One of my regrets from 2016 is that I didn’t play enough Hitman to put it higher on my game of the year list. Throughout early 2017, I played dozens of hours of developer IO Interactive’s rebooted assassination simulator. And I fell in love with it. Since then, publisher Square Enix gave the titular Agent 47 the boot along with IO Interactive. But the studio didn’t collapse. Instead, it went independent, made a publishing deal with Warner Bros., and dropped the previous game’s episodic release model.
Now, the developer is back with Hitman 2, which continues the story and mechanics from the previous game. The entire package feels like it was the second season that IO never delivered for Hitman 2016. And while that might feel like a negative, it isn’t. This is more Hitman in all the right ways.
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What you’ll like
The biggest thing that IO couldn’t screw up with Hitman 2 is its maps. Each time you start a new stage, you want an interesting locale with a ton of variety. This game nails that.
In the first stage, you learn some basics by breaking into a fortified beach home that looks deserted. IO follows that up with a bombastic motorsport event at a raceway in November. And then you hit incredible locations like Mumbai and a Vermont suburb.
Each of these levels stand out from one another, but that’s not just because the art and music are different. All of these levels have tons of characters with a huge number of potential routes for you to take out your targets.
A game that loves being a game
For almost everything else about Hitman 2, IO Interactive stuck close to the way things worked with the predecessor. The company has a formula, and it’s one that works. Hitman is a game about taking out targets as an assassin, but it recognizes that it’s at its best when it is embracing its gamey-ness.
This is not a precise sim. It’s not trying to accurately predict how people and crowds would behave in the real-world. Instead, Hitman 2 is like a living board game. Each person and item in the world has a rigid moveset, and it’s up to you to learn those capabilities and to use them to your advantage.
What all of that means is that IO Interactive isn’t interested in wasting your time. And it’s not trying to deceive you. IO is driven by design when it comes to Hitman 2.
For example, Agent 47 has an animation to pick up items off the ground. That animation takes a certain amount of time so that when you go to pick up a weapon, there’s some risk that someone will spot you breaking the rules instead.
But because all of these rules are consistent and so intuitive, you can figure them out through experience and apply them to future runs. And because IO understands that’s how you’ll play the game, it doesn’t try to stop you from save scumming. In fact, loading a save over and over doesn’t hurt your final score for the leaderboard.
Plenty to do
Hitman 2 is not the kind of game where you rush through the story campaign to see the missions. If you do that, you’ll finish it in a few hours. Instead, you need to spend time with each map so that you can learn its intricacies and complete its challenges.
And Hitman 2 has tons of challenges in each level. And these aren’t just like “get 15 kills.” No, they are more like, “kill a man with a stuffed shark” or “poison that guy’s eye drops.” This should give you plenty of reasons to keep coming back to each stage even after you’ve seen the multiple story missions.
On top of the content in all of the levels, IO also included a competitive multiplayer mode called Ghost. This has players competing to perform the best in a series of assassinations against one other player. And that’s also in addition to the Sniper Assassin mode. I haven’t spent a ton of time with either of these, but I expect to do some more soon.
What you won’t like
More of the same
The biggest issue with Hitman 2 is that it’s just not very fresh. It’s the same engine with only some minor improvements. The biggest obvious difference is that it sports IO Interactive’s new crowd tech. This brings more people into a stage, and it also enables 47 to hide from enemies by blending in with larger groups. But that change didn’t bring a whole lot to Hitman 2.
As for almost everything else, this is a direct continuation of the last game. You definitely get some diminishing returns due to that lack of “wow, look at all this new stuff.” But at the same time, I really did want just more Hitman. And it delivered on that.
Hitman’s design means that it is ripe for emergent moments. It gives you a bunch of systems and a bunch of items with specific looks and capabilities. And then IO gives you a goal about who to kill, and how you use your tools to accomplish that mission is up to you.
That’s the heart of Hitman: giving players the power to create their own stories. And that’s as big and powerful as ever in Hitman 2. So I don’t care if it’s not the newest thing in the world. It’s still one of the most solid and rewarding games you can get. And it’s an ideal antidote to games that are more obsessed with looking immersive than playing great.
Hitman 2 is out November 13. Developer IO Interactive provided GamesBeat with a downloadable copy of the game for the purposes of this review.