HITMAN 2 Review

By Mark Delaney,
The Hitman franchise has been around for nearly two decades, so for the latest game to be called simply HITMAN 2 is a bit misleading. It is, however, just the second game since IO Interactive began what one may call a soft reboot. The 2016 relaunch of Agent 47's career as the silent assassin was arguably the best Hitman game to date. For that reason, the latest sequel is an exciting prospect for fans, as it builds on what made 2016's game great while introducing new changes both subtle and massive that collectively make Hitman 2 Agent 47's finest hour.

08/11/2018 - Carousel

The story in Hitman games has never been the focal point and has always been pretty convoluted over the years, but the 2016 reintroduction committed to narrative more than most of the series had before it, and the story in Hitman 2 picks up right where that one left off. Agent 47 is still chasing the Shadow Client in the world's most dangerous matchup of cat versus mouse. Twists, turns, and international political intrigue were the rudders of the previous game and the same tone carries over here. Whereas Hitman was surprisingly one-note given the previous history for the series, this sequel is starting to connect red strings on a cork board all over the map again as fans will be used to, but it feels like the writing is more reined in this time, in a good way, leaving it all intelligible and even quite fun if you're a longtime fan and recognize a lot of the longer threads with which the soft reboot is toying.

Really though, no one is coming to Hitman for its story, and that's perfectly fine because the gameplay is where it shines. On the surface, Hitman 2 will feel like more of the same, a second season, albeit not episodic this time. Dive a bit deeper, however, and it's clear Hitman 2 refines what was already the best Hitman game ever from two years ago — it now stands as the new superlative in the stealth series. Simple yet major new mechanics make stealth traversal much more feasible. The first is the oft-seen video game trope of hiding in bushes, tall grass, and other foliage. Agent 47 has never had this ability, but now he finally does and it's extremely useful, especially in one particular residential level. Another new way to hide is brought to the series by allowing players to hide in plain sight among large crowds or even just a handful of others who happen to be close enough in the game's half-dozen globetrotting levels.

Levels also do well to mix in new kinds of objectives too, like having to actually ensure the safety of some characters this time, rather than just going around killing people. One level in particular is so labyrinthine that it feels like nothing else in the series. Hitman 2's levels regularly introduce these sorts of touches that may read like nothing major to some players, but the longtime fans will appreciate them the most. Over and over, this feels like a game made for the hardcore fans from a studio that knows exactly what they do well.

HITMAN 2 screenshot

The series is best played on repeat, and this year's game makes going back and retrying levels more fun thanks to well advertised and addicting challenges, like those seen in previous games. Now there are just so many, and the information is displayed so cleanly and so teasingly that hardcore fans of Hitman will easily find themselves trying again in every map. At their heart, stealth games are really puzzle games and no genre title exemplifies this better than Hitman. IO Interactive has given players the most intricate, rewarding, and darkly comedic puzzles they've ever made. The game always expects you to be a professional for the highest scores, but there are so many challenges and solutions tied to every play style that no one is left behind and you're encouraged to experiment. Even failures are fun because they usually come at the end of chaos where your best-laid plans have gone laughably awry, like when the real estate agent you knocked out and took the clothes from is suddenly discovered passed out in a bush.

Other smaller but important changes have come to the sequel too, like a picture-in-picture mode that reveals important information to you in real-time. Before, you'd be alerted that "a body has been found," but if you've been busy, you may not know which one. Now this new display shows you exactly what's going on elsewhere, keeping you informed so you can improvise in whichever way you need. Something only longtime fans will immediately appreciate is the return of Agent 47's briefcase, which allows him to more easily smuggle in otherwise red flag items, like bombs and sniper rifles.

I've mentioned the 2016 game a few times for two reasons. It's true that this sequel is more iteration than revolution and a lot of praise for this game could, to some extent, be applied to the last game too, but for owners of the previous game, Hitman 2 gets much bigger as you'll have free access to the Legacy Pack that carries over the entire 2016 game and updates it with all the new features of Hitman 2. This makes replaying that game worthwhile for more reasons than just the stackable Gamerscore.

HITMAN 2 screenshot

In terms of multiplayer offerings, the now standard run of Contracts mode returns in basically the same form as before. You can search countless creations from the community, make them yourself, or play the curated stuff from IO. It remains a fun secondary mode if you're not one to go chasing dozens of challenges on the same map and instead want new targets.

Perhaps the best new feature of the sequel is one that fans probably didn't predict and some may not even think they want. Ghost mode is 1v1 multiplayer where players compete to swiftly but stealthily take down the same target. You're able to see your "ghost" in your world but they exist in a parallel version of the map, so while one of you may have blown their cover and is fighting off armed guards, the other may be clandestinely lurking from the scaffolding above their target. This new game mode retains much of what makes Hitman unique, like the disguises and the hiding in plain sight, and while it demands you not be so methodically paced like one may prefer in the usual Hitman fare, it begets a sense of urgency that feels fresh, like suddenly assassination is sport.

The high praise given to the game is not without some caveats, however. For one, it's still annoying that the NPC's voices change seemingly at random. Characters having conversations may speak in certain accents and with certain voices, but say you bump into them, their voices and accents are liable to change out of nowhere. It's also still a very bipolar game as the cutscenes are super serious and the levels themselves are so darkly humorous, with unwitting NPCs often missing Agent 47's painfully obvious puns alluding to his chosen career path. Both the serious story beats and the funny gameplay bits work well in isolation, but combined they taste like a peanut butter and mustard sandwich.

HITMAN 2 screenshot

I had a recurring issue with important items disappearing when I scrubbed my saves sometimes, and as Hitman is a game designed for save-scrubbing, that's really a key issue that needs to be fixed soon. Some apparently unintentional server downtime also got in the way one night when I had set aside several hours to play, and that's something that plagued 2016's game at launch too, so it stings to see it crop up here again. Hopefully that's not a problem that will persist, and it bears repeating that this was just one night where I experienced that, so there's no indictation that this problem is as common as it was two years ago.

The achievement list may be a confusing one for people on this website. Although the game isn't coming episodically over the course of several months this time, you're still instructed to download each episode individually while the prologue, largely the same as 2016's, is again free for anyone to try. If you have the Legacy Pack, your achievement list nearly doubles from 66 across all new missions to a massive 118, which includes a stack of the original list. The new game's list mirrors closely that from 2016, so if you completed that one or felt it wouldn't have been too hard to do so, consider this one on the same level.

Summary

It's certainly true that a lot of what Hitman 2 does well are things that Hitman from 2016 did well too, but much of what made that game great is taken a step further this time, making this new sequel the best Hitman game in almost 20 years. IO deserves praise for knowing their series so well and bringing the types of changes to this sequel that longtime fans will appreciate most of all. It's the most accessible Hitman to date thanks to improved information sharing, but it also runs deeper than anything before it, making it a game truly built for the fans that know Agent 47 best. No other stealth game plays like Hitman, and Hitman 2 is the best this unique series has ever been.
4.5 / 5
HITMAN 2
Positives
  • New stealth mechanics open up many new avenues for players
  • Subtle yet crucial UI updates make information sharing the best it's been
  • 1v1 Ghost mode is exciting and brings a tense urgency to the game
  • Brings the whole 2016 game into this one and updates it with all the new features
Negatives
  • Some voice acting issues remain in place
  • Save-scrubbing can sometimes make key items disappear
  • Some server downtime got in the way, creating flashbacks of 2016's launch
Ethics
The reviewer spent 15 hours trotting the globe and crossing names off a lengthy list of targets. He gathered 26 of 66 achievements (118 if you have all the content) for 430 Gamerscore. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.