After a successful brand refresh in 2016, Agent 47 is back for more covert assassination action in Io Interactive's Hitman 2. Though the sequel does pick up on the conspiratorial threads established in the previous game, the narrative is hardly the selling point for the franchise. Where Hitman 2 shines is in its clever and tight gameplay, and in the believable, deep worlds it crafts for players to explore.
Ahead of its release, SYFY WIRE played through Hitman 2 to uncover its biggest thrills and secrets to find out what makes this sequel worth playing.
Each of Hitman 2's contracts can be finished any way you want. There's something to be said of the simplicity of sneaking into the compound where a target is hiding and snapping of a few shots with calm precision. You can certainly do that if you want, but you'd be missing out on some of Hitman 2's most excellent moments, Mission Stories. These optional paths to completing a mission add depth to the stealth-action gameplay, expanding on Agent 47's own sardonic personality and further immersing players in this world.
Each of the six missions included in Hitman 2 offer a handful of Mission Stories you can undertake to enjoy a bit more of the various game maps and characters you'll meet along the way. Making your way around a map and listening in on others' conversations to pick up hints and clues that might help Agent 47 on his mission was a great bit of espionage fun in the previous game, and its return here is most welcome. Uncovering these excursions, like that a certain terrorist gets his haircut at one particular barber or that a real estate agent is late to show a security guard a new home for sale, is simple enough without the game's assistance, but you can use an objective guide in the menu if you do get stuck.
A lot of attention was paid to Mission Stories, and each and every one is wildly diverse from any other even on the same map. Some do overlap, however, and you won't be able to accomplish every one in a single playthrough. That's all part of the design, as Io Interactive wants players revisiting Hitman 2's missions repeatedly to get the most out of the game.
Pon de Replay
The Hitman Io Interactive released in 2016 presented a bold spin on the classic franchise. Rather than releasing the complete game all at once, Hitman had all its missions doled out episodically, with new contracts coming every few weeks. That meant if players wanted to keep enjoying Agent 47's adventures, they'd have to just replay the same contract over and over until a new one arrived. That was baked into the game design and Hitman rewarded players with tremendous replayability in offering dozens of different ways to go about each and every mission.
The same holds true in Hitman 2, though you won't have to wait for any contracts to be delivered later. Every single assassination in the game is available immediately this time around. Still, Io has included numerous ways for players to dispatch of their marks, and rewards players for revisiting and retrying missions in new ways through Location Mastery. Leveling up Agent 47's mastery of a map offers up new weapons, outfits, and starting points, allowing players to get even more creative with each subsequent attempt. Simply doing things you'd normally do on a mission, like avoiding security cameras and getting away with assassinations without anyone finding the bodies, will help you level up. Fully exploring the map, completing Mission Stories, and interacting with certain elements of a location will also boost your Mastery.
To make things a bit easier, Io doesn't obscure the different challenges from players either. You can actually learn all the things you can do before even stepping foot in a map, like changing into every possible disguise or killing a mark with a certain method (poisoning their tea for example). For new players, Hitman 2 doesn't shy from holding your hand, offering you tips and objective markers to get you on your feet before diving deeper into all the possible outcomes.
These tutorial elements can be turned off for more seasoned players, and it's also the best way to play once you've learned the basic mechanics. Exploring the maps without any guidance actually makes you more invested in finding out every secret you can before attempting to execute a contract.
Part of Your World
Enriched environments are a major part of what makes Hitman 2 such an immersive experience. Each of the six locations featured across the story are fully realized maps bursting with details of everyday life and the local population. Some maps are more crowded than others, with Miami's racetrack and the streets of Mumbai flush with the most, but they are all equally full of people, places, and things that make each area feel authentic and lived in. The graphic presentation certainly helps — especially on the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro — but even without that fidelity, there's enough going on across all of Hitman 2's maps to keep you invested.
The AI features some believable routines for the enemies scattered about, whether they're the actual targets or the guards on patrol, giving players more to take in and observe than a more rote stealth experience. Even when not participating in Mission Stories, you can see how much time and effort was put into making these non-player characters seem like actual people. Families at a barbeque discuss local happenings and bicker over the food; construction workers bemoan the working conditions caused by local gang lords; a couple in a smart home banter over changing the names the virtual assistant recognizes. There are so many small instances of humanism built into Hitman 2's world, it's hard to not believe the authenticity.
And that's not even speaking of the various ways Agent 47 can interact with the world for some spectacular assassinations. There are a multitude of ways to eliminate each target, and all of them feel natural instead of baked in for the sake of player enjoyment. It would have been easy to force some over-the-top sequences into the game, but even the most audacious of accidents still seem believable in the context of Hitman 2.
Ghost in the Shell
Typically the Hitman games are about precise execution of a plan and purpose. That's definitely the case in the single-player element, but not in the all-new multiplayer component, Ghost Mode. This one-on-one competitive mode puts two opposing players on a given map with five randomly selected targets scattered throughout to assassinate.
It's a semi-asynchronous mode, as players don't actually encounter one another and can't fight each other. Instead, you see the other player's ghost as they attempt to take out the same target you are. They have their own version in their game, so it's not like you're fighting over the same singular being. It's more of a competition to get there first and get away with the job without being caught.
The targets are selected randomly every match, so there's no memorization to help players that have been at it longer gain an advantage. Players also have all the same abilities and tools at their disposal that they have in the core game, with special elements dropped in item crates for both players at the start of a match. Io smartly included one way for players to interact with the Ghost Coin.
Like the coins in the main game, these are used for distraction, but when you flip the Ghost Coin while another player is nearby, they too can be spotted by curious onlookers. It's a clever twist for strategic purposes, but the coin flips both ways, so you've got to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Otherwise you're on your own and must get those assassinations in any way possible.
You've gotta be quick too, which is huge change of pace from playing the core story. There's no time to carefully plan a route, and being sneaky and unseen while pulling off the contract becomes a huge challenge when the pace of play increases so dramatically. Once someone pulls off the first hit, the other player has 20 seconds to execute a target of their own, otherwise, they lose the round.
In the frantic best-of-five series, it's bit more thrilling going up against another actual person rather than just trying to match leaderboard stats with some anonymous players around the globe. It also forces you to play Hitman in a new way, which adds some flavor to the overall package.
This article is based on a code for Hitman 2 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.