond as you go

it’s up to me to sub­due the NPC and hide his body, en­sur­ing that he’s not found. Even play­ing like this, though, only some of these paths end with an ob­vi­ous death. Hit­man 2 is de­signed for re­peat playthroughs, and some of the more in­ven­tive ends re­quire ex­tra plan­ning, us­ing knowl­edge gained from a pre­vi­ous run.

Ter­mi­nal Hos­pi­tal­ity

Suit­ably dressed, I meet Knox for a pri­vate demo of some new mil­i­tary hard­ware—putting me in reach of him, and thus, his death. But con­tex­tual prompts within the space sug­gest a way I could turn his tech against him. I have to leave that for a sec­ond, more grat­i­fy­ing playthrough, where I use my ex­panded knowl­edge to hunt down the spe­cific items I need to ex­e­cute my plan. Ironic deaths are al­ways the best.

I pre­fer to play with Mis­sion Story hints dis­abled—at least for my first run through each level. The op­por­tu­ni­ties are still there if you find them, with rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion logged in a sep­a­rate in­tel tab, but it feels more nat­u­ral, leav­ing you to iden­tify the rel­e­vant steps. Thanks to the size of each level, this meant my first at­tempt at a mis­sion usu­ally took well over an hour to com­plete. Still, for me, it’s the most sat­is­fy­ing way to play, and I ap­pre­ci­ate how gran­u­lar the op­tions are—let­ting me de­fine the ex­act amount of chal­lenge I de­sire, while still of­fer­ing a help­ing hand for those who want it.

There are dif­fi­culty op­tions, too, but I never felt the need to ex­per­i­ment with them. Master, which lim­its you to a sin­gle save and adds ex­tra guards and cam­eras, feels like more of a chore than a chal­lenge. Pro­fes­sional, the de­fault op­tion, is pitched just right. Again, the op­tion is there if you want it, but here feels be­side the point. Hit­man as a se­ries is de­signed to let you de­fine your own level of com­pe­tence. You can botch your way through a level, leav­ing a trail of dead as you go. Or you can aim for Silent As­sas­sin rank, killing only your tar­gets and leav­ing with­out a trace.

Each mis­sion has a se­lec­tion of chal­lenges re­ward­ing you for every achieve­ment, from killing your tar­gets in spe­cific ways to im­pres­sive feats like gain­ing a Silent As­sas­sin rat­ing with­out ever wear­ing a dis­guise. As has al­ways been the case in Hit­man, your pri­mary method of in­fil­tra­tion is play­ing dress up— wear­ing the clothes of some­one who is al­lowed to be in the place you need to go. But Hit­man 2 is also a more com­pe­tent stealth game, with a new con­ceal­ment fea­ture that lets you blend into crowds or hide in bushes. It won’t change how you play, but does give you breath­ing room be­fore you need to start ex­e­cut­ing your plan.

The ben­e­fit of com­plet­ing chal­lenges is that you’re re­warded with XP that un­locks new tools, start­ing lo­ca­tions and stash points. It’s an­other way for Hit­man 2 to eke more en­ter­tain­ment out of the same five lev­els. My playstyle means that, for my first run through, I didn’t go any­where with­out my lock­pick and a hand­ful of coins used to dis­tract NPCs. But af­ter earn­ing a few lev­els of mas­tery, you’ll have ac­cess to a fun arse­nal of guns and toys. IO has even brought back the brief­case, mean­ing you can fi­nally carry a sniper ri­fle around with­out in­stantly be­ing at­tacked by every guard on the map.

Cur­tains down

Many of the other new fea­tures don’t re­ally make them­selves known. The de­tec­tion UI has been up­dated a bit, which is nice, I guess. And ap­par­ently NPCs can now see you in mir­rors, which hasn’t yet been a fac­tor in any of my playthroughs. The other big change is the cutscenes, which are now de­liv­ered as a slideshow of dy­namic im­ages. I’ve never been in­vested in Hit­man’s story, but the switch is dis­tract­ing—es­pe­cially be­cause the (re­peated) tutorial’s cutscenes are fully an­i­mated.

Fa­mil­iar prob­lems per­sist, too. Oc­ca­sion­ally these in­tri­cate sim­u­la­tions break down, with char­ac­ters stop­ping a con­ver­sa­tion mid-sen­tence in or­der to trig­ger a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion, be­fore re­turn­ing to the first as if the un­canny in­ter­rup­tion had never hap­pened. And—like its pre­de­ces­sor—it all but re­quires you to have an on­line con­nec­tion. You can play off­line, but you can’t com­plete chal­lenges or un­lock new stuff.

Ul­ti­mately, Hit­man 2 feels safe. That’s some­thing of a dou­ble-edged sword. It means this se­quel of­fers very lit­tle in the way of in­no­va­tion, but also means five qual­ity lev­els (and New Zealand) that can ri­val some of the best in Hit­man’s his­tory. Per­haps more im­por­tantly, it’s a ro­bust plat­form for more one-time Elu­sive Tar­gets, more user-made Con­tracts, more Sniper As­sas­sin maps and more lev­els through fu­ture ex­pan­sions.

When 2016’s Hit­man was an­nounced as be­ing episodic, I was con­fused, yes, but also ex­cited at the idea of con­stantly ex­pand­ing space for new Hit­man lev­els. By be­ing so much like its pre­de­ces­sor, Hit­man 2 is set to ful­fil that orig­i­nal goal. When paired with the ad­di­tional Le­gacy Pack— free to own­ers of 2016’s Hit­man— which adds the pre­vi­ous game’s lev­els, Hit­man 2 po­si­tions it­self as the es­sen­tial plat­form for en­ter­tain­ing mur­der puz­zles.

Hit­man 2 feels safe. That’s some­thing of a dou­ble-edged sword

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