If someone asks me to name the best stealth games of all time, at least one title from Danish developer IO Interactive’s Hitman series is undoubtedly going to be there. While the series may not have enjoyed the global success of its peers like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, the stealth genre as a whole will forever be indebted to the bald, bar-coded assassin. The unique concept of assassin power fantasy, gameplay design that makes a perfectionist orgasm and the cathartic orchestral score by Jesper Kyd made sure that the franchise stayed relevant, even after 18 years of its inception. The last few years saw the Hitman series trying to emerge out of its niche shell and with it, came the good, the bad and the ugly. After the disappointment that was Absolution, we saw IO Interactive struggle to retain the series’ identity and adapting to an episodic model, only to be driven to the verge of bankruptcy. But the flames have been rekindled and Agent 47 is back to its root with HITMAN 2. The stakes are higher than ever for both the series and the developer. Does HITMAN 2 deliver on its promises or does it fall flat on its bald head? Let’s find out.
HITMAN 2 is a stealth video game developed by IO Interactive and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The seventh entry in the long-running series, HITMAN 2 was released on 13 November 2018
Story & Narrative
HITMAN 2 is a direct sequel to 2016’s HITMAN and thus, the story picks up directly where the last game left off. The secret organization called Providence which controls world behind the scenes is at war with a militia group led by the mysterious Lucas Grey. Grey leaves no stone unturned and is willing to go to any length to take down the Providence. After being played by Lucas Grey into taking down several Providence members, the legendary assassin Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood goes after Grey and his militia to put a stop to this bloody war and uncover the grand scheme of things. It goes without saying that the plot does not go from point A to B directly. After a shocking revelation, 47 and Diana are forced to take their own stand in a conflict larger than both of them could imagine.
The story was never the strong suit of the older Hitman games. The story was a slave to its gameplay and was just sort of there. Absolution did the opposite and we all know what happened next. HITMAN 2016 and HITMAN 2 on the other hand, have seemingly struck a nice balance between the story and the gameplay. Gone are the themes of catharsis, redemption and self-reflection and instead, the story plays out much like a spy thriller with a pinch of personal motive. The story is a tad bit better than the recent entries in the series. In addition to 47, Diana and Lucas Grey, all of the assassination targets are well fleshed out with copious amounts of backstory which ties them nicely to the main story.
Sadly, the game does a terrible job of presenting the story to the players. For some baffling reason, there are no more pre-rendered, cinematic cutscenes that play out between missions. Even though the last game was stingy with their number, there were still a few well-made cutscenes that progressed the story. Instead in HITMAN 2, you have this animated stills with voice-overs that replace the standard cutscenes. It feels as if the developers were in the middle of making cinematic cutscenes but stopped during initial production and took all the storyboard scenes and mashed them all together. I don’t know the reason why the developers chose this medium to convey the story because it surely does not seem like a budget limitation. It’s possible that the developers might have run out of time.
At the same time, you can 100% enjoy the game without paying heed to any of this story stuff. Longtime Hitman fans won’t have any trouble immersing themselves in the shoes of the legendary assassin and go wild. The gameplay comes first and foremost. It just depends on what you’re in for. There had better be a HITMAN 3 after this, especially with the way this game ends. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that HITMAN 2 ends in an abrupt, untimely fashion and leaves a sour taste in your mouth.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Before we begin, let’s just get the elephant out of the room. HITMAN 2 is basically the season 2 to the 2016 game. Is that a bad thing? Not in the slightest. HITMAN 2016 was back to the form for the series and succeeded in regaining the series’ diminishing identity while introducing several problems of its own. HITMAN 2 takes the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” formula to heart. Mechanically speaking, the game can be summed up as HITMAN 2016 but perfected. Everything (almost) found lacking in the last game has been fixed or improved upon. Gameplay is king here and HITMAN 2 tries its level best to provide an experience that is easy to learn but hard to master.
