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Hitman 2’s First Level Is Not A Huge Sandbox But A Throwback To Its Linear, Story-Focused Past

A midnight stroll

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With Hitman 2, IO Interactive has established a new formula for the Hitman series. Starting with Hitman 2016, the game is focused on giving players huge sandbox levels to allow players, playing as Agent 47, the freedom to kill in any way they can think of.

This is a contrast to past games, where these sandbox levels are punctuated with linear, scripted levels where the goal is to go from point A to point B. This was really prevalent in Hitman Absolution which focused more on a tight story and only have a few sandboxes that did not measure well enough to the previous game, Hitman Blood Money, in the eyes of its hardcore fans.

Knowing the response of Absolution is why Hitman 2016 moved away from linear levels. As a result, the storytelling felt weaker and inconsequential. Not a bad thing, but for some fans this may be disappointing.

But in Hitman 2, not all the levels are sandboxes. Hitman 2016 offered six sandbox maps, but Hitman 2 offers what I like to call as 5+1 maps. The +1 map is not really sandbox to the scale of the rest, but still as important.

That map is the opening level of Hitman 2: Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. The opening mission simply titled Nightcall.

After a few settings options, the game will throw you immediately to the level, opening with a recap of the previous game’s events. Agent 47 arrives on boat in a wet suit and is tasked to infiltrate this one swanky bungalow alone near the beach. A midnight stroll where the moon shines bright and the ocean waves flow gracefully.

From here the game introduces you slowly on the controls. There’s nobody around so you can do anything you want and investigate the house at your own pace.

During this level the game will nudge and introduce you to the controls and mechanics. It’s essentially a training level, but since there’s already one, this is more of a reintroduction of sorts. Something to give new fans a taste of what to expect while easing them in. And something for veterans to reacquaint with the controls without much consequence.

During the whole level there’s plenty of environmental storytelling. If you follow the breadcrumbs on what the game wants you to do, you’ll encounter something horrible that set up the stakes, that there’s good reason to murder the target.

Your handler Diana will also chat about the current state of the story, immersing you in to the plot, more than Hitman 2016 ever did.

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Once you discovered an important finding, a cut-scene plays where the target and her army of guards are now back home. From here it plays like a sandbox Hitman game. Avoid guards, take disguises, poison drinks, smother people to death in their sleep, and exit the level once the target has been taken care of. The subtle tutorial continues to teach you more mechanics and things to consider when infiltrating restricted areas.

It’s a short level that can be done in 20-30 minutes compared to the gargantuan sandboxes that can take to an hour if you are going in blind. But this small level not only sets up a good first impression, but also sets the stage of more, better told story. It’s still full of mumbo-jumbo words but there’s definitely something at stakes this time. And just like Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, this Hitman 2 is telling Agent 47’s origins. And Diana’s.

While the new line of rebooted Hitman games may not be as story-focused as it used to, Hawke’s Bay is a reminder that IO can still do linear story levels effectively. And they could do more if the fans wanted them to.

Stay tuned for our full review of Hitman 2. The game is out now for the PS4, PC and Xbox One.