The Hitman series has always held a special place in my heart for managing to create a seedy tone even when the setting is sun-dappled and idyllic. This might seem obvious, considering the series’ main character is a sociopathic, cold-blooded assassin who also happens to be a clone and who’s employed (so to speak) by a company that only kills the worst of the worst. But the actual murders that Agent 47 commits are some of the least disturbing and offensive stuff in Hitman games. There’s a lot of spy- and assassin-related media that plays on the idea of a threat hiding under a cloak of mundanity, but the Hitman series has always been at its best when it revels in the corrupt hiding in plain sight, perverting decency, and then lets players enact a sort of moral vengeance against these monsters.
The last Hitman game lost sight of this a little bit by fully raveling 47 into a high-level conspiracy plot that transformed his targets, whose acts of evil were formerly grounded in a recognizable reality, into pure Bond villains. What it offered, instead, were the series’ biggest and best labyrinthian levels, most intricate puzzles, and most satisfying and digestible stealth mechanics to date. All of this was glued together by a series of beautifully animated cutscenes that blew every other Hitman game’s presentation out of the water.
Hitman 2 manages to mostly recapture this magic, but it was an uphill battle. The negative fan feedback to Hitman’s episodic release schedule was one thing, causing developer IO Interactive to rethink the second planned season’s launch strategy, but even worse was publisher Square Enix dumping IO Interactive in the middle of the most recent game’s development. It’s a small miracle we’re getting Hitman 2 at all, thanks in part to WB Interactive picking up the slack as Hitman’s new publisher, at least for now.
I’m not recapping the background drama behind Hitman 2’s development to necessarily excuse the game’s shortcomings, but I do think it’s an important lens for understanding what this game actually is. Despite its title, Hitman 2 isn’t really a true sequel, and it doesn’t really feel like the “next step” in the series’ evolution, at least not in the same way that, say, Blood Money was an obvious improvement over Contracts. In almost every way, Hitman 2 resembles a second season of content, building off what the last game established.
This means that if you were a fan of the previous Hitman and felt satisfied by the flood of live updates that filled out the relatively minimal amount of levels, Hitman 2 won’t disappoint. You’re still hopping around the world, exploring complex maps and mentally dismantling them piece by piece. There remains a fun, childlike thrill in setting murder in motion with each map’s Rube Goldberg–style construction. If you think the mission stories—which are occasionally more challenging to piece together this time around—make Agent 47’s life a little too easy, you can turn off the icons that set you on their predetermined paths, but watching them unravel is still satisfying thanks to the tiny narratives they unearth. Most of the settings—from a tech-driven motor race in Miami to the slums of Mumbai to the suburbs of Anytown, U.S.A.—are expansive and varied, both compared to each other and within their own worlds, and discovering their secrets and tricks is as satisfying as any other Hitman game, if not more so, thanks to the intricacy of every kill.
Stealth alone feels more natural than in any Hitman game. Unlike previous titles, which heavily favored puzzle-solving and hiding in plain sight over classic, Solid Snake-style sneaking, Hitman 2 has ever-so-slightly tipped the balance in the player’s favor, giving them more cover and hiding places to utilize, as well as a slightly more forgiving and obvious lines of sight. Like the last game, it’s pretty easy to tell when an enemy’s spotted you, but the level design in Hitman 2 gives players much more to work with. One of the best improvements is letting players use vegetation to blend in and sneak around, giving the levels a little more room to breathe. Sure, many other games have done that already, but combined with Agent 47’s penchant for costume changes, hiding in bushes opens up levels and creates even more possibilities for figuring out unique solutions.
The creative potential in Hitman 2 is really important, because it’s basically what’s going to keep you engaged until new content begins to roll out. My first time through, I completed the entire campaign within a matter of hours. The runs weren’t necessarily the cleanest, and I definitely lost points for non-target kills a couple of times, but I managed to finish each job without them devolving into bloody gunfights where I might have had to shoot my way out—an embarrassing way for any Hitman mission to end.
The thing with Hitman games is that players are meant to experience them more than once, and Hitman 2 gives players just as many excuses to do so as the previous game did. Out of the hundreds of total challenges to complete across the game’s six levels, I’ve completed well under a third of them in one total playthrough plus a couple extra runs. Taken together, the most recent two games might finally be hitting the number of missions that Blood Money had on its own, but the amount of content that each level offers is pretty staggering—though a lack of Escalation Missions at launch is somewhat disappointing, considering that was my favorite mode in the last game. IO promises they’re coming, and once real players start rolling in, the list of Contracts should start to grow steadily, but right now what’s on offer is still limited to the base game.
But this lack of content is one of the ways that, in the end, Hitman 2 screams “season 2,” not “sequel.” The stealth might be better, but otherwise the gameplay feels largely untouched, even with a few new “features” like being able to see camera grids on the ground and your targets’ names appearing next to their icons on the minimap. These enhancements might be helpful to the budding assassin, but they aren’t game-changing steps forward in any meaningful way. The new PvP Ghost Mode was technically live before launch, but it was impossible to find a match with limited amounts of players, so it’s hard to say how much value that will bring to the package. Still, I doubt it would factor much into my overall impression of the game, considering I depend on and play Hitman as a single-player experience.
Where Hitman 2 takes a huge step backward is in its cutscenes. As I mentioned before, the previous game’s cinematics were so well animated, it was hard to believe they were made for a Hitman game. Hitman 2 trades these cutscenes for what look like 3D-rendered motion comics. Besides some background materials, the scenes aren’t animated, and instead feature voice-acting over still models. They still ooze with style, and they’re quite nice to look at, but they also read like IO was making the best of a bad situation. Given the last game’s cutscenes, it’s hard to believe that Hitman 2’s tumultuous development didn’t have something to do with the drop in production values. It’s disappointing, and players without any kind of background knowledge will probably see it as a weird, cheap choice. The story itself is needlessly convoluted while still somehow managing not to go anywhere, and the motion comics that Hitman 2 uses to weave this connective tissue doesn’t do it any favors.
No matter what the title might suggest, Hitman 2 is not a sequel. It’s a second season of content, an expansion of the previous game. For the most part, that’s a good thing, because 2016’s Hitman revitalized the series after Absolution’s confusing detour and the subsequent years without a proper release. But it’s also a little disappointing, because it holds on to too many remnants of its time as an episodic live service. I’m looking forward to what comes down the pipeline and expect IO to be able to deliver satisfying Escalation and Elusive Target missions as it did last time, but that’s yet to be determined. Hitman is best as a complete package, and it might finally be complete by the time this game’s fully serviced, but it shouldn’t have taken two games to get there. Still, there’s nothing quite like a Hitman game, and Hitman 2 makes a good case for the series’ continued existence, no matter who’s publishing it.
|Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: IO Interactive • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.13.18|
Hitman 2 may seem like more of a second season than a full sequel, but there’s still nothing like a Hitman game. It might not represent a massive leap forward for the series, and it might be missing some of the bells and whistles that the last game had, but it should still satiate fans of Agent 47, thanks to its more satisfying stealth and its complex, lively mission areas.
|The Good||Hitman 2’s complex, interactive maps are as challenging and engaging as any in the series.|
|The Bad||A ridiculous plot and lackluster presentation are obvious blemishes on the overall package.|
|The Ugly||There may be more character models for NPCs, but they’re still dead in the eyes.|
|Hitman 2 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Review based on Xbox One version. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|