Reviewed: January 5, 2003
Released: October 1, 2002
Sequels to popular games are often a crapshoot for developers. In order for the follow up to be truly successful, it needs to improve on its predecessor in many areas while remaining true to most of the conventions and overall feel of the original. Face the facts. While a few titles, such as Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn and No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way, shine brightly upon their release, most sequels turn out to be fairly mediocre. For every Red Alert 2 there are six or seven Army Men games hitting the shelves.
The extremely talented people at Io-Interactive and Eidos have obviously worked long and hard to bring the continuing tale of 47 to life, and it shows in the quality and originality of the finished product.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin starts at a monastery in Sicily where bald-headed and bar-coded 47 is living while paying penance for his sins. When 47’s friend, Father Vittorio is abducted by mafia goons looking to ransom him back for a small fortune, 47 knows that it’s time to bust out the .45s and his stylin’ black suit and to get in contact with his former employer, “The Agency.” His handler agrees to locate Vittorio only if 47 returns the favor by eliminating a target for them. Of course he agrees and sets into motion a globetrotting, blood soaked tale of deception and revenge.
Hitman 2’s control setup and user interface are super slick. The standard “WASD” shooter controls complete with mouse-look, work way better than might be expected and while the game can be played from a first person perspective, it really robs it of some of the tension filled atmosphere that the third person perspective provides and simply doesn’t play as well.
Looking at the games controls, they probably couldn’t have been done better in a few areas. The inventory screen can be accessed by clicking the right mouse button and clicking it again closes the screen as does making a selection. Also entering the inventory halts the action until a selection is made. The inventory can also be accessed via the number keys 1-7, though this way the player has to cycle one by one through what could be a very large number of handguns to find what he or she is after.
When standing over a body or in front of a door, the Use menu pops up in the top left corner of the screen and is accessed by holding down the “use” button and scrolling through the options, releasing the button on the desired option. For example, instead of just opening a door the lock may need to be picked and it’s usually a good idea to take a peek through the keyhole before entering a room. The “Use” menu also appears when switches need to be flipped or items need to be picked up.
With regards to the stuff actually in your inventory, there are very realistic restrictions on what 47 can tote around at any one time. For example, 47 can only holster one SMG at any given time; therefore an Uzi can be under his jacket while he dispatches ninja with a suppressed H&K. Now, if 47 wants to carry the nifty SVD rifle he just came across, he has to drop his H&K to do so.
Assuming 47 does this; he now has two more options for his load out. A: He can carry his newly acquired sniper rifle at the ready, which in more populated areas will be more likely to attract attention. Or B: He can sling it under his left arm leaving the right hand free to wield a silenced 9mm (or any other one handed weapon) to take care of any guards that are paying a little too much attention to his activities.
Thankfully, 47 can carry as many handguns as he wants, so he’s almost never lacking for firepower. Almost every mission is preceded by a load out screen where 47 has access to any weapons he has acquired throughout his journeys. It’s usually a good idea to snag at least one silenced weapon from this screen because there are no guarantees as to which firearms will be available at the next destination.
The actual play experience that Hitman 2 delivers is fairly varied and while there are definite starting and finishing points on each level, the methods for traversing the area between the two is entirely up to the player. Most missions can still be completed after 47 is detected so often the run and gun approach is feasible but not always desirable.
In accordance with the game’s ranking system it is preferable to limit contact with hostiles to a minimum. This can be accomplished through several methods. The first way would be straight-up stealth. 47 avoids being seen at all costs, using the map to discover the locations and movement patterns of the guards, then waiting till the coast is clear before sneaking around corners and hiding in the shadows. This is also the method that must be used to attain the top ranking of Silent Assassin.
Another option is to get the drop on enemies and dispatch them with silent weapons like suppressed firearms or knives. No matter how silently 47 makes the kill, leaving bodies lying around is a dead give away, so those pesky corpses need to be stashed wherever is convenient; restrooms, closets even dark corners will do the trick. And in a related gameplay feature that smacks of pure genius, 47 can drag a corpse with his left hand leaving him free to open doors or blast away at any nosey individuals with his right without dropping the body.
