Killing people isn’t that difficult. You take a coin, throw it somewhere, and then you delicately crush the victim’s larynx bef- hang on a second. This is awfully familiar, isn’t it? Oh, I get it. I used that same phrase at the start of my HITMAN review, which is convenient because HITMAN 2 is a near carbon copy of HITMAN. Everything from graphics to gameplay is basically unchanged, so if you liked the first game, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one. Of course, it would be a bit silly if the story was identical, but the writers tried hard to mimic the fizzling ending of the last game.
The narrative feels like we’re missing an act or two. We hit the ground running from where HITMAN left off, on the hunt for the shadow client who’s been ordering us to kill members of the secret society, Providence. We find out he’s linked to 47’s childhood, discover why 47 is such a fantastic killing machine and even get a brief look into the past of Diana Burnwood, 47’s handler. Unfortunately, the story ends a bit like someone mumbling to themselves and then leaving the room, concluding on a weirdly incomplete note. I didn’t have huge expectations of the story to begin with, but it’s forgivable since the rest of the game is so damn… similar?
I’m convinced that HITMAN 2 is the same game as HITMAN. The controls, gameplay, design, graphics, everything is fundamentally unchanged. Even with two years separating their releases, the tutorial of both games is the same level. It’s not rebuilt or remade; it’s the same level with the same guidance. I thought some magic pixie was playing a prank on me from inside my computer, but no, the game is practically unchanged in every way. It’s still the same old HITMAN gameplay, but you’ll be getting a lot more this time around.
While the gameplay is practically unchanged, the scope of the levels is much, much grander. With less time building an engine, it’s clear more focus was put into making more substantial, more labyrinthine levels. Each mission is packed with so many opportunities and potential weapons that it’s impossible to discover everything even after three or four playthroughs. There’s a significant amount of variety between levels too, ranging from the slums of Mumbai to the glamour of a racecourse in Miami. Each one feels packed full of content, and you’ll unlock more and more options the more you play through them. Bigger is better in this case, although it does come with some unfortunate caveats.
With bigger levels comes more targets and longer missions. There is no level in HITMAN 2 where you kill just one target, but it rarely feels like there needed to be multiple people contracted for a bullet to the face. Marks typically hang around a single region of the map, and it’s not often you’ll find two targets interacting with one another. You end up with this huge map with huge crowds and plenty of murder opportunities, but the targets linger in their own little areas filled with their own crowds and opportunities. There are ways you can lure them out, but having multiple targets can drag out your playtime for no better reason than because the game wanted to be bigger. It feels like the devs had a lot of ideas and couldn’t settle on one, so they chucked them all in like a ragout gone horribly wrong. Still, there are plenty of incentives to keep coming back to these gargantuan levels.
Returning from HITMAN are ‘opportunities’, now called story missions, and they’re implemented a lot better than before. These missions guide you through elaborate assassinations, like disguising yourself as a hippie to gain access to a drug cartel’s lair or dressing up as a corpse to give your target a surprise kiss. Each story mission unveils a part of the target’s personality, much like HITMAN, and the game wants you to play through them. At the end of each level, you’ll be presented with story missions that are recommended to be completed before moving onward. Don’t get me wrong, I still think opportunities and story missions undermine your engagement with the level by having you follow objective markers, but they’re a nice incentive to replay a level. What I much prefer is trying to achieve the challenges of a level.
Where story missions guide you to play differently, challenges taunt you to play specifically. Rather than following the objective markers, challenges will ask you to fulfil specific criteria. Some are lethal, like killing the target in a certain way or while wearing certain disguises. Others are not lethal, like distracting people in a certain way or finding a set of items. Either way, they force you to ask questions about where objects and people are, how you’re going to achieve these goals and figuring out what challenges might pair up. In a stroke of genius, all the challenges flash up at the end of the mission, so you can see what you’ve achieved and what’s left. For me, these were the real incentive to keep coming back and whack more clueless NPC’s over the head with wrenches.
I remember the AI in HITMAN being bad, but I forgot just how brain-dead these guys are. A great example is that you can lay rakes down and watch people run into them to knock themselves out. You’ll take no blame because it was just an object interaction, even if someone saw you place the rake there like a sentient bowling ball holding a grudge against humans with fingers. People are dumb in this game, but that also makes them highly exploitable. For each time dialogue breaks because you’re standing too close, there are opportunities to murder five guards in a room because people are terrible at noticing corpses. It’s fun to see just how far you can push your antics, though the game might push back.
Sometimes perfect plans can be sabotaged by bugs. The game has only (“only”) crashed once on me, but countless little bugs make the game stray a little far from excellence. NPC’s will teleport on top of scooters to avoid collisions, little graphical glitches will pop up occasionally, and don’t get me started on the homing briefcase. Most of the bugs were pretty harmless, but imagine my frustration after spending 10 minutes lining up the perfect assassination and a guard gets stuck in a wall. By and large, though, the game works great, and you pull off some ridiculous nonsense in fashionable attire.
Perhaps the best part of HITMAN isn’t the gameplay but its allowance for you to have fun. You have the more serious stuff, like using facial recognition to kill an arms dealer with his robot soldiers, but then you have the tongue in cheek stuff. Clobbering someone with a fish, disguising yourself as renowned treasure hunter Nathanial Blake, or using a rubber ducky as an explosive (though that’s DLC, unfortunately). Living out the fantasy of being a hired killer doesn’t need to be devoid of fun, and the devs clearly understand that. If you want to kill someone with a gun, go for it, but I’ll take the classier option of tipping a statue onto them while dressed as a bossa nova drummer.
HITMAN 2 is more of the same, with an emphasis on more and same. The gameplay is damn near unchanged, but it’s still satisfying to line up the hit and carry it out. The more massive levels and challenges lend themselves to more replayability, and even if the AI is one acid tab away from brain-death, it’s fun to see what you can pull off. Those hankering for a better-told story than the last game will be left wanting, but it’s a small price to pay for such elaborate and dense levels. If you liked the first game, you’ll like this one, because it’s practically the same but bigger.