Hitman’s 2016 reboot was well received two years ago, no doubt. This is because that game not only brought back the classic stealth gameplay Hitman fans had loved in the earlier Hitman: Blood Money, but did so with style too, boasting a variety of assassination methods and sumptuous locations from all over the world.
It was one of 2016’s best games for sure, so fans were ecstatic when Danish developer IO Interactive announced that a sequel was in the making, and would hit shelves in late 2018.
And Hitman 2 really is a splendid game that lives up to its predecessor, offering more of the series trademark stealth gameplay, beautiful locations, and so many ways to commit virtual murder, making it one of the best Hitman games to date.
However, and no matter how good Hitman 2 is overall, the game does stumble out of the gate though. The first mission you get to play here is set on Hawke’s Bay. Here you get to explore a beach house and its surroundings, in order to search for clues about the mysterious Shadow Client, a character Agent 47 and the organization he works for (the ICA) are after.
This is meant to be a tutorial level for the game, but sadly it falls flat. The beach house is not so interesting, and one character you have to assassinate during the mission doesn’t get much backstory, only that she has some connection to the mysterious Shadow Client himself.
Things get markedly better in the following mission, which is set in sunny Miami. Here you are tasked with killing a wealthy industrialist named Robert Knox and his daughter Sierra Knox, the latter of whom has a love for Formula 1 cars. Actually, a race is going on as Agent 47 arrives on the scene, with Sierra being one of the contestants.
Moving around Hitman 2’s Miami location, it’s hard not to notice that the location design is, simply put, sumptuous here. Aside from the race track and spectator stands, you can also take a tour of the marina, and enter the Kronstadt Industries building. Here Robert Knox’s team is busy working on military hardware (military androids, no less) showing there’s more to the wealthy industrialist’s life than motorsports.
These labs certainly look the part, sporting all sorts of high-tech equipment and guys in white coats milling around. Elsewhere in this Miami location, there are crowds having a good time at a cafeteria, the interior design of which, with its red hues, looks great. So does a bar with its bright disco lights, where Sierra Knox plans to celebrate her Formula 1 victory by entering into a drinking contest with a rival pilot, giving you a chance to finish her off after the race is over.
Other mission locations in Hitman 2 include Santa Fortuna, to which you travel to in order to ice a trio of perps involved in drug dealing, their cartel lording over this poor, decrepit Colombian town. Here, the poverty of the town contrasts with the opulent, luxurious mansion of a drug dealer (the mansion is even equipped with a museum, which highlights the man’s dubious accomplishments). Elsewhere in this location you can wade through coca fields, where you can take cover until you get a chance to strike down one of the mission’s assassination targets.
Aside from Miami and Colombia, you’ll also travel to Mumbai, where you get to put down an egocentric movie producer and a female crime lord of the Mumbai underworld, and where you get to visit a multi-storey tower which houses a movie studio. You’ll also walk through densely packed streets enlivened by the odd graffiti or two, and enjoy the sight of colourful billboards advertising the city’s latest residential project up above.
Other mission locations in Hitman 2 include the quiet US neighbourhood of Whittleton Creek, its immaculate lawns and white fences evoking a sense of Americana. There’s also the mysterious Isle of Sgail, where you arrive in the middle of the night. At the centre of this location is a castle fortress, the interior of which is adorned with sculptures and paintings. Inside, members of a secret society wear masks and partake in the odd ritual or two, making this one of the most original (and surreal) locations in the game by far.
But no matter how detailed and atmospheric Hitman 2’s locations are, it’s the assassination gameplay that will keep you coming back for more. All of Agent 47’s tricks are available here – from strangling a character with a fibre wire, to blowing their brains out with a well-placed sniper shot, or even putting a little poison in their drink, game makers IO Interactive have all bases covered here. Accident kills are also welcome – pushing a large stone statue on a drug dealer while he is delivering a speech sure is a fine way of dishing out poetic justice in Hitman 2.
And as is usual in the Hitman games, knocking out characters in order to get hold of a new disguise will let you enter areas you might not normally be allowed into. For instance, putting on a flamingo outfit will let you access the VIP area in Miami’s race track event, while disguising yourself as a tattoo artist in Santa Fortuna will let you get close to a drug dealer in the game’s Colombia level.
The dark humour here cannot be understated either. Agent 47 killing someone with a measuring tape while dressed as an Indian tailor is darkly perverse, and so is killing a target by pushing her to her death at the bottom of an elevator shaft while dressed as a flamingo. Or pushing a ruthless drug dealer into a pond while dressed as one of his bodyguards, only for him to be devoured by his pet hippo.
Of course, some guards or other characters will be able to see through your disguise. These guys (whom the game calls “enforcers”) have a white circle over their heads, and will become suspicious and alert others in the vicinity if they spot you, so you might want to avoid these folks in the game.
If things get hairy, though, there’s a variety of firearms here too. Aside from Agent 47’s trusty Silverballer pistols, there are shotguns, machine guns, Uzis and even grenades for you to use in combat.
You’ve got all bases covered in case you’re spotted somewhere you shouldn’t be and a firefight breaks out, and for a game which focuses on stealth so much I’ve got to admit the shooting is pretty good, even exciting. You can take cover behind objects like crates by pressing a button, although enemies will attempt to flank you, and also flush you out with the use of blinding grenades.
But while the shooting in Hitman 2 is good, you’re unlikely to be able to shoot your way through missions as Agent 47 can only take so much damage at the default difficulty level, meaning guards will quickly overwhelm you if they catch you trespassing. Normally, they’ll give you a polite warning first, although enemies did feel a bit too trigger happy in the later missions, though.
