As the follow-up to a reintroduction and reinvention of a globally-known franchise, Hitman 2 has huge shoes to fill.
Developer IO Interactive breathed new life into the franchise with the 2016 release of Hitman, which did away with a traditional game release in favor of an episodic model pushing out a level about once a month.
Not only was this episodic gaming done right, the approach placed an emphasis on the fun core gameplay of the series fans had come to love since 2000, divvying it up over the course of a handful of gargantuan levels where player choice decides how things play out.
Hitman 2 is more of the same, with fresh gameplay elements, new multiplayer modes and a reissuing of the original game's episodes for good measure, rounding out a robust package that makes up one of those rare sequels fans know simply can't disappoint.
Graphics and Gameplay
Hitman is still Hitman, but on a more grandiose scale.
The sandbox level design ushered in with Hitman: Blood Money and other early entries returns in the form of "episodes" once again, though they are all available from the jump this time.
The original concept was brilliant. Players would roll through the original Hitman games and then replay their favorite missions, perhaps getting social with it by challenging friends about no-kill runs or scores. The 2016 episodic release took this idea and ran with it.
Likewise, players drop Agent 47 into a level and experience little in the way of hand-holding other than having their targets identified. From there, an unlimited number of options exist, both in how to approach the mission, what to wear, how to interact with the environment and what challenges to meet.
Good luck finding a game with more options to reach goals. One level alone can see 47 sabotage a driver's race car while masquerading as a member of the pit crew, play with some explosives, get up high after smuggling in a rifle and raining down on the race itself (maybe while dressed up as a mascot). And that's just one target within one of the levels. Others might see his food poisoned, see him shoved off a ledge or have him meet some other unfortunate fate.
The levels themselves are intimidating. They are gigantic, and while the weapon wheel is smooth and controls don't take long to get used to, strolling through the same level for hours to soak up all the details, conversations and varying possibilities can be taxing.
Along the way, players will stumble upon "mission stories" exclusive to each level. These are specific story beats within a specific level that give 47 an opportunity to open up paths to some of the more creative assassination elements. These can range from earning a spot on the aforementioned pit crew to discovering a pending lawsuit between neighborhood rivals and beyond.
The most creative assassinations are still barred behind huge time investments and careful attention to detail because everything from weapons, costumes to the environment itself has to be perfect for things to go off without a hitch. But those mission stories flesh out the world in a way the prior release didn't, and the overall package is better for it.
Dissecting these levels over time is a joy, at least. Varying challenges exist for each of the six levels (for example, there are 29 different disguises in the Miami level alone) and different difficulty stages have different mastery levels, keying different unlocks.
Adding to the most replayable game in the series to date are the unlockables, which change outfits and more. Perhaps most notable is playing time within a level unlocking different starting points, making for a fresh play through. Ditto for unlockables 47 can take in with him.
Hitman 2 doesn't ever not look good, but things can get sloppy with collision detection and clipping. Hitman 2 is one of the most detailed on the market today in terms of interaction with an environment and how the world reacts to what a player does, but what seems like the same old engine runs into some problems with body parts overlapping and clothes passing through limbs.
As always, Hitman is one of those games where some of the faults are part of the charm. It's serious-looking in nature, but there is a ton of humor behind it.
Dopey A.I. and some of those graphical hiccups are part of the package. Those who want to play it like a serious simulation can to a degree, but there is also the possibility of piling up 20 guards outside of a bathroom because you cracked each one over the head with a can of tomato sauce (this really happened).
No doubt these possibilities still exist in Hitman 2, offering a nice give and take for all gamers regardless of whether they want a realistic, competitive experience or a cartoonish-take on the world of assassinations.
Ghost Mode Multiplayer and More
So ends the speculation as to what multiplayer would look like in a Hitman game.
Thankfully, IO Interactive has come up with a fitting bit of competitive multiplayer as opposed to some cookie-cutter death match of sorts. Ghost Mode feels far, far removed from an afterthought to check off a bullet point on the back of a game case.
Instead, Ghost Mode is a fully-fledged competitive experience in which two players get dropped into the same level and are tasked with assassinating random targets out of the hundreds roaming. Players aren't in the same instance, so they can't affect each other's game, but they can see each other and keep track of their progress.
It's a fun side mode for now, as pulling off a no-witnesses kill for a point is a good time (first to five wins). That, or being stuck with only 20 seconds after an opponent kills their NPC to finish yours is a nail-biting affair.
But Ghost Mode has the "beta" tag on it right now for a reason, and it will be interesting to see what the developers have done with it six months down the line after seeing both player feedback and how players use the mode.
Also new is Sniper Assassin—Hitman's take on a co-op adventure. This is a fun romp in the universe as well. Players get tasked with taking out characters from afar while watching the level's story unfold and trying to again avoid detection while racking up the highest score possible. It was also refreshing to see even this mode have some fleshed out story to it and its own set of challenges and story events within the levels, even from afar.