In HITMAN 2, after a brief planning phase, the player is dropped into large sandbox environments with the ultimate aim to assassinate pre-designated targets and getting out alive. How you accomplish that task is entirely up to you. HITMAN 2 carries with it, the same freedom of choice that made the series unique in the first place. Whether you choose to sneak in, blend in or blast your way in, the game gives you the tools and the means. But if you ask me, the ultimate way to experience the Hitman series is through patience and perfection and the game makes sure that you’re properly rewarded for adopting a purist path. There is no higher satisfaction than getting in and out unnoticed while pulling off the perfect murder. After all, who’s going to blame a shiny bald headed dude just because a high profile businessman drowned in his toilet?
A Free Trip Around the World
Concordant with the legacy of the Hitman games, HITMAN 2 features six locations located throughout the world. Starting in a beachside bungalow in New Zealand, a crowded racing stadium in Miami, the cocaine fields of Colombia, the hustle and bustle of the Indian city of Mumbai, a peaceful suburb in the USA that closely resembles “A New Life” from Hitman: Blood Money and culminating in a secluded island in the North Atlantic, there is much to be seen and explored. Each level with the exception of the New Zealand prologue is huge (larger than that of its predecessor), bristling with minute details and opportunities to carry out your contracts. The levels are brought to life thanks to the insane amount of NPCs going by their business (think The Murder of Crows x 10). The level design is nothing short of commendable. Players can spend hours upon hours exploring each level, enjoying the picturesque locations and completing all the challenges.
Tools of the Trade
It wouldn’t be a Hitman game if the player didn’t have access to an arsenal of crazy and bizarre weaponry. HITMAN 2 doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. From the standard ICA grade firearms to medieval battle axes to an exploding ducky to the homing briefcase (you heard that right!), HITMAN 2 is filled to the brim with all sorts of badass weaponry to take for a spin. The environments themselves are choke full of interactive items that can be picked up and used. Walking through the many hallways, I could hear the wailings of a nearby fire extinguisher, begging me to try it out on the heads of the roaming security guards. I’m very glad to report that the guns control and feel better compared to HITMAN. As you complete challenges, you unlock more weapons in your inventory that could be carried to or smuggled into the subsequent levels. You can also use your briefcase to smuggle weaponry to restricted areas (a feature that can be exploited easily) and use it as a throwable weapon. However, I do miss 47’s safe houses from Silent Assassin and Blood Money where you could store weapons carried from the different levels and try it out per will. The weapon customization from Blood Money is one other feature I wish would have been present in HITMAN 2.
Experimentation is Key
Experimentation is the dosa and chutney of HITMAN 2 (if you thought I was going to say dosa and sambar, then you’re dead to me). If you go in expecting a classic Hitman game featuring two dozen levels, you will be disappointed. To compensate for the presence of only a handful of levels, IO Interactive has made sure that each of the said levels is extremely replayable. Finishing the main campaign alone is just scratching the surface of what HITMAN 2 has to offer. Aside from the standard trinity (Sneak, Blend or Assault), for each target, there exist several ‘mission opportunities’ which serve as mini-quests you can complete to get closer to the target and dispatch them without drawing the attention of even wall lizards. This, combined with the instinct mode (X-ray vision) and the exploitation of enemy AI makes the game a bit too easy at times. But hey, that’s why Master difficulty exist where mission stories are disabled, NPCs are more attentive and only a single save slot. I highly recommend that you play in this difficulty to get the complete experience.
If that isn’t enough, then there exist a gazillion challenges to be completed, locations to be discovered, disguises to be worn, XP to be earned and Intel to be collected. You can even play the improved versions of HITMAN 2016 levels (if you own it in the first place) within HITMAN 2. I just wish that the progress from the last game would carry over. However, the real art of HITMAN 2 lies in your ability to make a kill on Master difficulty, setting everything up to make it look like an accident. Smothering people in their sleep, burying someone alive in a cement pit, locking a target up inside an iron maiden- all in a day’s work for Agent 47. If you ask me, there’s nothing like setting up another assassin to do the dirty work for you without their knowledge. Oh Mr Kashmirian, I wash my hands off of this blood. In my opinion, this is the way HITMAN 2 is meant to be played. The perfect kill is one which does not look like a kill at all. Of course, you can always replay a level and run around guns blazing, leaving not a single soul alive. Do note that you need to be online at all time to unlock challenges and access everything the game has to offer, a feature that will surely irk people with limited access to the internet and wary of privacy policies.
