If you’re a fan of the Hitman series and you shied away from the Hitman 2016 reboot because it was episodic, you are absolutely doing yourself a huge disservice. It is an utterly, utterly fantastic game and, I believe, comfortably the best Hitman has ever been, at least until now.
Hitman 2 is a sharpening of the cheesewire rather than a reinvention, acting more as a massive-scale expansion to Hitman (2016) than as a fully fledged sequel. That’s not to say it’s lacking in content, far from it, but this clearly began life as a straightforward second season of content for the original.
If a criticism could be leveled at Hitman 2 it’s at the pitifully weak story, but this is only really a consideration for those who desperately need a reason for a hitman to, well, perform hits. I’ve always mentally wrapped it up in the need for cold, hard cash for a job well done, but those who perhaps need something a little deeper may come away disappointed. The final level does a decent job of looping the narrative in at least but the cut-scenes, if they can be called that, are genuinely fairly forgettable and skippable.
No, the real meat on the bones of Hitman 2 lies in these mad, tinkering clockwork sandboxes where Agent 47 is the proverbial spanner in the works. There are literally hundreds of ways to complete any level and Hitman 2 rewards the player for repeated runs with its mastery system. Each level bar one has a Mastery Rank up to 20. Perform hits and complete challenges and you’ll level up, unlocking new starting positions, gear to smuggle in, or costumes that can allow unfettered access to new locations. It means you’re encouraged to play the same level for 10-15 hours in a row, working through the different executions and gradually mastering the inner workings of every aspect of these complex machinations.
It’s incredibly daunting to step into a Hitman 2 level for the first time, however. Those first few hours are a bewildering mess of trying to figure out the basics of what’s going on. There’s just so much satisfaction to be had in knowing that eventually, you’ll know every cause and effect, every guard routine, and every escape route.
This could all read for a review of Hitman (2016) though, and Hitman 2 is, for the most part, more of the same. There are a couple of nice new additions though, including being able to better tell when trespassing, Agent 47 can take cover in foliage, and enemies can now also spot your movement in mirrors. No more sneaking on Mr. Big Bad while he’s washing his hands, he’ll clock you immediately. There’s also a neat picture-in-picture feature to highlight events that are happening off-screen such as the death of a target or the discovery of a body. The latter in particular can be really handy at pinpointing where you went wrong, especially when the corpses are piling up.
Despite the similarities though, Hitman 2 is still a fantastic game. So fantastic that we really don’t mind getting more and more. The levels are all top-tier and immensely varied, from a sprawling jungle with a town, several encampments, underground tunnels, and a mansion, to a sleepy suburban corner of America where Death pays a call. It’s on maps like the suburban Whittleton Creek where the juxtaposition between Hitman 2’s ultra-serious tone and its absurdly wacky antics come to a head. Hitman 2 works because it tries to play it straight but it knows you’re a master of disguise trying to sell a house to a woman you’re about to kill, or trading in ‘super cocaine’ for a shot at throwing a meat cleaver at a drug lord.
One of the greatest things IO Interactive has done is fold all of the original Hitman’s maps into Hitman 2 if you own the original game. If you don’t, you can buy the Legacy Pack which includes all of the maps, for a cut-down price of $20/£16. Combine the two and you’ve got literally hundreds of hours of Hitman 2 content; it’s insane value for money. This effectively doubles the size of the game, incorporating all of the quality of life features from Hitman 2 into the base maps, and now represents the best, and most cost-effective way to work through iconic locations like Sapienza and Paris Showstopper.
All told, Hitman 2 is a heck of a treat for Hitman fans, offering the most refined mechanics, craziest antics, and most complex levels yet seen in the franchise. Each of the five core levels can be played for potentially a dozen or more hours, offering fantastic replayability for those who like to mess around with the Hitman formula. There’s an argument to be had that Hitman 2 plays it a little self, but when it’s so damned good, and unique, at what it does, you’ll hear little argument from me.