I really loved HITMAN from the retelling of Agent 47 and Diana Burnwood’s origins together to the Elusive special targets. I even appreciated the change to an episodic release format for each of the missions because each one was filled with so much replayability that you could play and repeat a mission multiple times to see every possible option for taking out the targets and the secrets held within that episode. I think I played and replayed HITMAN more than any previous fully released title in the series but my heart sank when it was announced that Square Enix and IO Interactive had ended their publishing partnership leaving Agent 47’s future in the wind. Thankfully, WB Games stepped in and HITMAN 2 was released and it carries on the changes from the first HITMAN but also refines so much about what made it so refreshing for the series.
HITMAN 2 continues the story directly from the events of the first game that saw a mysterious man known only as the Shadow Client, shadowing Agent 47 and Diana on his missions with cut scenes revealing that this man has intimate knowledge of Agent 47, implying that they had grown up together, something that 47 has no memory of leading to the discovery by Diana that they had been manipulated into doing someone else’s dirty work all this time with all the missions being provided by tip offs from this Shadow Client, and realising that they are being used, their attention now switches to finding out who this mysterious person is and why he is using them for his own plan.
HITMAN 2 actually opens with Agent 47 in New Zealand on mission to infiltrate the home of one of the Shadow Client’s lieutenants, Alma Reynard, in order to find and take any information on him to help track him down. This is a mission that is part tiny tutorial but mostly about just getting on with the gameplay as the first task is to find a way into the house by taking out the security cameras before breaking in. After discovering the information, Alma Reynard returns home with her full security detail and lover, forcing Agent 47 to hide but then giving the mission to take out Reynard and escape, which is a great way to drop the player into the deep end right away by having to think on your feet to find a hiding spot and plan how to kill the target in a very confined place and to escape.
What is strange however is what happens after completing this opening mission because all of a sudden, you will find yourself right back at the start of HITMAN, from watching the same opening cutscene of 47 arriving at the ICA testing facility, being assessed via the training mission and ultimately being teamed with Diana. Now I have no real issue with them reusing the full training sequence from the first game because it is one of the best game tutorials I have ever played because it teaches you everything you need to know about how to play and what to expect from this new HITMAN stage of the series, including the freedom to find your own way to complete the objective in a mission but also learning how the more guided ‘story missions’ work. The fact that has been lifted from the first game and placed here in the second game speaks to how good it is and it is useful to replay but to new players, to find for the first time.
The problem is that it also showcases the particularity in how HITMAN 2 is presented. By stating with a tutorial has full cutscenes but then the game itself has story boarded cut scenes with dialogue only, whilst the art style still works, it does feel like a step back and it is puzzling as to why they did so. Then you have the whole switching back to a full game from the episodic style of HITMAN because it is so very clear that HITMAN 2 was also supposed to be episodic as each mission is a separate install. The game launcher itself is designed to feature both “seasons” of HITMAN so that owners of the first HITMAN will get to play it via the HITMAN 2 launcher as they are updated with the improvements made in the new game and can be played via HITMAN 2’s launcher and if you don’t have the first game, you can purchase it as the ‘Legacy Pack’ and play them as well. The move to WB Games from Square meant the decision to continue the episodic style was changed so all of the missions were released at once making it a complete game much like how Netflix drops all the episodes of a new series all at once to be binge watched. Episodic worked well for me because there were just so many things to do per mission that it took the time between episodes to complete them all and I really enjoyed diving into a mission each month, but I have no real issue with having all the missions at once, but it is very clear from the presentation that episodic with game sequels being seasons was the original plan for HITMAN
That said, the new missions are outstanding for HITMAN 2 and the mission areas are even bigger this time around, I mean they are huge with so many different methods of completing the mission being made available each time. The levels are so big that you can spend ages just exploring everywhere as you plan out how you are going to tackle each target as each mission will have multiple targets to take out, each with a variety of methods to kill each one which only become more elaborate as you proceed through. The sheer variety of the methods in which you can take out the targets is staggering with some methods being discovered by overhearing NPS talking which will lead you to a possible method which you can then explore and follow such as letting you know of a possible meeting point where the target will be to hinting at which disguise you can go and get which will allow you to take the place of a character the target needs to talk to or will give access to the target.
