The tagline for Hitman 2 is “make the world your weapon.” It’s much better than 2016’s “enter a world of assassination,” which ushered in Hitman, that year’s soft reboot of the murder simulator series. The previous slogan was hilariously overwrought. It also didn’t accurately describe what these games are about. Hitman 2 gets a lot closer, while providing another spoonful of the cascading slapstick that made the last game so memorable.
And it really is more of the same. The previous game provided five massive locales with limited targets and seemingly infinite ways to execute them. Hitman 2 has the same. Although it’s no longer episodic. All five locations are available from the start.
The last game’s staggered release worked shockingly well. It encouraged you to truly master an area by seeking out every Rube Goldberg-ish method of assassination. So the sequel encourages you to play as if it were episodic, too.
Secrets and Lies
I finished the first full-sized zone, a Miami racetrack, by dressing as a flamingo and pushing one target down an elevator shaft. The second hit met a straightforward bullet to the head. But the game didn’t want me to progress right away. Instead, it told me that there were more “mission stories” (like the flamingo murder) to enact. This is Hitman 2’s new name for its intricate, scripted kills. And it’s a much gentler way of saying “hey, there’s more here to discover.
It’s not wrong. Besides the tutorial zone and a very horizontal suburban level, the new locales are massive. More importantly, they’re all wildly distinct.
The last game’s best level, Sapienza, was beloved for its variety as well as size. It wasn’t just a French villa—where your targets mostly congregated. It was the surrounding city and an underground super-villain lair. There were secret tunnels, a fully fleshed out cathedral, and mountain roads. All of them offered different angles of approach that felt like complete levels on their own.
Miami is similar. For example, it’s not just a raceway. There’s a medical facility. There are underground parking garages and beachside boardwalks. One target is holed up in an off-site hotel to display military androids and other super-tech.
So Many Choices…
Hitman 2 isn’t an open-world game in the common sense. Every level is a self-contained clockwork mechanism. Targets and other important NPCs move through it and are moved by the player on set schedules and with specific triggers. But the restrained size gives each area more hand-crafted depth. It really is a playground of unlikely destruction.
You can, inevitably, program one of the military bots to kill a target. You can also just rip off an android’s arm and beat someone over the head with it. The game includes a list of small challenges—basically in-game achievements—to nudge you toward those ridiculous options. If one doesn’t work, move on to another. Hitman 2, just like its predecessor, is full of escape mechanisms to let you fail and try, try again.
That ethos is mostly baked into the disguise system. Agent 47, the series’ laconic protagonist, can switch into any male character’s skin in an instant (provided he kills or knocks out the original wearer). This lets you slip past security and trick apparently face blind targets. Just as often, I use it to reset sticky situations.
So what if someone saw me knock out a tailor and dump his body in the bathroom? I just need to fling a full soda can at the witness! Once they’re unconscious, I’ll slip into the tailor’s khakis and turban. No one will be the wiser. That is until they are, of course. But that just means I need to strangle a security guard and assume they’re identity. That’ll get me access to a Bollywood mogul’s movie set anyway. One door closes and another opens.
I Love It When a Plan Falls Apart
That kind of cascading failure isn’t just core to Hitman 2’s gameplay. It’s also hilarious. The series’ A-plot is a self-serious tale of Illuminati stand-ins fighting for world domination. There are clones and secret mountain bases and conspiracies. The game itself, though? It’s self-aware slapstick all the way down to 47’s steely glare.
The uber-dramatic game of wits during cutscenes just makes the physical comedy that much funnier. There’s just something inherently joyous about stone-faced 47 trading his impeccable suit for a flamingo costume. Or a muffin salesman’s apron. Or a denim jumpsuit with angel wings…
Hitman 2 leans into that absurdity even further. But, miraculously, it never becomes too self-aware for its own good. The humor only works because of the juxtaposition, after all, and developer IO Interactive smartly separates Agent 47 “the character” from Agent 47 “the vehicle for my silly hijinks.”
