I’ve never been particularly good at the Hitman games, and the same certainly rings true for IO Interactive’s insanely enjoyable stealth-based action/adventure Hitman 2. Continuing to build upon the sandbox-style gameplay in 2016’s superb franchise reboot, this follow-up (or Season 2, if you prefer) tosses you back into the capable shoes of Agent 47, the bald killing machine who often finds himself in a handful of truly baffling scenarios. Of course, perhaps these frequently outrageous situations are a direct result of my inability to execute an assassination without bumbling my way through it. Whatever the case may be, Hitman 2, like its predecessor, allows both amateur and skilled hitmen to take down their targets in a variety of amusing (and lethal) ways. And while you might absolutely suck at stealth games that require you to murder individuals without causing a ruckus, Hitman 2 provides enough wiggle room for even the worst murderers to succeed.
I often spend time with games that I have no business playing. Bloodborne is a prime example; all of my sessions end in pure, unchecked frustration, but that doesn’t stop me from coming back again and again for even more Lovecraftian punishment. The same rang happened when I sat down with the Hitman reboot, which allowed me to dress Agent 47 as a model and walk a runway in Paris before getting down to the business of cold-blooded murder. I adored the playful freedom the game provided, which helped mask the embarrassment and shame that arose from the fact that I’m just not very good at it. In fact, every single assassination I attempted ended in a sloppy mess. I may have succeeded in my mission, but I certainly didn’t look like John Wick while making it happen. Fortunately, Hitman 2 doesn’t screw around with the formula too much, providing ample allowance for ineptitude and “suckage” for those of us who cannot wrap their heads around stealth mechanics. Truth be told, if my mission unfolded in a near-flawless manner, I don’t know if I’d enjoy the franchise as much as I do.
And it’s pretty obvious that IO Interactive understands that a large part of Hitman 2’s appeal comes from its ridiculous versatility. Want to incapacitate a target using a fish? You got it. Feel like knocking some poor gangster unconscious with a can of soda before snapping his or her neck? It’s in there. You can also garrote someone with a measuring tape if you so choose, which might make you think twice before you allow some random stranger to take your measurements. There are countless ways to dispatch your targets over the course of Hitman 2’s campaign, and the game encourages you to use your imagination by pretty much giving you free rein to tackle each mission however you see fit. Of course, when your best-laid assassinations plan become a mind-boggling success despite everything falling apart around you, the game absolutely shines. I knocked a snobby race car driver unconscious by chucking a fish at her head — that’s pretty fantastic. Of course, I should probably point out now that Hitman 2 is only as silly as you allow it to be; the story itself treads very serious ground, and the shenanigans that take place during the missions might seem like an odd juxtaposition. That said, since the story tends to take a backseat to the actual gameplay, I don’t necessarily mind that I can dress up and perform as a bright pink mascot after watching a drop-dead serious cutscene.
There are six new expansive locations to play through in Hitman 2, but the countless feats, story missions (which continue Agent 47’s quest to locate and identify the Shadow Agent while unraveling the mystery behind his own elusive past), achievements, and assassination styles give you more than a few reasons to replay each scenario without feeling you’re doing the same old thing over and over again. Each themed area features dozens of different discoverable locations, and some of them are difficult to access until you’ve improved your mastery of the level and have unlocked new entry points and costumes. You may also need to unlock specific weapons in other chapters to complete some of the more difficult challenges. For instance, getting your hands on a sniper rifle makes it a lot easier to take down a race car driver while they’re speeding around the track. Hitman 2 is very upfront about the fact that you’ll need to play through these chapters more than once to get the full experience, and the game definitely rewards your efforts. Although I managed to bust through the story missions with relative ease, unpacking every bit of content stuffed into this game will take me countless hours and require an abundance of patience. If all else fails, of course, I can simply beat my targets into submission with a fish concealed inside my lily white suit and call it a day.
