Hitman 2 gives one of 2016’s best games a second shot at success

The Hitman series got a sleek reboot in 2016, spread across multiple individually released episodes. This year’s sequel often feels like a direct continuation of that release, as if a bunch of episodes had gotten clogged in the pipeline, and now they’re all plopping before us all at once.

Manipulating the world around Agent 47 has frankly never felt better. Picking up right where the first left off, Hitman 2 follows Agent 47 and handler Diana Burnwood’s quest to uncover the enigmatic assassin’s past, while also navigating the treacherous, conspiracy-laden world of intrigue and murder for hire.

The plot is still mostly a device for getting 47 from A to B, filled with the Jason Bourne-fare of shadowy organizations and double-crossing. As you move through each of the game’s six story missions, you’ll get cutscenes with exposition and some clever writing, especially for Burnwood, whose relationship with 47 is reminiscent of the Daniel Craig-era James Bond and M.

The one slight disappointment: the between-mission cutscenes aren’t animated. They’re just a series of stills with voice acting over the top. Thes look is stylish, but the scenes still come off a bit odd, especially during long conversations.

IO Interactive/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Once you’re in the field, however, Hitman 2 starts to feel very familiar. The new stages and scenarios don’t reinvent the 2016 gem, instead opting to reinforce and polish every aspect of the predecessor. Once again, you have a list of targets laid out, and you need to find a way to assassinate them and leave the area, while preferably maintaining a low profile. The methodology is up to your discretion; while silenced pistols and fiber wire are the initial go-to’s, just about anything can be lethal with the right application. Hammers, bricks, fish, measuring tape, or fire axes all work, so long as the contract is fulfilled.

While nothing drastic has changed in the way of mechanics, blending into crowds is a nice addition that feels natural and adds some interesting moments in some maps, where you need to get by guards who will recognize you as an intruder on sight. A few new visual tools help you with this, showing picture-in-picture of key moments like a body being found or 47 being spotted by a camera, and a visual circle around 47 when he’s concealed to show just where an enemy will or won’t notice you.

IO Interactive/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

There are plenty of chances to off each target. These mission stories also usually have a bit of backstory baked into them, through conversations with the subject or intel picked up along the way, helping to flesh out each mark. Each route and path is more interesting because you’re not only pulling off some wild, convoluted, Rube Goldberg-style hit, but you might learn about the target and why they’ve drawn the ire of your mysterious clientele.

Hitman has always had a touch of physical comedy and absurdism to lighten its grim premise. Agent 47 blends in but doesn’t even make attempts to copy speech patterns or mannerisms. He can somehow paint magnificently, drum really well, and perform ancient rituals without prep. Hitman 2’s story play into this humor, putting Agent 47 in some ridiculous set-ups. In Miami, he can don a flamingo suit, which somehow leads to a blackmail scheme. He can still rig floor hydraulics and tamper with machinery, but usually there’s some dramatic flair added. My favorite storyline by far was in Mumbai, where you can follow a rookie assassin and secretly assist him through killing all your targets. Moments like sneaking into his hideout to fix his incorrectly sighted scope and going undercover to set up a perfect shot for him were a surprising twist on the established formula, and added a touch of character to the blank slate that is 47.

IO Interactive/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Agent 47 is an intruder. Each level of Hitman 2 is designed as a bustling, lively hub, but they are dioramas. The populace goes about their routine, set along paths and cordoned off in areas. 47, and by extension you, are the interruption. So much of Hitman 2 is about learning to gently nudge, to wait and learn. A mission can go wrong so easily, and there are so many variables. Any “wrong” movement that starts to break scripts will alert everyone nearby, and soon the antibodies descend upon you. NPC’s take much more notice of you as well, commenting on your attire or even just striking up casual conversation as you stand around, waiting for a perfect moment. It serves to create a world that feels alive, but more importantly, one where you’re alien. The tension between pinpoint execution and the chaos of failure feels wonderfully thin, and each successful elimination feels earned because of it.

Hitman 2’s levels provide another set of staggeringly deep stages to play around in. Aside from the opening map, which provides a bit of a Hitman explainer for both newcomer and veteran alike, the locales of Hitman 2 are tremendous. Miami houses two worlds, a race and expo, bisected by a raceway. Colombia mixes lush jungle with drug labs and luxurious mansions. The labyrinthine housing of Mumbai lends itself so wonderfully to the Hitman formula, and in one section, Agent 47 goes suburban in what felt like a nod to one of my favorite Hitman: Blood Money missions. Time will tell if they’re as memorable as Paris, Sapienza, or Hokkaido, but they already have me wanting to revisit them to find more secrets and hidden opportunities.

IO Interactive/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

All the modes from Hitman make a return, like player-made contracts and the additional sniper mission. If you own the first Hitman, you can also replay the original game’s missions using the new tools of the sequel. The old maps also seem to have some new nods to the sequel’s story, like a target from a Hitman 2 mission appearing in a Hitman (2016) locale as an NPC. It’s a pleasure to return to these maps even after playing them a dozen times, and now I can finally bring my briefcase sniper rifle (which has made a triumphant return in Hitman 2).

The multiplayer ghost mode seems intriguing, though it’s hard to say how effective it is on pre-launch servers. IO Interactive already promised the same frequency of elusive targets and other challenges. It may not seem like too much at first, but I found joy in returning to the locations and the discovery that entailed. Getting through the campaign doesn’t take long, but the idea is to go back, find new approaches, use new tools, explore every opportunity, and execute with perfection. Leaderboards track your global standing on each map, and a new post-mission screen charts your mastery of each level as you check off each item on the list. Hitman 2’s formula doesn’t just encourage, but reinforced and rewarded my attempts to do things differently and break the mold.

As someone who loves the Hitman formula, Hitman 2 gives me everything I want. Six maps may seem like a small number, especially when you can Netflix-binge them in a single sitting as opposed to the trickle-release of its predecessor. But each space is vibrant, the setpieces are quite memorable, and the subtle but effective updates strengthen all of what made 2016’s Hitman so incredible. This is certainly more of the same, but this new version of Hitman was built for this style of iteration. Hitman 2 is a wonderful continuation of the series, upgrading enough to feel fresh without breaking the foundation. A perfect execution.

Hitman 2 was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a final “retail” download code provided by IO Interactive. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

Article credit: https://www.polygon.com/reviews/2018/11/10/18080350/hitman-2-review-pc-xbox-one-playstation-4

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