Hitman 2 is an uncommon exception. The sequel to developer IO Interactive’s episodic reboot of the assassination collection virtually didn’t get made after lower-than-expected gross sales and a breakup with writer Sq. Enix. However, IO secured the rights, partnered with Warner Bros. Leisure, and got here again two years later with probably the most refined, expansive, and fulfilling Hitman title up to now. It’s a completionist paradise that provides dozens of hours of trial-and-error leisure in large environments, all with the identical high-fidelity graphics and underlying engine governing what you may and can’t do to a refreshed record of unsuspecting and infrequently bumbling villains.
I could also be within the minority of gamers who really liked the episodic nature of 2016’s Hitman. Provided that the sport was simply six ranges, having one arrive every month made for the right pacing, so I might totally immerse myself in a brand new map without distraction. Hitman 2 just isn’t episodic. In actual fact, you may pay via any of the degrees in any order, with solely a small spoiler warning to dissuade you. Aside from that, the 2 video games are practically identical, right down to an identical menu structure and problem construction.
The actual differentiator is within the locales. Hitman 2 introduces six new environments for the titular barcode-branded killing machine to discover, every with its personal signature look. In Miami, Agent 47 is tasked with taking out a billionaire tech CEO and his racecar driver daughter within the midst of a precise race. In Mumbai, you may help an up-and-coming murderer in taking out all your targets by making him appear like a flawless knowledgeable within the craft when in actuality, it’s you laying the groundwork for his success. In Whittleton Creek, Vermont, a throwback to the traditional Hitman: Blood Cash’s “A New Life” mission, you commerce the closely guarded workplace buildings and luxurious non-public occasion scene of your usually rich targets for quintessential Northeast suburbia.
This isn’t a recreation you play for the story. As soon as once more, Agent 47 and his handler, a high-ranking operative within the fictional ICA murderer group, discover themselves caught in a confounding energy battle between two shadowy teams that run the world in very Bond-Esque conspiratorial style. This time around, there’s added pressure as a result of one of many villains has info on Agent 47’s previous, a long-running collection thriller that appears to get murkier with each entry.
Whereas the overarching plot won’t win any awards, IO does the job of making backstories in your particular person targets. A lot of the writing is definitely impressively well-timed, with nods to real-world considerations about non-public army firms, Center Jap conflicts, and even synthetic intelligence. Extra enjoyable is all of the little conversations you may overhear by eavesdropping on non-playable characters. There are many hidden Easter eggs that allude to world occasions and popular culture in addition to callbacks to earlier missions in earlier video games, as long as you’re keen to spend a while as a wallflower, ready for the characters to cycle via the script.
That’s all simply window dressing, although. Hitman 2 is a recreation about killing, and IO has mastered the tone required to show the sports business’s most clear homicide simulator into one thing concurrently grizzly and foolish, like a cross between a slapstick comedy and Last Vacation spot. Hitman is at its greatest when it divorces itself from the on-screen violence and as a substitute treats the expertise like an absurdist playground. The sequel does this notably properly.
A lot of the sport’s conventional and extra brutal touches stay intact as a tribute to the franchise’s roots. The default assassination technique stays to garrot individuals with a line of tempered high-carbon metal — unlocking the “piano man” problem, naturally — and it’s at all times disagreeable to look at. Lots of the recreation’s extra bare-bones completionist challenges, like killing your targets with a sniper rifle solely or doing a whole mission in your signature go well with ever being seen, are aptly known as “the classics.”
You’ll be able to play the sport with these targets in thoughts, and Hitman diehards and speedrunners have lots to work with regards to finishing these challenges in probably the most environment-friendly and calculated methods potential. However, Hitman 2, much more so than the episodic reboot that introduced the collection again to life after 4 years, relishes within the absurd and the hilarious. The handfuls of challenges in every of the brand new ranges virtually at all times reward fixed experimentation over pace and ability.
As an example, within the recreation’s introductory Miami degree, I used to be intrigued by one of many “mission tales,” a reworked model of the 2016 recreation’s “alternatives” characteristic that principally handholds you thru an extra sophisticated assassination that can assist you to get your footing. This one occurred to characteristic an autonomous robotic prototype that was being examined for a consultant of the US army by tech govt Robert Knox, a person so assured in his creation that he’s keen to face alongside the take a look at dummies throughout a reside demonstration.
