IO Interactive's sequel to Hitman finds Agent 47 reluctantly pressed into service once again after his close friend and personal confidant, a priest, is beaten and taken hostage by a gang of thugs. As a professional assassin handicapped with a conscience, players will pursue those responsible for this grievous error in judgment to the far corners of the world. Featured locales include Sicily, St. Petersburg, Japan, Malaysia, Nuristan, and India. Missions for each setting are retrieved from a laptop computer, allowing players to witness video footage of their intended target as well as a list of objectives.
After receiving their briefing, players can go about the mission as they see fit, for there are more than one way to complete objectives. Most of the locales are in the heart of enemy territory, requiring players to use stealth, caution, and careful planning to find a safe entrance and carry out the hit without arousing suspicions from enemy guards. Players will infiltrate castles, temples, citadels, and more as they carefully weave their way toward their objective. To make things easier, Agent 47 can change into numerous disguises after subduing their former owners.
A hitman cannot effectively do his job without the tools of the trade, which in this game, come in the form of knives for silent kills, handguns, sub-machine guns, rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles. Other equipment of use includes binoculars to plan out routes from afar, maps of the surrounding area, and night vision goggles for missions shrouded in darkness. The world in Hitman 2 is not simply filled with pedestrians and enemies. Police regularly patrol certain areas and will attempt to make an arrest if they see someone carrying a weapon in plain view. There are also missions where players are challenged to protect certain individuals or VIPs.
Hitman 2 is primarily played from a third-person perspective, but players are free to switch to a first-person view at anytime. Depending on the difficulty, players can also save at any point while undertaking a mission. Normal difficulty allows players to save up to seven times within a mission, while the hardest setting challenges players to complete a mission in one sitting. No matter which setting is selected, the goal remains the same: make the required hit, finish remaining objectives, and leave the area unharmed. Statistics in such areas as shots fired, stealth, aggression, innocents harmed, and enemies killed are displayed at the end of each mission.
The original Hitman: Codename 47 had some real strengths, but it was also one of the more frustrating games of the past few years, in large part because it looked like a shooter but didn't often play like one. Sure, you moved a bald hitman known only as 47 through 3D environments using a third-person viewpoint. It's also true that he was well armed and killed lots of people -- murder was the main focus of the game, after all.
Unfortunately, where the best shooters put the emphasis on thrilling action, or on a multitude of ways to win with stealth, Hitman: Codename 47 felt more like a puzzle game most of the time. You had to somehow magically figure out the one precisely timed series of actions and events that would let you infiltrate the enemies and kill your prey. On top of that, the controls and camera were clumsy, and you couldn't save the game during a mission, which all made for lots of hair pulling.
With Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, developer IO Interactive has remembered that games should be about fun, not frustration. This new game takes some of the better concepts of the original and executes them far better this time, creating an engaging blend of stealth and brutal gun battles.
Hitman 2 opens with agent 47 in retirement, working as a gardener at a Sicilian monastery. He's left his murderous ways behind him to find peace and salvation. It's not easy for him escape his past as a legendary assassin, though. Soon, dark figures from the underworld come calling, spiriting away 47's new mentor and confessor, Padre Vittorio. In order to save Vittorio, the Hitman has to reestablish contacts with the "Agency," the secretive group he once worked for, and carry out hits for them in exchange for their help in finding the Padre. 47 quickly sheds his scruples and gets back into the murder business, progressing through challenging missions set around the globe in exotic locales like Sicily, St. Petersburg, and Malaysia.
You'll control the Hitman from either a first- or third-person viewpoint, using standard shooter controls. Since a major focus of the game is sneaking around undetected, you'll get some special options like switching into a stealth mode that makes you move very slowly and quietly. You'll also get to lean around corners and peep through keyholes to avoid barging into trouble.
Hitman 2 features an interesting way of interacting with other characters and the environment through a dynamic pop-up menu. When you stand by a door, you may be able to peek through its keyhole or pick the lock. After knocking out a delivery man, you might be able to don his clothes, pick up any items he's carrying, and then drag the body out of sight so as not to arouse suspicion.
