IO Interactive’s Hitman 2, after months of teasing new locations and missions, has finally launched. Out now on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC, we conducted our contract killing business on the Xbox One and PC versions.
I couldn’t believe that the Hitman series is 18 years old already, and that the guys and girls at IO have been plugging away at Agent 47 for that long. The 2016 reboot meant a breath of fresh air for the franchise, and it’s safe to say that IO’s building on that with Hitman 2 – doing just enough to keep that fresh air flowing without any drastic changes to the formula.
Perhaps the most drastic change in Hitman 2 lies with its delivery to the gamer. While the previous game was cut up into an episodic format, this one’s comes with a full campaign right away. That’s not to say there won’t be any post-launch content (there’s a season pass and IO’s already promising the return of the fan-favorite Escalation missions, but it’s a clear departure from a format that not everyone enjoyed when it was introduced. The pre-launch PR campaign seemed to realize this, emphasizing all the different locations (or episodes?) you were getting at launch this time around.
It’s a big change on the surface of things, but below that surface you’re looking at could have essentially been season 2 of the Hitman reboot. The “why” behind this probably has a lot to do with the fact that Warner Bros took over publishing duties for IO during development, and it’s probably hard to publish a “season 2” under another publisher’s title. Not a complaint by the way, since I thoroughly enjoyed Hitman and I’m just glad Warner is giving us more of it – just a heads up to those expecting a radically different direction.
We playtested Hitman 2 with a few IO devs at Gamescom this summer, and that Miami mission playthrough was a good indicator for the rest of the game, it now turns out. You’ll encounter it early on, and it sets the tone right away: every mission gives you multiple avenues to explore, side missions, and several ways to achieve your main objective. Most of these scenarios are pretty outrageous, and although the game gives you a general idea of how to complete an objective there are usually several ways of going about them. There’s just about enough handholding to not make you aimlessly wander around, and just enough “and the rest is up to you” to make your own efforts feel meaningful and the outcome satisfying.
Going completely off-script and playing Hitman 2 the way it’s not meant to be played does make things unrail a bit though. Firing a rifle into a crowd of people who don’t see you doesn’t quite get the response you’d expect (mass panic, a complete lockdown of the area, SWAT troops pulling in, etc), but if you keep the experimenting focused around the game’s own objectives then everything falls into place nicely. It’s still a little weird to me that people go about their normal business right after a gruesome (and very public) death just occurred, but alright… I’ll let that slide because it’s fun to dive right back into a scene of unsuspecting victims.
And that’s just the thing about Hitman – it’s not about excessive violence, it’s about piecing together how you’re going to pull something off and then putting all the puzzle pieces in the right spot while mostly being stealthy about it. Seeing an assassination unfold is merely the reward, and many missions can be completed without ever firing a single shot. It helps that there is plenty of on-screen help to guide you, though some of these hints/icons can be turned off if you want more of a challenge.
The level design is absolutely top notch, not just delivering a great experience no matter which route you take but also encouraging exploration, creativity and replayability. A full playthrough of the game won’t even get you to the halfway point of seeing everything the game has to offer, which means you’re getting great value for money in a game that you could complete again from start to finish without picking the same route twice. If you enjoy stealth, then most of Hitman 2’s levels now also give you more options – especially when Agent 47 heads to the jungle.
Visually, Hitman 2 has Agent 47 and his missions looking extremely similar to those in the reboot, so unfortunately there’s no leap forward there. There’s a stylistic change though, as the introductory briefings and cutscenes are no longer fully animated scenes but rather vignette-style stills with a few zooming and panning effects while a narrator tells you what you need to know. It’s still fitting with the Hitman vibe and still nice to look at, but it does feel like a bit of a shortcut compared to how it was handled in the last game. Perhaps it’s due to the new release structure or publisher change, with more development time now allocated to mission design, but it’s a minor gripe anyway.
Despite small changes here and there, Hitman 2 is still a Hitman game. The bulk of your time is spent planning elaborate assassination attempts, yet there’s plenty of time and room for silliness and experimentation – like walking around in a mascot’s costume and seeing how much you can get away with. The versatility and replayability, on top of solid mechanics when you stick to the narrative script, makes Hitman 2 a more than worthy new entry in the franchise.