In the quiet of a Vermont suburb, the crowded slums of Mumbai, an Eyes Wide Shut-esque party for rich people (minus the sex), a race track in Miami, or a working class town in Colombia, you might see bald-headed Agent 47, with his signature barcode on the back of his head, skulking about. He might be crouching in a bush, flipping coins and hoping it'll attract the attention of an ill-fated NPC.
Down one publisher (Square Enix) and up a new one (Warner Bros.), Hitman 2 is more, more, more of the 2016 revival for the Hitman series by IO Interactive. Hitman in 2016 reimagined the series as a sandbox where experimentation and creativity is always rewarded—no longer strictly tethered by a plot. Hitman 2's predecessor was released in a seasonal structure, with each new level serving as an episode with its own unique challenges. In the months between episodes, levels were cracked open like eggs: players obsessed over their most intricate details until the next episode was out. It was an original structure not just for Hitman as a series, but for episodic games in general. In opening Hitman up, a world of possibilities (and assassinations) followed.
Hitman 2 is "season one" of Hitman perfected and taken further, only it's available all at once. In the months following the original Hitman's Sapienza level drop, some expressed disappointment over its following levels, as none seemingly matched the splendor, size, and detail of the Italy-based map. Hitman 2 is the direct answer to that outcry: every map is like Sapienza, with underground bases, unassuming houses, secrets tucked into every alleyway or heavily guarded fortress; while the last map of Hitman 2 feels more like its predecessor's introductory Paris map... times ten. While at the moment it has five full-sized maps and one smaller tutorial map—in addition to its lone Sniper Assassin-exclusive map where Agent 47 or two co-op pals are perched on a cliffside sniping away at a wedding—there's plenty to master in each map, and dozens of challenges and feats to take on.
It's a little daunting compared to the slowly released structure of the prior game, and considering Hitman 2 players also get the entire first billing of maps and their side missions from the first game too, now called Legacy Maps, it's overall a huge package. The Legacy Maps have been "remastered" to better suit Hitman 2's improvements, with shrubbery, denser crowds, and all the knick knacks from Hitman 2 finding its way inside. Owners of Hitman: Season One will get the Legacy maps as a free update. For players without it, the Legacy Pack will be sold as DLC. In Hitman 2, everything's wrapped up into one neat package, with the prologue, Hitman, Hitman 2, and even the Patient Zero campaign all under one roof.
Also in Hitman 2 is the new Ghost Mode, which feels a bit underbaked at the moment. In Ghost Mode, you compete to kill randomly generated targets against another player. The first one to kill five successfully—that's without any unintended targets killed in the process—wins. In my time with Ghost Mode, I found it dry, as it doesn't quite have the fun of making your own situations as the single-player does, or even the co-op Sniper Assassin mode. Only the Miami level is currently available, but in Ghost Mode there's nothing around to pick up. All your gear, weapons, and more only come in crates scattered around the map, and the item in it is random, from disguises to "ghost coins" (which you can flip to distract someone in the other player's world rather than your own, possibly botching their own assassination attempt). The crates are not frequent enough within the level, so for most of my matches, I walked around basically empty handed without the makeshift arsenal of screwdrivers and hammers I'd usually have in the base game.
Even with the new addition of multiplayer modes, the single-player still reigns supreme in Hitman 2, with all its make-your-own-fun in addition to its scripted scenarios, known as "Mission Stories." The writing in general (aside from the droll Yakuza 0-esque stagnant cutscenes for the overarching story) is a lot sharper and funnier this time around too. One of the first things I noticed when crusing through Miami is that our chameleon assassin is way more talkative now. When he's in a disguise, he's unafraid to chat up an NPC and really lean into his role. He strikes me as an overeager theater kid, or I guess, an overeager grim reaper. As a server, he may quip something on-the-nose like, "This food is to die for." It's corny, but it adds to the silly fun of the Hitman universe.
Hitman 2 comes alive when you go off the beaten path, turn off waypoints, and pursue your own ideas rather than just the scripted ones. On Mumbai, neon signs can be lodged out of place to become deadly; on Isle of Sgàil, you can poison cups with whatever you deem necessary—chemicals that make one sick, sleepy, or just plain dead. Hitman 2 may feel like just "more Hitman," but it's more polished, with more interesting level design and opportunities to boot. Sometimes, a level's challenge isn't even focused squarely on assassination either. Sometimes you have to use your wits to figure out a target's identity, or even just find clues for another purpose.
There is some finicky Hitman-y bologna though. Sometimes guards are a bit too quick to switch to "Combat" mode from being suspicious if I inch into a trespassing area. The window feels inconsistent, as sometimes I'm able to run out of the trespassing area if I'm caught with no problem at all, whereas other times I'm suddenly Hitman's Most Wanted in the blink of an eye. Hitman 2 has also crashed on me a few times, playing from my PlayStation 4 Pro. Luckily, with my meticulous manual saving every time I don a new disguise and its semi-frequent autosaves, I never really lost any progress; it was more of a nuisance to reload the level, if anything.
Hitman 2 brings a host of new elements to the series. Picture-in-Picture is particularly handy. If a body is found, a target is on the move in direct relation to something you did, or an NPC is investigating a distraction you set off (like turning off a fuse box), you'll see this directly happening in a small box in the top left corner of the screen. It's useful, because sometimes it's easy to be lazy and hide a body in some shrubbery with your fingers crossed that no one stumbles upon it. (I'll be candid here: Do not repeat my mistakes, or at least have a better handle on the routes of NPCs before just hiding a body behind a car or whatever.) The triumphant return of briefcases is also great for smuggling big weapons around. The only catch is that if you climb a ladder or something, you have to toss up the briefcase. It's a minor inconvenience for a big leg up if you're fan of keeping a sniper rifle on hand.
Perhaps the biggest change, as someone who dumped dozens of hours into the last Hitman, is its implementation of heavy foliage and crowds. Now, Agent 47 can blend into crowds or hide in bushes, concealed from discerning eyes. It's a useful new feature, whether in sneaking around to eavesdrop on an important conversation for intel, or just in escaping a bad situation you've put yourself in. The latter is where I've found it the most useful, as it's easy to blend into a crowd or duck into some bushes and crouch-run away from armed guards who want to kill you. Where Hitman: Season One left you to your own devices to get out of a bad situation, Hitman 2 gives you the tools you need to survive for the long-run.
And that's essential to what makes Hitman 2 such a joy. I've personally never been the type to load up old saves frequently, only resorting to it when Agent 47 dies. I've always known people who do play that way, but in my opinion, it saps a lot of the fun out of escaping the dangerous situations you put yourself in. After all, Hitman is all about taking risks and seeing if those risks pay off—even if you spook a whole room full of guards who immediately train their guns on you as a result.
Everything that's in Hitman 2 may be overwhelming at first blush. What's at launch is not the last of Hitman 2 either, with Elusive Targets (limited time hits, the first starring actor Sean Bean), and more en route for the stealthy sandbox. As for now, I will leave you to prepare.
Hitman 2 may just be more Hitman, but it's somehow even better than before. The levels are all fantastic, the assassinations possible are all clever (and silly), the satirical writing is at its best. The assassination sandbox has never been more satisfying, and its slight technical hiccups and lackluster multiplayer do little to hold back the baldest assassin of them all. Even in your sixth or so time prancing through a map, you're bound to discover a new opportunity, or a new potentially-weaponized surprise, around the corner.