STAFF REVIEW of Hitman 2 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018.
by Jennifer Dingle

Hitman 2 Box art IO Interactive has had a bit of a tumultuous past with the Hitman franchise. With the departure from Square Enix as a publisher, and faced uncertainty as an independent studio. But a partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive gave them the opportunity to give a new life to the series. First, they released a “definitive” version the 2016 Hitman, and now they have recently released a sequel to that game, simply called Hitman 2, which I am reviewing. As I write up what I think, I have to note that I am writing as someone completely new to the Hitman franchise. I hate to admit, I was ridiculously ignorant and passed it off as just another shooter, which now, after playing Hitman 2, is so laughable! Given my experience with Hitman 2 as I review it, I am very regretful that I did not experience this series before.

For those not too familiar with the series, Hitman 2 centers around the iconic cloned assassin Agent 47, with his trademark bald head, barcode tattoo, black business suit, red tie and briefcase that has become recognizable to many. Employed by the International Contract Agency, he is sent across the world to eliminate targets. Aided by his handler Diana, he is calm, cool, collected and will stop at nothing to get the job done. There is story to be told, but I will be completely honest, I did not follow the narrative at all, simply because the cutscenes were quite odd and hard to follow, and I was eager to play. There were no cinematics, as the story played out with simple pictures and voiceovers. It was awkward, and I don’t feel cutscenes like this have a place in 2018.

If you have never played a Hitman game before, there is a prologue and training scenario where you familiarize yourself with the game mechanics, and I HIGHLY recommend playing it. Gameplay centers around being stealthy, carefully blending in and disguising yourself to eliminate your intended target. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that was for someone who prefers a run and gun approach! I quickly learned that boldly walking up to my target and shooting them without any planning just doesn’t work, as I quickly met an untimely end.

To the uninitiated, Hitman 2 can be very overwhelming. Thankfully, there are three different levels to play, from casual, for those who like to experiment and not worry so much about combat, to professional, for those who like a slightly more difficult challenge, to the master difficulty, which is for those looking to be the ultimate assassin with very little guidance and ruthless enemies to contend with.

I stuck with the casual difficulty for this play through, as the mission hints were very welcome for my first Hitman experience! These hints provided guidance to new intel, locations to discover, and NPC’s to meet. The beauty of Hitman 2 is that if you don’t follow the story, it’s no big deal. The guides are certainly helpful, as they put you in situations that provide an easier opportunity to kill your intended target, but you absolutely can finish the mission without following these steps.

If you carefully listen to the subtle clues in the background, NPC conversations often offer insight on where to find the target and a way to eliminate them. I think of my time in the Miami level. The target I was tasked to eliminate showed off a robot that only fired upon someone who was identified with a picture that was programmed into the system. As I walked down a corridor, I overheard a conversation with a lowly team member, complaining that the security detail had emptied the energy drink machine. Curious, I made my way to the machine, and to my surprise found a magazine cover with my targets picture on it, which I then used the picture to program the robot to shoot to kill the target, which matched the picture I found. I thought that interactions like these are extremely clever, and one of the many reasons that Hitman 2 is fantastic.

Sandbox gameplay is at its finest here, as the number of creative ways you can kill a target in Hitman 2 just blows my mind. Each locale offers numerous methods to get it done. Simple everyday items can be used as a projectile to knock out your target, you can slyly slip a bottle of poison into food or drink, lead your target into the bathroom and drown them in a toilet, blow the target off of a roof with a high powered fan, or even leave full pack of cigarettes for guy on oxygen that has a ‘leaky’ canister. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Of course, you could use the traditional method and arm yourself with Agent 47s trademark pistol, but in my opinion that’s no fun at all! I should note, aiming was a bit off, and when I did use a firearm or projectile, it was somewhat difficult to properly target.

There are many things that can aid or hinder a mission. You can take on the persona of a comical pink flamingo mascot at a race event, a repair man, and even a food vendor, the number of disguises that Agent 47 can wear to get closer to a target is astounding! If you are new to the series, and should you find yourself under suspicion or followed by an enforcer, you can blend into a crowd or hide in tall grass to stealthily make your way to your objective. Depending on what difficulty level you play, there are cameras scattered throughout that may catch you in action and alert a nearby NPC, but the new picture-in-picture feature gives you a heads up to their reactions and gives you the chance to figure out what to do before things escalate.

When playing Hitman 2 I was always on the edge, my heart racing when I successfully eliminated a target and desperately sought a way to an exit, or I felt a sense of dread when someone discovered a body of someone I subdued and stole their outfit and assumed their identity. I felt as if I was always on the verge of failing a mission, which added a great sense of urgency and a huge sigh of relief once completed. Despite playing through each location. I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface.

There is a ton of replay value, such as an online leaderboard (it amazes me how quickly people can finish these missions!), challenges to complete, weapons and starting locations to unlock, and numerous targets to eliminate within each locale. All of this will keep you coming back for more. Gone is the episodic content of the previous game, as all missions are available on day one with free content available soon with Elusive Targets, contracts that are only available for a limited time (the first one is voiced by Sean Bean). On top of that, there a couple multiplayer modes. There is Ghost Mode, a one on one mode to see who can eliminate their targets before the other player, and a co-op Sniper Assassin mode. And if that’s not enough, when you get bored you can create your own contracts for others to play.

From a white fenced neighbourhood in suburban America, to the bustling slums of Mumbai, the mission locations in Hitman 2 are massive and incredibly immersive. There are many secrets to uncover, places to hide, and nooks and crannies to explore! Visually, the environments are well detailed, but the character models could use some work as they looked a bit dated. The witty dialogue certainly adds great comic relief, and I had to laugh as Agent 47 talks in his deadpan voice about “executing” a plan with his intended target, foreshadowing what was to come. The voice acting was spot on. In terms of any music, you’ll hear tracks that just make sense. From the thumping tones of electronic music in a nightclub, the strains of a sitar in Mumbai, to the urgent music when you’ve killed your last target and need to make a quick exit, the soundtrack truly adds to the immersive experience.

Hitman 2 might just be one of the best games I’ve played this year, and it was a pleasant surprise given I did not know what I was getting myself into going into this review! While it’s not without its faults, as the narrative “cutscenes” were disappointing, it can be a bit overwhelming to those new to the series, and some of the controls need improvement, the overall experience is fantastic. With great stealth gameplay, amazingly creative ways to eliminate your target, incredibly immersive environments, and high replay value, these elements make this a must play for both newcomers to the series and for longtime fans of the elusive Agent 47.

Overall: 8.4 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.9 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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