Mumbai, the game’s middle chapter, holds a perfect example. The assassin can “haggle” with a cloth merchant to access a disguise. The seller continuously lowers his prices, saying “It’s like you’re dead inside,” as the agent intimidates him by simply standing still. Small touches like these are packed into every nook and cranny of every mission. The NPCs are dweebs. Agent 47 is implacable. The player is an axe-murdering goofball. Each role bounces off the others perfectly, heightening the physical comedy to laugh-out-loud levels, when you finally escalate to knocking out six armed guards with spaghetti cans.
Time Will Tell
There is one obvious missing link, though. At least for me. Escalations—missions that forced you to play and replay levels with increasingly tight restrictions—are nowhere to be found. The mode wasn’t for everyone (it got very hard), but served a very important purpose. Escalations taught me the absurd possibility spaces of every Hitman level like the back of my hand.
I can easily play through the last game’s Paris mission in a couple minutes. I just need to dress up like the world’s greatest fashion model, Helmut Kruger. But what if I had to wear a stylist’s uniform the entire time? What if I had to do that and kill my target with a gun? The escalating restrictions didn’t just nudge you toward the game’s bonkers level of detail. They forced you to get creative with it.
Thankfully escalations—and the time-limited, you-only-get-one-shot Elusive Targets—are forthcoming. And considering how much content IO patched into the previous “season” for free? I’m mighty optimistic about those incoming updates.
I’m happy to tool around with the existing scenarios for now, too. But repeatedly combing over them has produced some friction. Specifically, Hitman 2’s power dynamics feel off.
Beyond all the slapstick and conspiracies, these are games about bumping off the elite—those too rich and too powerful to be punishable by law. Agent 47 upsets this balance of power with (ostensibly) precise hits. You can try to play guns blazing. But our taciturn hero can barely jog, much less sprint from cover to cover, blowing away endless armed guards. Poison and fatal “accidents” are much more effective means to tip the scales of power.
Hitman 2 brings that hidden curriculum to the surface. Someone even calls out 47’s handler, who claims their assassinations are a “neutral” effort. “Neutrality is a side,” the side character scoffs. “It’s the side of the status quo.”
It’s true that Agent 47 kills bad, powerful people (at least canonically). But he also looks like a vat-grown ubermensch from Wolfenstein and predominantly kills black, brown, and latinx people. One mission in Colombia does what every piece of western media does with the nation: sends the hero to a coca field to kill cartel leaders. He later kills two African American women—twins—who moonlight as international grave robbers when they’re not secretly running the world.
The Complete Package
Neither scenario is impossible. Yes, there is a large drug trade in Colombia. Yes, there are amoral black women. But a country is more than one stereotypical feature. And we’ve seen this particular one played out far too many times. Not to mention “treasure hunters” have historically been white, European men ransacking Africa and South America. The disappointing and just plain odd thematic choices only stand out more because Hitman 2 chooses to directly address its own idea of direct action—however briefly.
More targets, elusive and otherwise, will probably dilute and diversify that issue. The next one is Sean Bean, playing a nigh immortal version of himself, which is honestly an inspired choice. And the roster is a lot wider if you own the previous Hitman game. If you do, all of those old levels carry forward into the sequel—with some minor adjustments. If you don’t, you can still bolt them on as DLC. So even before the promised additions, that makes this one of the fullest $60 packages you can buy right now.
But it’s still tough to gauge Hitman 2’s true value (and not just because $60 mean different things to different people). The previous Hitman lived and died by its long, long tail. Elusive Targets, bonus missions, and just watching other people play the game online gave it months of longevity. And Hitman 2 even has a multiplayer component: a one-on-one kill race called Ghost Mode. The potential for future shenanigans is through the roof.
That’s quite a lot of a good thing. The current package isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good. It’s a whole lot more, very slightly better version of something I already loved. And IO has more than earned my trust to make it even better.