More than that, it's usually not a reason for celebration, but Hitman 2 is a rare exception. The sequel to the re-developer of the IO Interactive epicodic episode of the murder series was barely made after a lower-than-expected sale and broke up with Square Enix publishers. But IO secured the rights, partnered with Warner Bros. Entertainment, and returned two years later with the most refined, spacious and pleasant Hitman title to date. It's a perfect paradise that offers tens of hours of trial-and-error entertainment in a giant environment, all with the same high loyalty graphics and underlying machines governing what you can and can't do to list fresh ones from unsuspecting criminals and often clumsy.
I might be in a minority of players who really like the episodic nature of 2016's Hitman. Given that the game is only six levels, having one arrive every month is made for the perfect tempo, so I can fully immerse myself in the new map without interruption. Hitman 2 not episodic. In fact, you can play through one of the levels in any order, with only a small spoiler warning to block you. In addition, the two games are almost the same, down to the menu layout and similar challenge structures.
The difference is actually in the local area. Hitman 2 introducing six new environments for killer machines with titular barcodes to explore, each with its own signature hook. In Miami, Agent 47 was assigned to bring a billionaire technology CEO and daughter to the driver's car in the middle of a real race. In Mumbai, you can help hitmen in taking all your targets by making it look like an expert in the field of perfect crafts, when in fact, you are laying the foundation for success. In Whittleton Creek, Vermont, setback to classics Hitman: Blood Money"A New Life" mission, you trade heavily guarded office buildings and fancy scenes of private parties from your target usually rich for suburban northeastern areas.
This is not the game you are playing for the story. Again, Agent 47 and his handler, a high-ranking officer in a fictitious ICA killer organization, find themselves caught up in a confusing power struggle between two shadowy groups that run the world by conspiring Bond-esque. This time, there is additional tension because one of the criminals has information about Agent 47's past, a long-standing mystery series that seems increasingly grim with each entry.
Although the overall plot might not win any awards, IO does a good job of making backstories for your individual targets. Much of this writing is truly impressive on time, with a nod to real-world concerns about private military companies, Middle East conflicts, and even artificial intelligence. More fun is all the small conversations that you can listen to by eavesdropping on characters that can't be played. There are many hidden Easter eggs that allude to world events and pop culture and calls back to previous missions in the previous game, as long as you are willing to spend time as a wallflower, waiting for characters to play the script.
It's all just window coating. Hitman 2 is a game about murder, and IO has mastered the tone needed to turn the most transparent industrial killing simulator into something that is simultaneously grizzly and ridiculous, like a cross between slapstick comedy and Final destination. Hitman is the best when he divorces himself from violence on the screen and instead treats an experience like an absurd playground. The sequel did this very well.
Most traditional games and more brutal touches remain intact as a tribute to the franchise's roots. The standard killing method still envelops people with high tempered carbon steel lines – opening up the "piano man" challenge, naturally – and always unpleasant to watch. Many challenges to solving more bare-bones games, such as just killing your target with a sniper rifle or doing all missions in your signature settings without ever being seen, are rightly referred to as "classics."
You can play the game with that goal in mind, and Hitman Diehards and speedrunners have a lot to do when it comes to solving this challenge in the most efficient and measurable way. But Hitman 2, even more so than the episodic reboot that brought the series back to life after four years, enjoying an absurd and funny one. Dozens of challenges at each new level almost always appreciate the constant experimentation of speed and skill.
For example, at the introductory level of the game in Miami, I was intrigued by one of the redesigned "feature stories", reprinted "feature" versions that basically helped you through more complicated murders to help you get your footing. This one happened to display an autonomous robot prototype being tested for US military representatives by technology executive Robert Knox, a man who was very confident in his creation that he was willing to stand with the test puppet during a live demonstration.
The mission story kept me in the room with Knox, but I did not tell what to do after that. I had to find out how to trick the robot into turning Knox's participation into a fatal mistake. Fortunately, the copy Wired the magazine with Knox's face on it was left in the reception area on the second floor, and that was enough to fool the robot's face recognition system to identify its master as an enemy. While the technicians panicked over one more "malfunction," I was able to escape, after getting extra points for accidental killing and because it never blew my cover.
In this way, respectively Hitman 2 level has natural flow. You jump and feel overwhelmed by the scale of the environment and hundreds to thousands of NPCs who inhabit them. But when you find the location of the land by exploring the map, you find a mission story that is played in front of you and decides to follow it. The mission stories are low-hanging fruit, but they help you learn how your target moves, what their main lines and storylines are, and the various ways you can do it. To pull Knox away from the robot demonstration, for example, you can play with one of the racing cars on display on the first floor of the building, bringing your target into a contact very close to the active combustion engine.
Want to get rid of the challenge to sink your target in the toilet, poison their cup of tea, and do it all while wearing a silly flamingo mascot in disguise? By completing the mission story, you might see a point where your target sets himself a drink, and in the second game, you can wait for the right moment to maneuver. (Your target is inside Hitman always thirsty, it seems.) Simply complete the challenge and increase your "mastery" from level 1 to level 20 for each map, and you can even start using your choice of disguises in a location that is more suited to your chosen weapon equipped.
It's clear that IO relies heavily on the art of storing scumming. If something unexpected happens – and, at Hitmansomething unexpected always happens – you just go back and try again. Hitman 2 now features more efficient saving and reloading and easier to understand autosave and manual save menus. That way, you can save deposits at critical moments in the mission to try one tactic and then go back and try another later. Or if you find yourself trying something very complicated, like sneaking into a safe location without using the right guise, you can have a net savings to return.
The storage system is not sophisticated enough, say, Prohibited 2, which has a fast and fast loading function that works much faster and an active status counter to check if you've ever seen it. But Hitman 2 it is still more accommodating than its predecessor in this regard, and is happy to see IO adjust its system by the way fans like playing without sacrificing how more ordinary players want to experience it.
You can use a firearm indiscriminately, give you the attention of a small army of NPC soldiers, or you can knock out an entire room full of guards from shadows using the healthy key supply that you have. The only way the game really punishes you for excessive violence or carelessness is by calculating the final score and ranking below the average of a total of five stars. This score is mostly for leaderboard bragging rights; IO recognizes that most people will focus on resolving challenges silently and increasing their level of mastery, which, in turn, allows you to try more creative murders until you have run out of each road and move on to the next level.
Such tireless experiments are the essence of Hitman. After spending hours on one level, you will begin to understand all the systems that are playing, the ins and outs of character behavior, and the complex causal mechanisms that make everything work. And the IO sequel does a fantastic job of serving the formula to players in a familiar way, with quite a lot of new things and a newer, more creative and murderous environment to keep you from repeating the same level repeatedly.
Like 2016 Hitman, this sequel is equipped with a crowdsourced contract for you to complete if you are a special glutton for strict challenges under strict limits. IO also brought back an extraordinary "elusive contract" system, the only mission structure launched this weekend with actor Sean Bean. There is also a new multiplayer feature, called "ghost mode" that will make you compete with other players to be the first to kill the target. IO said this would be a work in progress when it aired this week, with Miami supported on launches and other levels and more features coming.
For players who want to go through all the content as quickly as possible, these online features must combine them until IO provides the first of two expansions at some point next year. For others, this is the most preferred game in slow and steady mode. That might not be episodic, but Hitman 2 is a game full of challenges to unlock and secrets to find that I know I will still be looking for new ways to kill months from now.
Hitman 2 available today on PS4, Xbox One and PC.