This sort of stacking of actions is common in Hitman 2 and really makes the game flow in a most excellent manner that has to be seen to be believed. And speaking of flow, unlike its predecessor, Hitman 2 does feature a limited number of mid-level saves on the lower difficulty settings. Needless to say the new save system should be a relief to those who found the old model overly harsh and unforgiving.
In the upper left corner of the screen, under 47’s health gauge, is the “Threat Meter,” basically it lets the player know how much scrutiny they are receiving from the hostile forces in the area as well as security personnel. While ideally the gauge should remain empty, it will gradually fill with black when 47 passes very near to a hostile or makes too much noise. When the gauge goes red security personnel will begin to follow 47. The only way for 47 to elude detection at that point is to walk (running is usually a death sentence or at least the catalyst for a fire fight) out of the area and possibly hide. The more often you are detected the more alert the opposing forces will become.
The best way move through the levels without having the fiendishly clever AI take an interest in 47 is to don a disguise by either striping the clothes of an incapacitated person or finding a uniform lying around. While a disguise isn’t 100% effective against the suspicious gazes of guards and other personnel, some work better than others. For example, a person carrying an AK while wearing an officer’s uniform is less likely to be challenged by foot soldiers than someone in a jogging suit carrying the same AK.
Once 47’s cover is blown, the bad guys usually come out of the woodwork and the ensuing gunfights provide some of the best action in the game. 47’s damage model is definitely aimed to provide more fun than realism, while a well-placed rifle shot or shotgun blast is instant death, the Bar-coded Butcher can take approximately a dozen pistol shots before expiring. Another thing that makes itself apparent is that bullets seem to fly a little slowly and while the game isn’t trying to be a Counter-Strike-like sim, the slow-moving ordnance could throw some players off initially.
Calling Hitman 2’s visuals “pretty” would be a gross understatement. From the realistic falling snow and slick animation to the highly detailed character models, this game oozes amazing quantities of quality from every well-designed orifice. The textures are crisp and super clean and the game’s environments feel very authentic, whether it’s snowy St. Petersburg or a dusty marketplace.
A large part of the game’s visual excellence is contributed by the superb lighting engine, which creates real-time shadows as if by magic. Need a dark corner to hide in? Just shoot out the florescent ceiling lights and guards will never notice the figure crouched in the darkness. Also, no matter how large the environment or how busy things get on screen, Hitman 2’s frame rate never falters from its nice high speed.
In addition to the aforementioned visual polish, it would be criminal not to rave about the super-fluid animation. Whether 47 is drawing a Desert Eagle or dragging a body carelessly through a door causing it to get stuck along the way, all of the games movements and actions are the epitome of natural. Trucks bounce over uneven roads and bodies topple over railings after being shot, only to crash into the ground like a sack of potatoes.
The game handles stacked animations so well that it must be seen to be appreciated. 47 can sprint down the street while dropping his empty shot gun and drawing his sawed-off from under his jacket, fire a shot into a guard that steps in front of him and drag the corpse behind a dumpster while reloading.
Hitman 2 features a soundtrack that is better produced and more engaging than those found in most motion pictures. Preformed by the Budapest Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir, the music always fits the current locale and does an excellent job of creating a feel of the place and builds the game’s tension level in a fairly dramatic manner.
On the FX side of things, the work is top notch. The first time that bullet hitting a wooden door results in a metallic ping is a little off-putting, at least until closer examination shows that the bullet hit the brass fittings on the door. This level of aural detail is common throughout the game. On levels that are blanketed in snow, the sounds of gunfire seem muted and sounds in general don’t seem to travel as far.
Action gamers everywhere should buy Hitman 2: Silent Assassin right now and blow the next couple weeks earning those coveted Silent Assassin rankings and acquiring every last weapon. The multiple paths and technique options for each level are more than enough reason to try and retackle previously completed levels. Maybe try the game in First Person mode to add even more of a challenge. Bottom line for action gamers; Hitman 2 is worth every penny.
Hitman 2 is every bit a bad ass as its star, 47. While it would have been all too easy to simply rehash the gameplay from the first Hitman title, IO did their research, listened to the players and produced a game that really shows the effort that was obviously poured into the excellent aural and visual presentation. It is for that reason that Hitman 2: Silent Assassin deserves both players’ time and gaming dollars, and with any luck at all, this won't be the last we'll be seeing of Agent 47.