Considering the trials and tribulations that IO Interactive have endured over the last few years, the fact that Hitman 2 was even released is a marvel. That it also manages to be the best Hitman game so far is a testament to how good the 2016 series reboot was and how IO have managed to evolve their stealth game.
The opening investigation of a New Zealand beach house eases you back into Agent 47’s shoes, before taking the training wheels off with the huge Miami map that features huge crowds, a large racing event with garages and VIP areas to explore, as well as an expo hall and secretive research facility. That remains the real highlight of the game, as a trail of breadcrumbs left by the shadow client leads you to a drug cartel’s den, the bustling streets of Mumbai, a leafy American suburb and on to a secluded North Atlantic island castle.
Hitman 2 does improve the possibilities open to players. The levels feel larger and more intricately designed across the board, and push IO’s engine further with some of the biggest crowds yet. Even better, they take a leaf out of the classic Assassin’s Creed games to let you hide in crowds as well as foliage. You’re now given a circle overlay to indicate how close you can let guards get to you before they’d spot you, and it’s great to have this as a new possibility for breaking contact with those hunting you.
Similarly, there’s new possibilities for smuggling gear around the map with the returning briefcase (itself a great thing to throw as a weapon or a distraction) and remote concussive mines, while the UI has been updated to give more information on what’s happening with targets, discovered bodies and distractions through picture-in-picture pop ups. Sure, these are more incremental improvements, but that stems from Hitman 2’s original conception as a second season of missions for the 2016 game.
Just as before, you’re dropped into these locations with few hints of what to do outside of where the targets are. It’s up to you to wander around, listening to conversations for clues, scrounging for improvised weapons and looking for the opportunities. You can follow through on specifically designed and signposted missions that use particular disguises and opportunities, but you can turn these hints off and ignore them to find your own paths. Those possibilities expand if you return to a location and build your mastery level, which opens up ICA drops, spawning in different locations and with more disguises. Through these options, it caters both to relative newcomers and those who know the Hitman series like the back of their hand.
There’s still a certain rigidity to their design and your options in sneaking around them. The AI in particular has some hard borders that can grate, whether it’s accidentally taking a step into somewhere that your disguise doesn’t have access to and almost instantly being hunted for trespassing, or characters that walk into your personal space and then take umbrage to your presence. At the other end of the scale, you can get away with an almost ridiculous amount of sneaky silliness if you’re simply wearing a set of clothing that matches the permissions of an area – admittedly, you are often called out by NPCs for such behaviour. For Hitman to continue to evolve, IO’s next step has to be to improve the AI and the range of grey areas that they can accommodate and react to. Currently, a part of the joy is how you can push and pull the AI in simplistic ways, abusing the systems as they currently are.
The overarching story in the previous game was a slow burn of mystery and intrigue, but Hitman 2 kicks it into high gear. While the missions themselves aren’t particularly story heavy, the cutscenes between them are full of twists and turns. Honestly, these would have played out better across episodic releases, because the tides turn so rapidly in the battle between Providence, the shadow client’s militia and various other revelations that nothing really gets to settle in. It leads to what feels like the end of a second act in a trilogy, but it just feels detached from the actual missions and that it meanders for the sake of meandering. Presumably a third game (or the DLC expansions, if it comes to that) can now have steadier foundations to build upon.
Hitman 2 does feel like a somewhat lighter game compared to the first game – in terms of content, not tone. The most noticeable step back in production is that the story cutscenes are voices played over inanimate 3D scenes. It’s a little jarring. But beyond that, once you’ve progressed through each level, all that the game offers is to replay those missions and try to take out the targets in different ways. That’s fine, and an excellent way to fully explore the intricately designed levels, but with 2016’s Hitman, IO teased out the episodic releases things like the Sarajevo Six and Escalation missions at launch that gave you different targets, different rules and objectives. They’re part of the plans for the game’s live content and updates, but it’s a shame that there isn’t at least one example at launch – they’re even missing from the Legacy Pack DLC that brings the first game’s levels into Hitman 2 updated gameplay
What do now have is the first of the simply sublime Elusive Contracts. Where you can lean on the ability to save and load after mistakes in the main campaign (unless you’re playing at the highest difficulty), here you have no ability to save or load, you don’t even have the ability to restart. If you’re caught and die trying to make your hit, that’s your one and only attempt ended. The first one of these features the eternally doomed Sean Bean playing Mark Faba, meandering around the Kronstad building in Miami and discussing various deals and technical details with the employees there. On the one hand, it’s an easy contract for anyone that spent half an hour learning their way around the Miami level to take out Kronstad in the main story – I actually employed the exact same tactic from my first hit in the story – but the pressure of things potentially going wrong adds to the fear. My push for a Silent Assassin ranking went wrong as I was wiping the security camera footage and a guard ambled into the room to catch me. I was lucky to manage to still complete the mission.
Also putting your knowledge of a level to the test is the multiplayer Ghost Mode. Instead of pitting you head to head against another assassin, you’re racing the mannequin-like spectre of your opponent to take down a series of targets around the map. It only features the Miami map and is still labelled as a beta – I’ve had a couple of disconnections and crashes, so that label fits – but it’s another exhilarating twist in the action, pushing you to move fast and potentially take risks. Every time a target is killed and goes unnoticed for long enough, the other player has 20 seconds to do the same. It can swing back and forth, it can go slow or go fast, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of this.
While there’s no direct cooperative mode within these missions, you do have the Sniper Assassin spin-off mode, which props you alone or you and a partner on a mountain ridge overlooking a mansion. It’s quite a bit of fun, as it was when releases as a pre-order bonus, and gives a flavour of something a little bit different. Yet, I can’t help but feel that a true co-op mode might be more impactful, engaging and fun.
Building on the foundations of the 2016 game, Hitman 2 is full of the best Hitman stealth action yet. Yes, it’s evolutionary in some ways, and you have to accept the series’ idiosyncratic take on the genre, but there’s space for it to keep growing with the return of Escalation missions and continuing Elusive Contracts. Whether you’re a blackmailing pink flamingo, throwing briefcases at people, or getting robots to do your dirty work, the satisfaction of an expertly planned and executed hit is like nothing else.
Version tested: PS4
Also available for Xbox One and PC