A stealthy approach is absolutely mandatory if you chose to play at the highest difficulty level (which the game calls Master), as enemies are lethal and can put down Agent 47 quickly if he’s caught red-handed. Plus, going stealthy is preferred here, as raising too much hell in a level will put guards on high alert.
Actually, at one point I was unable to complete one of the game’s mission stories, as when attempting to take the next step (joining a photoshoot while disguised as an actor in Mumbai), the game kept telling me I couldn’t proceed. This is because Agent 47 was too suspicious in his current disguise, as I had killed a little too many guards while wearing this disguise (in the end, I had to reload a previous save and try a quieter approach in order to complete the mission).
The mission stories I mentioned earlier replace the “opportunities” of the 2016 game, but work in the same manner. You discover mission stories by eavesdropping on conversations. The game then walks you through the various steps required to perform an assassination (or to get close to an assassination target), letting you decide how to put an end to the perp’s life.
For instance, in the Miami mission, you overhear one shady character’s phone call, discovering he’s trying to blackmail Sierra Knox. If you follow the game’s instructions for this mission story, you’ll start by stealing and putting on the guy’s flamingo outfit. After getting hold of the blackmail documents from the guy’s car and following the remaining steps, you’ll end up meeting up with Sierra Knox in an alley. After she dismisses her bodyguards, you’ll get a chance to kill the spoiled race driver brat for good…
The game walks you through all the steps needed to complete a mission story by default, although you can also opt to receive minimal hints (or none at all) by tweaking a menu option if you want an extra challenge.
But while the main missions offer plenty of replayability thanks to mission stories and the various, improvised assassination methods you can try, there’s other content to play through in Hitman 2 when you’re done with the story missions.
This includes the Escalation Contracts, missions with several stages of difficulty (typically three). For instance, one of these contracts takes place on the mysterious Isle of Sgail, and requires you to knock out a cook with a fish, and do so without changing disguises throughout. Successive levels add additional complications, such as having to knock out five civilian characters aside from the cook, while also not being able to drop the fish at any point.
These missions are fun, and more focused and with less variables to consider than the expansive main missions, while IO Interactive has been adding more of these to the game since the launch, meaning these can keep you busy for some time after you’re done with the main story missions.
Aside from this, there are also the nerve-wracking Elusive Target missions, which represent IO Interactive’s way of fleshing out Hitman 2’s stealth gameplay via the addition of live content to the game.
Elusive Targets are only available for a limited period of time, and if you screw the pooch during the mission you don’t get a second attempt either. Players got to kill Sean Bean in the first Elusive Target mission shortly after the game’s launch (Bean played a character named Mark Faba in the game’s Miami location). And with more Elusive Targets on the way, you can be sure of having more fun with Hitman 2 in the months to come.
Truth be told, there’s an extra level of tension when playing through these missions which simply isn’t present when playing the main story missions, as one mistake could put an end to things irremediably (you are not allowed to save during Elusive Target missions). Having an eidetic knowledge of each of Hitman 2’s locations comes in handy then, as well as knowing all the various methods of assassination the game offers, meaning working on mastering each of the game’s locations will pay off here.
There’s another reason why you might want to increase your mastery level of each location, though. This is because new outfits for Agent 47 are unlocked as you complete additional mission challenges and unlock achievements, letting you parade in style through each level as you attempt to ace all of its challenges.
Aside from gameplay and replayability, other aspects of the game are also well done. As in the 2016 game, there are cinematic cutscenes which advance the game’s plot. However, the fancy CGI and animation seen in Hitman 2016 is nowhere to be found this time around, with IO Interactive choosing a storyboard format for Hitman 2’s cutscenes. This might have been a consequence of the Danish developer’s split with Square Enix last year, and IO being limited to a lower budget for this game.
Nonetheless, these cutscenes are still entertaining to watch, and IO has managed to tell an engaging story, revealing more about key characters’ motivations and backstories. We learn more about Agent 47’s handler Diana Burnwood’s past here for instance, plus there’s a shocking revelation at the end which makes it clear why Agent 47 is the ultimate hitman and badass killer in the world of video games too…
The game’s excellent music also helps in creating an immersive experience, and is suitably appropriate for each of the game’s locations. From guitar riffs in Miami to dark classical pieces on the Isle of Sgail, Hitman 2’s score is a highlight, with Niels Bye Nielsen’s music standing up to Jesper Kyd’s work in the earlier Hitman games. This does reuse some music from the 2016 Hitman game though, but overall Hitman 2’s music is a treat for the ears throughout.
Not all aspects of Hitman 2 shine, though, and admittedly the plot will be a bit hard to follow for newcomers. It really would be a good idea to have played through Hitman 2016’s reboot before diving into this game, then, something that developer IO Interactive has made easy.
Actually, you can unlock all of the previous Hitman missions and play these through Hitman 2 by purchasing the game’s “Legacy Pack”, which gives you access to all of the 2016’s game’s content. This will also let you play through these with Hitman 2’s gameplay enhancements, such as being able to knock out or kill enemies by throwing objects at them, and also the split screen camera showing in-game events (such as when guards find a body). Sadly, IO Interactive has done nothing to improve the game’s menus since Hitman 2016’s outing – these are still something of a jumble.
Nonetheless, none of this detracts from the fact that Hitman 2 is one of the best games released in 2018. This is one of the best stealth games in years too, and definitely one anyone remotely interested in the Hitman series won’t want to miss.
Score: 91 / 100
Available on: PS4 | Xbox One | PC
Reviewed on: PC (System: Intel Core i5-8400, 16 GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 970, SSD Drive)
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Launch date: November 13, 2018
This game was reviewed using a copy purchased for the purpose of this review.