Keeping suspicion to a minimum is a big part of Hitman 2's gameplay. An enemy suspicion indicator and various messages about guard status give you a really good idea of how characters are reacting to your attempts at infiltration and disguise. (It's not necessarily easy to disguise a tall, bald hitman with a bar code on the back of his head, after all.) Of course, you can simply watch and listen to the guards to gauge their reactions up close, but you usually won't want to stick around long enough to do that. They tend to be a very suspicious lot, and while they sometimes act rather dense or oblivious (not to mention downright stupid in firefights), for the most part they keep you on your toes and keep the missions challenging but balanced.
One thing that makes Hitman 2 much more fun than its predecessor is that you usually have more options for sneaking around and fooling the bad guys; you don't have to be as precise and seemingly omniscient as in the original game. In your first mission, for example, where you try to infiltrate a Mafia compound to kill the Don and find Padre Vittorio, you start out on a hill overlooking the compound. With your binoculars and a computerized map that shows points of interest and the movements of guards, you can get a feel for the compound and try to figure out where you might enter and then escape.
Simply walking into the well-guarded compound clearly won't work, so you'll need to find a disguise -- and quickly. Happily, as you move around the outskirts of the compound, you might discover a delivery man bearing flowers, or a guard who steps out to relieve himself among the pine trees. With your handy garrote or anesthetic, you might be able to sneak up behind one of these men, and silently knock him out or kill him in order to use his clothes as a disguise.
Even then, things won't be easy in this mission, or the others. If you act remotely suspicious, the guards might become alerted, and from there it's usually only a matter of time before the bullets start flying. You'll need to avoid running around for no reason, for example, which can draw undue attention. All the walking you'll be doing gives the game a rather slow pace, but the pace lets you take in all the details and more carefully observe the comings and goings of the guards. It can also raise the overall tension level.
When things do go awry in a mission, all isn't necessarily lost since you can often save the situation and then try a different way of handling things. If a guard you're about to strangle spots you, you might be able to shoot him with a silenced pistol before he returns fire and alerts the other guards, for example. If you can't figure out how to get to a villain's car quickly enough to plant a bomb on it, you can probably just run up and blast him with an assault rifle instead. If all else fails, you can always reload a saved game. That might not sound like a big deal, but the original Hitman notoriously didn't allow any saves. Now you get seven, two, or no saves per mission based on the difficulty level you choose.
One of the entertaining things about Hitman 2 is the way a botched job is often more fun than a successfully stealthy one. It can be satisfying to fool a bunch of henchmen, but it can be even more satisfying to blast hordes of them with a shotgun or twin pistols. Hitman 2 doesn't treat combat realistically: both 47 and the other characters can usually withstand multiple shots, barring a close-range shotgun blast or a sniper shot. This means you get to enjoy some exciting old-school, run-and-gun bloodbaths, where the bodies literally start piling up. It's true that sometimes you'll need to remain hidden and leave no traces, but simply blasting your way to success is often a perfectly acceptable option. Over the course of the game, you'll accumulate a huge arsenal for doing just that: twin pistols, swords, shotguns, submachine guns, crossbows, sniper rifles, and everything in between.
Whether shooting or sneaking, the game world is brought to life with some really attractive graphics. Some character animations could have used more work, and the first-person weapon models look amateurishly out of scale, but the exotic locales are all richly detailed and colorful. Little details, like remarkably realistic candle flames or swirling snowfall help draw you into the game, as do the unusually realistic lighting effects that cast dynamic shadows as characters walk. The vivid sound effects and ominous orchestral score also build tension and excitement.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin offers a lot, but one thing it's missing is any multiplayer options. That's not really a bad thing, though. There's no sense in game developers wasting time and money to put multiplayer modes into a game where they wouldn't fit well. Hitman 2 is all about an engaging single-player experience, one that's far better than that of the original game. It's a game where colorful locales, tense situations, stealthy infiltrations, and bloody battles all smoothly go hand in hand.
People who downloaded Hitman 2: Silent Assassin have also downloaded:
Hitman: Codename 47, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Hitman: Contracts, Hitman: Blood Money, Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring
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