As some may recall, the Hitman franchise's future was in limbo last year. After Square Enix sold the game's developer, IO Interactive, the latter was lucky enough to retain the rights to the IP, but it wasn't until IO announced a partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive that fans could breathe a sigh of relief and know the stealth-action series was no longer in danger. Nevertheless, the transition still took its toll on IO's well-being, for even though Hitman 2 was deep in development at the time, the studio had to downsize its staff after the split with Square Enix. While IO's losses are certainly regrettable, fans should at least be pleased to know that the remaining team members didn't skimp on their efforts with the aforementioned sequel, as Agent 47's latest outing is as sharp and deadly as ever.
Hitman 2 ditches the rather unpopular episodic distribution model from the 2016 release and lets players experience all of the six new locations from the get-go. The sequel's gorgeously rendered locales provides players with copious amounts of eye candy, and a solid selection of large, lived-in worlds that offer nearly innumerable ways to interact with the environments, and with the objects and NPCs within them. Most importantly, though, every location has its own intricately designed layout that presents loads of unique moments to let players assassinate Agent 47's targets in practically any way imaginable, given the context of the situation. As such, Hitman 2 has an incredibly high replay value, along with a lot of considerable improvements from the previous installment, too.
The Mumbai level, for instance, is proof of Hitman 2's more refined evolution over its predecessor, as IO's take on the Indian city does a great job at making its world feel alive with possibilities. Its heavily congested streets and maze-like layout with its crowded buildings and tenements are not only a good virtual representation of the city, but also a fantastic environment for players to maximize the efficiency of the game's new crowd blending mechanic. Unlike the series' 2016 iteration, Agent 47 can now become practically invisible to anyone pursuing him just by stepping amid large groups of people or by crouching deep within some dense foliage, with the feature serving as an excellent way to increase the layers of gameplay.
The Miami mission is another great illustration of how IO has kicked Hitman stages up a notch in terms of scope, with players having to navigate a loud, vibrant, and active raceway chock full of NPCs and areas to discover. Even the smaller levels such as Whittleton Creek feel rich with potential, for despite its sparsely populated spaces, players still have the ability discover a lot of different routes to take, and find a wide range of tools, weapons, and disguises in the process. The most satisfying aspect in all of this lies in the myriad ways one can formulate a plot on the fly to use these elements together and terminate targets, for more often than not, Hitman 2's best moments come when players are forced to improvise after their initial plans go awry. Whether its Agent 47 getting spotted by a security camera, being caught mid-murder, or just lingering in a high profile area for a tad too long, there are many ways for a strategy to fall apart in an instant, and IO Interactive has made sure to craft each map so that players will remain challenged in this respect.
Since some might feel overwhelmed by such a vast amount of options and dynamic situations available in Hitman 2, IO has implemented ways to keep players on track and guide them toward completing mission objectives. Thankfully, though, the game doesn't force players to take a certain path or use a particular strategy to close out a mission. Rather than keeping Agent 47 chained to a specific task, players are given the initiative to decide what would be the best or most enjoyable route to finishing the level. For example, there are Mission Stories–previously known as Opportunities–which unfold in real time and provide players with a potential means to an end. Following a Mission Story is totally optional, but they often lead to significant sites in the game, such as an NPC wearing a disguise that gets players closer to a target for the kill, a machine to sabotage that puts a target out of commission for good, items to be poisoned or tampered with that result in a target's death, and so much more.
As previously inferred, Hitman 2 is designed to be played over and over again, and subsequent playthroughs handsomely reward those who push themselves outside of their comfort zones by experimenting with different methods to complete the mission. Whether it's pursuing the multitude of various Mission Stories and Challenges, or taking the extemporaneous path with simple trial and error, players can try their hand at pulling off a slew of ingeniously clever, creative, and darkly ironic kills, or they can choose to make a botched, bloody mess of it if they want. As with prior entries, avoiding direct confrontation is key to success, for even though Agent 47 could theoretically take on any and all comers, Hitman 2 makes sure that firefights are difficult to survive. For those who wish to take this gung-ho approach, however, there's usually a chance for players to slip away from a situation that gets too heated in order to make a change in disguise, hide from prying eyes, and prepare for the next attack.