If you’re tired of HITMAN 2’s single-player campaign, why not have a gander at the other modes on offer. Like its predecessor, HITMAN 2 features player created contracts mode which you can freely browse and play if you’re feeling like taking on some additional challenge. Then there are the Elusive Targets where you only get one shot at taking down a limited time target. The first Elusive Target is none other than the Hollywood star Sean Bean whose in-game moniker is that of Mark Faba reputed for faking his own death (nice jab there IOI). But he hasn’t arrived at the time of the review, so we’re just going to slide past that.
Up next is the separate mode called Sniper Assassin which plays similar to Sniper Challenge, the promotional game for Hitman: Absolution. Sniper Assassin can be played either solo or with a friend in co-op. Rather than running around a level on-foot, players instead view the entirety of the level from a distant stationary viewpoint. Players are tasked with assassinating targets and complete objectives through the scope of a sniper rifle. I couldn’t find an online match for this mode, but as far as I can tell, Sniper Assassin is a decent way to pass some time.
Finally, there is the brand new Ghost mode. Ghost Mode in HITMAN 2, gives players the chance to simultaneously hunt targets while in the same location and can see a “ghost” version of their online rival gamer to track progress against their own, but they exist in separate realities unaffected by the actions of their adversary. The player who can outsmart their opponent by eliminating five targets first will declare victory. This particular competitive game mode is still in Beta and even though I kept getting kicked from matches due to a connection issue, there is definitely a good deal of potential to be found here. I’m definitely looking forward to playing Ghost mode more and hope that it doesn’t end up kicking me out just as I’m about to score a victory.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
For the most part, graphics remain largely unchanged from its predecessor. There are some graphical enhancements such as improved lighting effects and enhanced parallax occlusion maps. The game isn’t stellar looking by any means but the diversity in the handcrafted locations are designed in such a way that the strong points of the Glacier engine are highlighted.
The game was run on the following specs and for the most part, stayed well above 60 fps at 1080p maxed out. However, the fps would dip to the 40s during the Mumbai and North Atlantic levels where there is an impressive number of NPCs on screen and a lot of effects are going on.
- Intel Core i5 7500 3.40Ghz
- GTX 1070 8 GB
- 8×2 GB 2400Mhz DDR4 Ram
- Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit
I do hope that the performance will improve when DX12 support hits HITMAN 2. Aside from this I also ran into some minor bugs such as NPCs sleeping in mid-air and game getting frozen during the loading screen.
The music was always a large part of what made the Hitman games special. But ever since Absolution, the music has taken a different, more generic turn. That also appears to be the case in HITMAN 2. While not bad by any means (it’s quite good actually), the subtle soundtracks are a far cry from the masterful work done by Jesper Kyd in Hitman 1-4. The voice acting, especially that of Agent 47 is very well done. Even the regional languages produced by the NPCs are pretty solid and there are a lot of funny conversations to eavesdrop into. As far as sound effects go, everything is pretty decent and anything hardly pops out as uncanny.
Without a doubt, HITMAN 2 is mechanically the best Hitman game to date. Everything that made HITMAN 2016 good is here and is expanded upon. The stealth gameplay is fantastic, replayability is at its peak and the fun factor comes in loads. However, if you buy into the game expecting classic style content, you will be disappointed. But is the game worth buying at full price? HITMAN 2 belongs to that group where the worth of the game depends on the perspective of the person playing it. If you play the game as the developers intended and as I did, there is enough content here to last at least 50+ hours.