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Hitman 2 – Review
Second time's the charm
IO Interactive had an ambitious, yet risky, new proposal for a new Hitman. The long-running series is a game of assassination. Usually, the games offer a mix of linear levels and sandbox levels where more creative freedom is allowed. But the loyal fans of the series preferred the sandbox levels.
In 2016, Hitman was rebooted. Built around the concept of making huge sandbox levels with plenty of ways for a player to approach the same goal of killing people. It was ambitious, going for an episodic release with live game elements. But the launch of that was horrid, the servers were struggling, and publishers Square Enix had to part ways with them.
Two years later, with a new publisher, we now have Hitman 2 (2018). IO’s first attempt of a reboot might not landed well, but they took the right lessons and execute it again as a sequel. A full game on launch this time.
Second time’s the charm.
Hitman 2 builds upon the foundations of Hitman 2016 which used the proprietary Glacier 2 engine. And it’s looking great as ever. While the maps may not be huge as an open world game it makes up for it for being dense. Mud leaves footprints. Dropping down into the sewers and walk in the sludge and flies will stick around you for a while.
There are working reflections, and something to consider when you sneak around restricted area. The dark nights and the bright days all look great, though we notice some texture streaming issues where it can take some time for the appropriate level of detail or higher-res texture to load in.
Performance-wise it runs well. On default, Hitman 2 runs at an uncapped framerate which will dip at worst around the 30fps mark. You could also cap it to 30fps. This setting is on a base PS4, and there’s no doubt the game can run even better on the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X or a capable PC.
While the UI is the same as the previous game, Hitman 2 gave it a bit more polish. It’s now snappier, pops out more and feels more useful. The picture-in-picture mode and colour-coded prompts makes the gameplay more accessible, especially for those new to the series.
While the Hitman series has lost the excellent talent of composer Jesper Kyd, the soundtrack this time is a step up from Hitman 2016. Niels Bye Nielsen did an excellent job in creating the dynamic soundtrack that adapts to what’s happening in the game world.
The level in Miami has an epic, adrenaline-pumping score to match the endurance race event. The level in Whittleton Creek, in contrast, plays soothing, evergreen tunes fitting of an idyllic American suburbia. When you step indoors, the music sounds what you expect to hear when in an American house as portrayed in movies or TV shows.
Surround sound also works great, helping you feel immersed in the world and also improves gameplay.
Also, Hitman 2 addresses the one issue with voice acting for Hitman 2016 where there’s too many American sounding people in exotic locations. This time, you’ll hear more voices that suit the location, and different accents in general. Hearing Indian people speaking English with their natural accent really helps sell the city of Mumbai, for example.
Hitman 2 is a game about assassinating specific targets, as revealed on each briefing video prior starting a level. As Agent 47, you go in, execute the targets, do some objectives if required, then get out.
Being a skilled assassin, you have access to various weapons and gear. Some can be carried on your person upon arrival while others can be smuggled into the map. 47 also has the ability to take disguises and can easily fool the oblivious pedestrians and some guards, though there are limits.
The natural gameplay flow of Hitman is easy to understand. Scout the area, get the lay of the land, then form a plan on how to get to your target. If things go awry like a guard spotted you or someone found a dead body you left around, then you’ll have to improvise and adapt to the changing situation. Or save scum and reload your last save.
Hitman 2 offers the same amount of freedom as you would expect, but this sequel refines the gameplay by adding some new and some returning mechanics. You can now hide in vegetation or blend in a crowd. Briefcases are back, making carrying sniper rifles around a more valid and easier strategy. Picture-in-picture mode also returns, highlighting important activities that are far out from your field of view. All of these, and a few subtle ones like guards can see your reflections are all welcome additions.
Plus, the many subtle quality of life changes, in particular the snappier UI, helps the game flow better than ever.
While the game is all about the serious business of murder, it is not afraid to have fun. One of the early unlockable weapons is a large fish, and 47 somehow can carry inside his suit and will knock out a person instantly when it is smacked or thrown to them.