While Hitman 2 is packed with player choice and finely tuned mechanics in more ways than one, the game still has its limitations. One example can be found in the short supply of apparatuses that Agent 47 can use to conceal bodies. For example, dumpsters, closets, and empty utility boxes will work fine in most situations, but other spots like portable toilets, for instance, can be a no go. Of course, if every vacant piece of storage were accessible, then it would considerably reduce the challenge of having to surreptitiously hide dead and unconscious NPCs. Nevertheless, the lack of options in this area can occasionally interrupt one's suspension of disbelief.
Speaking of immersion breaking moments, while some may see this as a small quibble, there's only a thin shred of realism when it comes to eavesdropping in on some non-target characters' dialogue for mission intel. While doing so, Agent 47 is often able to stand just a few feet away from some NPCs in conversation and stare at them in cold, dead silence, with there being little to no repercussion in gameplay for so blatantly invading their privacy. Not to play armchair game dev, but including a mechanic that would, say, have those characters distance themselves further from 47 after him being such an obvious spy would've gone a long way to keeping suspension of disbelief intact. Plus, there can occasionally be strange moments wherein an "accident" assassination results in the target's personal bodyguard chalking the death up to a mystery, even though the guard and the player are the only two people left in a room together after the fact.
Another snag in Hitman 2 comes in its paper thin plot, for even though it's a direct continuation of Agent 47's search for the Shadow Client from the previous game, as the narrative progresses, the story tends to feel like an afterthought. While the voice acting and the interstitial storyboard-styled cinematics are top-notch–the self-aware deadpan line deliveries from Agent 47's voice actor, David Bateson, never get old–the plot itself seems to only serve as a device to justify a given level's existence in the game. But even though the overarching storyline can be somewhat of a dud, thankfully, the more intimate stories that get told dynamically through gameplay are actually interesting to follow.
Outside of the generally solid campaign, Hitman 2 also touts a healthy amount of different modes, including Sniper Assassin, which tasks players with offing a series of various targets with a scoped rifle from a single vantage point. On the surface, it sounds relatively staid, but from a gameplay perspective, it does manage to allow for some creativity despite being a shooting gallery at its core. Plus, it features two-player online co-op, which is a fun way to partner up with a pal for some virtual hits. There's also Ghost Mode, a one-on-one PvP feature that pits players against one another to be the first to successfully kill five randomly generated targets. Ghost Mode will likely be best received by the series' diehard fans looking for an additional challenge that varies somewhat from the main campaign's design. What's more is that both it and Sniper Assassin will get free content updates down the line.
Additionally, IO Interactive has announced that the limited time events of Escalation Missions and Elusive Targets will be making a return in the future. Since these features have yet to be added, we will have to wait and see if the developer is able to execute them properly in the sequel once they arrive. Hitman 2's first Elusive Target is going to be played by Game of Thrones' Sean Bean, and considering the actor is known for taking on roles that often get the axe, it sounds as if IO is going to bring a good deal of both levity and intensity to the limited time event. It's worth noting, though, that this won't be the first time that a well-known actor will be featured as an Elusive Target, as Gary Busey showed up as one in the previous entry.
For those who missed out on or wish to revisit Hitman, Hitman 2 also gives one the ability to download Season One's original stages directly into the sequel, with the the maps and mechanics from the first game having been enhanced to match that of H2. Whether it's Sapienza, Colorado, or Hokkaido, each level has been upgraded to include such new features as functional mirrors, security camera sight-line visibility, concussive weapons, a picture-in-picture enemy activity alert, and the fan-favorite briefcase. These revisions made to the stages from Hitman are exceptional updates that give the already outstanding maps from the 2016 iteration some added oomph. Players who already own Hitman will receive the remastered levels for free, while others must obtain them through the Legacy Pack DLC.
All in all, Hitman 2 doesn't break too much new ground for the series, for in many respects it can be viewed as Hitman: Season Two. Nevertheless, IO Interactive has brought a bevy of remarkable updates to the table that make the sequel a worthy successor to the game that came before it. From its impressively designed locations to its deep level of replayability, Hitman 2 ought to give players more than enough reasons to remain steeped in its self-proclaimed "World of Assassination" and should serve as a superbly efficient time killer for months to come.
Hitman 2 releases on November 13, 2018 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.