Hitman Season 1 was my Game of The Year on its release in 2016, so I had equal measures of shock and disappointment when Square Enix announced that developer IO Interactive was being released from their family of studios. Season 1 was critically acclaimed and loved by the fans, but maybe the episodic release schedule was a detriment to sales rather than a mechanism that would keep gamers engrossed long after release. Thankfully, IO Interactive became an independent studio and as a result have had the chance to bring us Hitman 2. Gone is the episodic release, this time with all the major content delivered on day one. I personally would be overjoyed with a repeat of the first game, albeit with new locations and a few new bells and whistles. So, how does the second instalment of Agent 47’s reboot fare?
Well, if you too adored Hitman Season 1 then you’re in luck. Hitman 2 is easily as good as its predecessor and has also added a ton of new features to improve on it. IO Interactive have given us a grand total of seven new locations, five of which are easily as big as Sapienza from the first game, and the other two are the Sniper Challenge map that was available as a pre-order, and a compact New Zealand beach location that serves to familiarise the players in the controls and gameplay. When you get into the main game proper you will find some stunning new maps. Miami is the first and my own personal favourite, with it’s sprawling race track locale, complete with medical centre, pit area and an office block. After that the story takes you to the jungles of Columbia, the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, and a sleepy American town, before finishing on an island stronghold. Each location is beautifully created and crafted, and I think IO Interactive have bettered the previous title, which had a few maps that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but every single one of these is superb!
Each of these locations has multiple targets for Agent 47 to eliminate, and is held together by an over-riding story that touches on our anti-hero’s past. This story is probably the weakest part of the game, and the decision to replace cut-scenes with a strange photo story mode doesn’t work for me. I would just be happy with the individual missions presented to me to play rather than attempted to put them together in such a loose narrative. However, there is a very nice twist at the end which definitely hints towards Hitman 3. The main story can be mainlined in around 8-10 hours by following the mission stories. Each location has a number of stories that can be tracked alongside map markers and instructions of how to complete your executions. This really does make the game “Hitman for Dummies”, however, this only serves a purpose to gain knowledge of the levels, which then will aid you when you start to play Hitman properly.
Each location in Hitman 2 has multiple stories, challenges and feats that build up your mastery of that location. The real fun is in these repeat plays of each location in order to discover all the secrets, disguises and amazing ways to assassinate your targets. I easily put 100+ hours into the first game, and I already know that this will be the same in Hitman 2. But that’s only the main locations. IO Interactive have also crafted a multiplayer mode called Ghost, where two opposing agents go head to head in a race to kill five targets. Starting with the Miami map, this mode has already become a firm favourite with the Thumbstix team, especially as it doesn’t rely on quick reflexes, which definitely gives me a chance!
But IO Interactive have not just re-made the first game with new maps, there are some minor quality of life improvements. Gone is the ‘God’ disguise from each level, as this time around you will need to change regularly to avoid detection. For example, the Pit Crew disguise in Miami will give you unprecedented access to the racing areas, but will be hopeless in the Kronstadt offices. There were lots of occasions in season one where one disguise would be all you need for all areas, and once you found it then further playthroughs were much easier. Hitman 2 also introduces a picture-in-picture mode when an important event takes place away from Agent 47, like a body being found or when your target changes their pre-defined route due to your actions. The sniper briefcase also makes a return, and the ability to blend into crowds or hide in bushes has been added. None of these make a massive change, so it will feel very familiar to fans.
So, gone is the episodic release schedule as IO have favoured the Elusive targets and Escalation contracts to provide the longevity. The first elusive target has already been active, with Sean Bean popping up in Miami. These elusive targets are a one-off chance to eliminate the target, fail and its all over. For me, these are the perfect way to keep players interested in the game. They may not be playing permanently, but fans will keep coming back just for these events. IO have promised a festive event, and if this is anything like the Home Alone inspired event of season 1 then we are in for another treat. There is also the inclusion of all of Hitman Season 1 content if you own it, again improved graphically and with all the new features. This apparently works with the version on Xbox Game Pass as well, which makes the content in this game quite incredible. Graphically Hitman 2 looks incredible, with the 4K HDR of Miami really popping out of the TV, and the detail in the lush undergrowth of Columbia is just as incredible. As much attention has been given to the audio design and dialogue, especially with Agent 47’s voicework imminently before he executes the target.
But now we get to the real draw of these Hitman games. There is just so much fun to be had in the sandbox worlds and all of these have been so carefully crafted. There are an almost endless amount of weird and wonderful situations that you will find yourself in. Agent 47 can be member of a Mariachi band, a world-famous tattoo artist, a painter, a mascot in a huge flamingo costume and a Trump-esque politician, all in the same game. You can drown your targets, or turn on a cement mixer to bury them in concrete, or even get someone else to kill them for you, which was a great change-up in the Mumbai level. And the absolute toughest challenge is to complete the level in “Silent Assassin, Suit Only” mode, which is bonkers tough but extremely satisfying.
I did encounter some issues with the way the game is downloaded. Even though the episodic release schedule is gone, the different levels are still downloaded separately, and as I have two Xbox One’s I download all my games onto an external hard drive and move it from console to console. Sometimes the Hitman 2 core game does not recognise that one of the maps is downloaded so it takes me to the Xbox Store to purchase, whereupon it tells me its already installed. A hard reset sometimes fixes this, but on an occasion I have had to delete and re-download. There must have been a design reason to have separate downloads but it has caused me quite a few issues.
The pessimists amongst us will argue that Hitman 2 doesn’t do anything different to the first game, and they will have a point. But when its done this well and is so much fun then who really cares. Not me for sure, so please excuse me whilst I head off to kill Sierra Knox by making her drink Octane Booster whilst dressed as rival driver Moses Lee!