[Review] ‘Hitman 2’ is a Stone Cold Killer

Is Agent 47 the coolest contract killer around? How satisfying is it to knock out goons with a fish? Find out in our Hitman 2 review.

IO Interactive have built on the bones of Hitman 2016 and in so many ways, what it has produced in Hitman 2 is a very traditional idea of a sequel. The same great parts, but more of it, and a few new treats sprinkled into the mix.

To be playing Hitman 2 after all that has transpired since the previous game’s release feels like something of a blessing. A chopping and changing content model eventually settled on an episodic structure that split fans, Square-Enix dumped developer IO Interactive after it sold less than it’d expected, but it did let IO go independent and retain the rights to Hitman. That was crucial, as it allowed Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment to pick up publishing duties for this sequel, and Hitman gets to live another day.

2016’s Hitman was an experimental soft reboot of the assassination series. It took the better parts of the divisive Hitman Absolution and joined it to the more traditional sandboxes of death that had made Hitman Blood Money such a beloved entry. There’s no great overhaul for Hitman 2 because there wasn’t much to change about its structure. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the whole game is available day one this time.

Here we get six new locations, all varying in size and scope. Each comes with its story-based objectives, which are great for learning the ropes, and a multitude of paths to take to those objectives. As ever, the end goal of any mission is to kill your target and in a Hitman game, the delight and challenge is in finding the most inventive ways to make it look like an accident but still allowing you to improvise and be messy if things turn sour (and they will).

hitman 2 review 01

The locations contain an admirable number of moving parts that help and hinder Agent 47 in his path to the kill. in Hitman 2‘s opening level, you arrive at a remote beach and have to infiltrate a rather swanky looking house, which is the only building for miles. This mission acts as a tutorial for players old and new, noting the basic controls and rules where appropriate whilst showing this sequels new level of accessibility with a much-improved version of its ‘Opportunities’.

47 can now hide in tall grass and shrubbery, and this level shows that off quickly when you’re crouched unseen in tall grass as 47’s handler Diana suggests he take out the security camera with a well-placed shot. Not being seen effects your score and ranking for a mission so it makes sense to prevent digital proof of your visit becoming known. In Hitman tradition it’s not the only solution. You can, when you get inside the house and find the correct room, erase the video footage altogether, or you could simply sneak around and under the cameras. Hitman 2 is full of little choices like this, and it once again shows how much variety there is in any given playthrough.

The opening level is the smallest in scale of the six, and arguably the weakest on a first time play. The others are huge, sprawling worlds, filled with an exquisite range of opportunities, side stories, and improvisation. Any good Hitman should offer boundless replayability and that’s absolutely the case for Hitman 2. This is game where a fish is just as valid as a weapon as a silenced pistol (though throwing a big wet fish at an unsuspecting NPC is definitely more hilarious) and each map provides plenty of interesting tools, including a lot of costume and identity changes for our bald assassin to slip into.

hitman 2 review 04

On the surface, the likes of Santa Fortuna’s jungle village and the bustling streets of Mumbai seem straightforward, if almost overwhelming, but there’s so much to find in each area beyond the obvious. Mumbai, in particular, is a mixture of Hitman’s Sapienza and Marrakech levels, creating the labyrinthine quality of the former and the crowd level of the latter. It’s easy to slip by unnoticed through a crowd (Hitman 2 allows 47 to remain hidden in crowds, a godsend), but it’s also harder to get targets alone as there’s almost always a pair of eyes on you. It captures the thrill of the series at its peak. Figuring out these puzzles of death without turning it into a bloodbath is still among the most satisfying feelings in all of video games, and that Hitman 2 provides so many is a credit to IO Interactive’s dedication to the craft.

Hitman 2 is more consistent in its level quality than its predecessor. Every Hitman needs a standout though, a stage that draws the strengths of the series together into a classic level. While Mumbai is really good, it’s Vermont that steals the show. Taking place in a leafy suburb in the midst of an electoral campaign. There’s so much going on in an area that may not be as bustling as some of the stages, but it comes across as more of a lived-in place. Oh, and it’s jam-packed with fun little details and chances for Hitman’s signature dark comedy with its kills. To say more would spoil a level that is easily up there with the best IO Interactive has made for the series.

As with Hitman 2016, IO Interactive isn’t satisfied with just provided a selection of replayable sandboxes, there’s plenty more time investment to be found in Hitman 2, even more so than its predecessor. Contracts (user-created hits), Challenges, and Elusive Targets (limited time hits) all return, and two new modes join the fray that add a lot to the package.

Sniper Assassin is a sort of a standalone hi-score puzzle game where 47 can only take out targets with his high-powered sniper rifle. It reminds me very much of the arcade game Silent Scope and is a fun change of pace that ca be played in co-op.

The breakout star though is Ghost mode, a competitive 1v1 online multiplayer where both players have the same targets in their own versions of the same map. You must off five targets one after the other, and when one player makes a hit, the other has a short time period to off the same target in their world. Failure to do so awards the other player a point. You can also lose points by killing non-targets, so it’s a really tense battle of patience and quick-thinking. Do you make an improvised attempt to kill your target quickly when your opponent has beaten you to it on their side? It means you could cause chaos in your world that makes the next target a lot harder to reach, while your opponent saunters to it. IO Interactive didn’t have to add multiplayer to Hitman 2, but by making it fit the game’s core ideas, it’s created a refreshing experience. It’s just on the Miami map for now, but it’ll be exciting to see it transition to the maps new and old.

Old maps? Owners of Hitman 2016 can download the Legacy pack for Hitman 2 for free, and remarkably this adds every single level and mission from that game, and gives them a polish up with Hitman 2’s new mechanics. It’s a smart idea, and means that Hitman 2 can continue to grow and retain its legacy. It does, however, show up a deficiency in Hitman 2.

hitman 2 review 02

The cutscenes between story missions are no longer fully animated. Instead, we get a bunch of fancy stills with voiceovers. Now, cutscenes are not the draw in Hitman anyway, the levels are God, and all Hitman has ever needed for a story is a bit of background on the targets, and some in-level information. Hitman 2 insists upon continuing the 2016 story, which was light to begin with. The old cutscenes show up unaltered, and just make the new look stills feel a bit daft. The story itself is okay, but not really necessary. It’s definitely the low point of Hitman 2.

There are other minor quibbles. The game engine struggles with density at times, stuttering the frame rate. Nothing major, but noticeable all the same. Occasionally the facade of a living world slips hard when automated processes get interrupted at odd times. Hitman 2 isn’t going for realism though, so it’s not as immersion breaking as it could be.

While Hitman 2 is, in many ways, more of an upgrade to the previous game than a full-blooded sequel, it’s crammed full of interesting interaction and now its topped off with a genuinely excellent multiplayer in the form of Ghost Mode and legacy content, it’s the best Hitman package ever put together.

PS4 Hitman 2 review code provided by the publisher

Hitman 2 is out now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC as a Gold and Collector’s Edition. Standard Edition is out November 13.