Even sillier, you can stash the fish in a briefcase. The briefcase itself can be weaponised, having the same properties as the fish.
So, you can take out a fish from the briefcase, throw it to a guard and then immediately switch to the briefcase and throw that to the other guard to render both unconscious. Because why not.
While that is just a result of the mechanics and systems IO created, the tailored opportunities, now called Story Missions, also embrace tongue- in-cheek humour. These linear paths you can pursue is designed for novice players to get a sense of direction, but are also fun to execute for veterans.
There’s one in Miami that involves you taking a demo of android killing machine with superb facial recognition. If you follow the Story Mission correctly, the target will be gunned down by his own creation which may or not be a precursor to a Terminator. His last words is a sighing “Aw, crap”.
Hitman 2 has many moments like this but there’s also enough room to create your own opportunities on how to kill the targets.
While the game still encourages you to play it like a Silent Assassin- only kill the targets and leave no evidence behind- a tweak to the progression system now rewards you for any small tasks you have done. Even if you play sloppily and only smacking people with a fish, you will still gain experience that will unlock more gear and weapons.
Content & Longevity
Hitman 2 is great but the one thing that can make or break your purchasing decision is the content. As its is, you get access to 5 +1 sandbox levels. The 1 is there because the intro level, Hawke’s Bay, is not as sprawling or replayable as the rest. The other 5 maps are great to play on first try and is big enough to create additional scenarios.
There is the community-driven Contracts mode where you can designate your own targets in the map and specify how to kill them. Escalation mode is when you play the level over and over but each time you are tasked to kill more people, testing the limits of how long can you go and continue the run.
Elusive targets are limited time events with a catch, you can only attempt it once. The first of which will have you kill Sean Bean.
Aside from that you also get access to the ICA facility training level.
There’s also more extra modes, including multiplayer. Ghost mode is the 1-on-1 battle on who can kill the fastest without being detected while both players exist in different realities but can see and have limited interactions. Sniper Assassin, previously a pre-order bonus, is a sniping gallery but with all the characteristics of a proper Hitman sandbox. It can be played co-op with a friend.
Now, the deal is much sweeter if you own Hitman 2016 digitally. You will get access to all the content you own, now remastered for Hitman 2. All the new mechanics and improvements now apply to the levels as well.
For those who yet to own them, you can get the legacy pack for RM80. If you own Hitman but not the GOTY edition, which added a new campaign, that’s only a RM45 upgrade instead.
Along with that, there’s also an expansion pass which will add 2 locations and new modes.
For those already invested in the previous Hitman, these are all good deals. But for those who just want to jump in, it can be intimidating. You will need to engage Hitman 2 as a live game, try out the new multiplayer modes and play the levels over and over to get the most out of it.
Beating the main campaign by playing each level once takes around 5-6 hours only. But the storytelling has significantly improved. The cinematics are not animated, but you’ll be more invested with it compared to Hitman 2016.
But this is now the de-facto version of Hitman. If you want to try the series out, this is where you should start with.
Hitman 2 took the right lessons from Hitman 2016 and has refined most of the rough edges surrounding the previous game. The level design continues to be impressive and the many returning mechanics makes it stand out from the rest of the AAA games on offer today. Many quality of life changes, including more snappy UI helps polish the experience too.
If you own Hitman 2016 digitally already and love it, Hitman 2 is a no-brainer. You get a Hitman 2016 remaster on top of the base game. If you haven’t, Hitman 2 should leave you a lasting impression. Enough to convince you to revisit the previous game’s levels.
Just like how you would play a level of Hitman, it takes a few iterations, and a few failures, before you can get everything right. With Hitman 2, IO finally executed their initial plans perfectly.
As a result, it’s the best game where you can throw a fish at someone’s face.
Reviewed on base PS4. Review copy provided by the publisher.