Contracts mode returns as well and will let the community flex some of its creative muscle. Elusive Targets should be more interesting, with Sean Bean serving as the first. In Hitman, trying to find these unmarked, one-chance kills in a sprawling level and overcoming the interesting twists to secure the kill—knowing it was rare to accomplish the feat—provided some of the game's most thrilling moments.
As hinted, some new mechanisms in Hitman 2 are also getting back funneled into the re-releases of Hitman 2016's levels. One of those is blending into crowds, something this series now does better than say, Assassin's Creed.
Picture in picture is also a welcome addition to the series. In past games, it would get confusing over the course of a 20-to-30-minute level to get busted for something an enemy discovers from the beginning. Now a window pops up and shows the player 47 is currently on camera or that the body he stashed within the first five minutes of the level has been discovered.
Small gameplay reinforcements like this not only dramatically overhaul what was already a good multi-level offering from Hitman 2016, but they make the sandboxes in Hitman 2 all the more immersive.
Those sandboxes are more diverse than before. There is a fun balance in levels despite there being so few. One jungle-based level on its own features a harmless-seeming shantytown, drug-growing fields deeper within and a mine to explore, with a trio of targets sparsed throughout. Contrast that with a racetrack-themed level gigantic in scope, but that is far less dangerous-seeming and featuring more in the way of civilian navigation.
Brilliant as it was for the developers to emphasize gameplay on detailed levels instead of a linear overall game, the structure here hurts the overall story. The story plays out in small animated shorts between levels for the most part, though it's safe to say most aren't here for the story of a bald contract killer with a barcode on the back of his head in the first place.
Oh, and the briefcase is back. Longtime fans of the series know what this means. Once again, 47 can smuggle in something as big as a sniper rifle into a level without raising suspicions.
Speedrunning Tips and Appeal
Hitman 2016 was speedrunning money. Really, the series always has been thanks to its dissect-and-skillfully-solve nature.
There's no exception here. Sprawling levels with endless items and ways to complete objectives combined with an uber-detailed grading system after the action means a highly customizable speedrunning experience.
Where to even start? These levels can play host to non-lethal runs besides the end targets, any-percent runs or runs that encompass all six levels. Add in different difficulty requirements and we're just hitting the tip of the iceberg. Lethality and even detection can come into play. Changing up the starting weapons, where the runs start from and more provide droves of options.
Varying the difficulty matters, too. Upping it to professional and carrying around a wrench while wearing a suit is something enemies will pick up on and create problems. Little details like that will set apart the best speedruns instantly.
The best speedruns will come down to memorization (and reminder: doing this won't give an edge in Ghost Mode competitive as the targets are randomized) and experimentation. Item locations, guard paths, who triggers what, what triggers who and the best tools for each scenario will take hours and hours of gameplay.
Generally, taking the most direct path to an objective shaves the most time off a run, but it is the in-between stuff that requires serious creativity to work. With Hitman specifically, runs will come down to NPC manipulation, whether that's firing a few rounds in a wall or throwing an object to break line of sight, to sometimes causing a much bigger ruckus to move entire crowds.
In time, the best speedrunners will carve out Professional Mode sprints through all six levels wearing only one suit in a matter of minutes, just as they did with the prior release.
Whether it's a goofy speedrun with different starting points and costumes while hitting various challenges or a straight-shooting serious run like the one linked, Hitman 2 once again oozes speedrunning potential in a Twitch-friendly environment sure to have plenty hungry to see how the most creative and skillful gamers out there tackle these impressive sandboxes.
Unlike some of 47's unfortunate victims, this hit wasn't hard to see coming.
IO Interactive has this down to an exact science and was nice enough to throw in the original levels while once again promising consistent updates and new things to do. But again, intimidating feels like the right word at times.
As an aside, some of the intimidation with scale here comes from the fact all six levels, plus multiplayer modes, came out together at once. In the prior episodic release back in 2016, IO Interactive doled out six levels over the course of seven months, so it's similar to keeping up with a weekly show vs. a Netflix release that is bingeable all at once. Is the latter better? Maybe, but a staggered release makes things easier to digest.
At its heart, it's quite clear switching up the nature of the release didn't sacrifice quality. This is Hitman with a few refinements to core mechanics and the same old quirks. Unpacking each level is a digital puzzle of sorts and rewarding, even if it can devolve into a take-two-steps-and-save-in-a-new-slot-again affair.
But the save-often approach quickly bleeds into one of the most replayable titles of the year thanks to unlocks, if not lends itself to beginners transforming into speedrunners if they stick it out long enough.
For those with even a slight interest in what the game offers, Hitman 2 is one of the most robust, replayable titles released this year, and on merit it shouldn't have a problem standing against some of the season's biggest releases.