The mission story received me within the room with Knox, however, it didn’t inform me what to do after that. I needed to discover to learn how to trick the robotic into turning Knox’s participation right into a deadly mistake. Fortunately, a duplicate of Wired journal with Knox’s face on it was left within the reception space of the second round, and it was sufficient to idiot the robotic’s facial recognition system into figuring out its overlord as a hostile. Whereas the technicians freaked out over one more “malfunction,” I used to be in a position to escape, having earned further factors for an unintended kill and for by no means blowing my cowl.
On this approach, every Hitman 2 degree has a pure movement to it. You soar in and really feel instantly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the environments and the tons of to 1000’s of NPCs inhabiting them. However, as you get the lay of the land by exploring the map, you come throughout a mission story enjoying out in entrance of you and resolve to observe alongside. These mission tales are low-hanging fruit, however, they allow you to learn the way your targets transfer, what their most important paths and storylines are, and the other ways you may improvise. To attract Knox away from his robotic demonstration, for example, you may tinker with one of many racecars he places on show on the primary ground of the construction, bringing your goal into very shut contact with an energetic combustion engine.
Wish to knock out the problem for drowning your goal in the bathroom, poisoning their cup of tea, and doing all of it whereas carrying the goofy flamingo mascot disguise? By finishing a mission story, you’ll seemingly see the purpose at which your goal fixes themselves a drink, and on a second playthrough, you may anticipate the right second to execute the maneuver. (Your targets in Hitman are at all times thirsty, it appears.) Full sufficient challenges and improve your “mastery” degree from degree 1 to degree 20 for every map, and you’ll even begin over carrying your most well-liked disguise in an extra appropriate location along with your weapon of alternative already geared up.
It’s clear IO is leaning closely into the artwork of save-scumming. If one thing surprising occurs — and, in Hitman, one thing surprising at all times occurs — you simply reload and check out once more. Hitman 2 now options extra environment-friendly saving and reloading and an easier-to-understand autosave and guide save menu. That approach, you may retailer up saves at vital junctures in a mission to strive one tactic after which come again and check out one other afterward. Or if you end up trying one thing notably difficult, like sneaking right into a safe location without carrying the right disguise, you may have a clear save to fall again on.
The save system just isn’t fairly as refined as, say, Dishonored 2, which had quick-save and quick-load capabilities that labored far more rapidly and an energetic stat counter for checking whether or not you’d ever been seen. However Hitman 2 remains to be extra accommodating than its predecessor in this regard, and it’s good to see IO tailor its methods to the best way its hardcore followers prefer to play without compromising how extra informal gamers wish to expertise it.
You should utilize firearms indiscriminately, incomes you the eye of a small military of NPC troopers, or you may knock out a whole room filled with guards from the shadows utilizing a wholesome provide of wrenches you’ve scavenged. The one approach the sport actually punishes you for extreme violence or sloppiness is with an ultimate rating tally and a subpar ranking out of a complete of 5 stars. The rating is generally for leaderboard bragging rights; IO acknowledges that most individuals will give attention to finishing challenges stealthily and upgrading their mastery degree, which, in flip, helps you to strive extra artistic assassinations till you’ve exhausted each avenue and moved on to the subsequent degree.
That sort of tireless experimentation is the core of Hitman. After hours spent on a single degree, you’ll begin to perceive all of the methods at play, the ins and outs of character habits, and the advanced cause-and-effect mechanisms that make all of it work. And IO’s sequel does an improbable job of serving that system as much as gamers in acquainted style, with sufficient contemporary takes and new, ever extra artistic environments and assassination strategies to maintain you replaying the identical ranges time and again.
Just like the 2016 Hitman, the sequel options crowdsourced contracts so that you can full in the event you’re a selected glutton for rigorous problem underneath intense constraints. IO can also be bringing again the unbelievable “elusive contract” system, a one-time-only mission construction that kicks off at launch this weekend with actor Sean Bean. There’s additionally a brand new multiplayer characteristic, known as “ghost mode” that can allow you to compete with one other participant to be the primary to kill a goal. IO says it will likely be a piece in progress when it goes reside this week, with Miami supported at launch and different ranges and extra options coming down the road.
For gamers who wish to get via all the content material as quickly as potential, these on-line options ought to tide them over till IO delivers its first of two expansions sooner or later subsequent yr. For everybody else, that is recreation greatest loved in a sluggish and regular style. It will not be episodic, however, Hitman 2 is a recreation so filled with challenges to unlock and secrets and techniques to search out that I do know I’ll nonetheless be trying to find new methods to kill months from now.