One of the most fun things about playing HITMAN is when things go pear shape and everyone is just out to get you. The walbeauty of the disguise system can also be punishing in that should you be wearing a disguise and be discovered by the guards, it renders that disguise useless and compromised for the rest of the mission. It is this level of detail that makes me just love HITMAN gameplay even more, there is a precision to everything and for me, patience and planning is still the key to getting the most out of this game but then it also invites you as the player to just play it as you want so if you feel you can just kill everyone before you, you can, your score will be rubbish but that level of fun and freedom is yours.
The design of each mission however makes it very much worth working through the different story objectives are. These are guided objectives which will show via a waypoint, a point of interest to follow a set piece of objectives which can reveal or provide an opportunity to take out a target. For example, in the opening Miami mission which is set at a race track, walking through the carpark can reveal a mascot on the phone to someone, by listening to the conversation you discover that this guy has already taken out the real mascot in order to set up a meeting with one of your targets, in order to black mail them. By taking removing him and taking his mascot disguise, you can replace him in this meeting which will give you the opportunity to take out the target. Now there is just something about walking around the map with Agent 47 dressed as a giant pink Flamingo mascot that is just pure comedy for me, this disguise also allows you to access all the VIP and staff areas of the map. I love the delivery of the dialogue as well from random people to the ones who take part in the story objectives, the writing is so good that thanks to the freedom in each mission, you could play it a few times and always find a new way to complete it and new dialogue exchanges to find.
The Story is also something that has grabbed me as we get closer to learning more about Agent 47’s origins including why the Shadow Client is obsessed with 47 not to mention his grander scheme for the world after using 47 to take out key targets for his own end in the first game. It was something that grabbed me with the first HITMAN in this new chapter back in 2016 and I am so pleased that the quality has continued here in what does feel like Season 2 of that initial story and as someone who has enjoyed this series for well over a decade, the Shadow Client is perhaps the most interesting villain for Agent 47 for quite some time with an intelligent story that has been given the right pacing to be revealed through both games making it a gradual thing which rewards the player when completing missions. I am liking the relationship between Diana and 47 more then any previous games before the 2016 refresh with the witty banter from Diana during missions as she explains how good a possible opportunity could be for the mission. Even the story being told through the new minimally animated story boards still works though I do wish they had kept the full animated scenes from the first game.
Overall HITMAN 2 delivered everything I hoped for in that they kept everything that made HITMAN so good and just made some tweaks to improve things here such as including the new crowd blending system which was clearly lifted right off the early Assassin’s Creed games but makes sense and works really well here. I love how any mistake can lead to messing up the entire mission but also how the missions are so detailed in how they are structured that players will always feel that level of freedom to complete the tasks how they want form being super-efficient and professional to just going full arcade mode and completing it as messy as you can. I also really like that if you did own the original game it is added into this for free so you have all the missions from both games to playthrough and if you haven’t, you can add it as the legacy pack for a low price. The inclusion of a new PvP aspect with ‘Ghost Mode’ which puts two players together challenged with taking out the same target to see who can do it the fastest and in the most HITMAN way whilst having the ability to interfere is so much fun and works really well.
IO Interactive were successful in refreshing the series with HITMAN in 2016 and here it is very clear they have mapped out a clear future for the series that has me excited. The improvements to the missions just make me want to keep going back to try and improve my completion ratings but also to find all the many ways to complete them and items to find which when you complete a mission and the game shows you just how many choices and things in that mission that you did not find or discover makes me want to hit that replay button right away. I appreciate that despite no longer being episodic, I do not feel that I was being rushed to complete the story and being able to play at my own pace made it even more enjoyable to play.
If you loved HITMAN you are going to love HITMAN 2 and if you loved HITMAN 2 but missed HITMAN, this will make you want to grab that too. In not trying to change too much and sticking to what works, IO Interactive have maintained all the greatness from the 2016 title making this an every more must have game in your collection and a really great way to end the 2018 gaming year with.