As with the 2016 reboot, some of Hitman 2’s locations are more fun than others, though that definition of “fun” will largely depend on what you want from the experience as a whole. If you’re into a tactical challenge that forces you to put your skills and gadgets to the test, you might find that the Colombian chapter delivers the most bang for your proverbial dollar. However, if sandbox tomfoolery is more your speed, then Florida or Mumbai offer plenty of ways to smoke your foes with creativity and, yes, absurdity. Dressing up as a barber, for example, and giving (very close) shaves to the residents of Mumbai before encountering your target may not sound like very much fun on paper, but the game’s slightly offbeat sense of humor turns it into a very memorable moment. Dressing up as a goofy character called Florida Man while serving delicious snacks to potential targets rides that fine line between a classic Hitman scenario and Saint’s Row territory. IO handles these moments better than my weak description might sound, and that’s largely because the game obviously doesn’t take itself very seriously.
Although I joke about how insane things can get in Hitman 2, it does offer a pretty brutal challenge for those who are willing (and able) to put together a successful plan and stick with it. I tend to go off the rails whenever I accept a contract, simply because that’s how I enjoy playing the Hitman games. That said, if you want to play as a serious, no-nonsense killer with a heart of rock-solid ice, then you can, of course, make that slightly disturbing fantasy come true. There are three difficulty levels to play through, and even the “casual” setting provides a level of challenge that will put your skills to the proverbial test. The harder the difficulty, however, the more attention you’ll receive from guards when you display your antisocial behavior, and you’ll need to erase any bothersome security camera footage if one of those pesky devices happens to catch you in the act of doing something naughty. So, just because I tend to run around the suburbs of Vermont dressed as a bug exterminator armed with a muffin and a potentially deadly baseball doesn’t mean the game doesn’t offer more straightforward ways to complete a mission. And the better you are, the more the game world opens up to you, so it definitely pays to be good at your job in Hitman 2. What’s more, you can bring all of those unlocked goodies along for the ride when you explore the Legacy Pack, which allows owners of Hitman Season 1 to play through “remastered” versions of the older levels with all of the sequel’s new features and improvements.
Speaking of new features and improvements, Hitman 2 comes packed with a lot of stuff to keep you more than a little occupied during your stay. In addition to mission stories (which provide a guided experience for those who want to feel like a professional without having to plan things out themselves), the game sports an all-new lighting system and picture-in-picture notifications for when someone stumbles across a body or a camera notices your evil deeds. You can also put your marksman skills to the ultimate test by indulging in the all-new Sniper Assassin mode, which allows you take down targets alongside a friend. It’s a fun mode if you don’t have the time to devote to a regular contract (some of those campaign missions can take upwards of an hour to complete), but it isn’t something I’d come back to on a regular basis. Hitman 2 also features a one-on-one competitive online component called Ghost Mode, which pits you against another player to see how many targets you can eliminate. These are nifty additions to an already robust package, but again, I don’t think it’s something that will attract my attention when the campaigns, elusive targets, and those promised weekly challenges give me so much to do.
Although Hitman 2 provides an abundance of nonsensical, absurd, and downright bizarre situations for you to enjoy, it occasionally struggles to keep up with the havoc you wreak. Even on the Xbox One X, the game struggles to maintain a solid framerate. You can choose between two different visual settings (performance and quality), though it’s honestly a little difficult to notice any major changes between the two, even on a solid 4K television. You can also opt to lock the frame rate if you decide you’d prefer quality over performance, and even then, the game has a very hard time meeting 30 frames per second. I noticed this the most during the suburban mission, which finds Agent 47 infiltrating a posh neighborhood in search of an aging Russian operative. This is a densely packed area, and Hitman 2 just couldn’t rise to the challenge. The dips don’t affect gameplay very much (unless you’re trying to aim that perfect sniper shot, of course), but it’s disappointing that even the self-proclaimed “most powerful console on the market” couldn’t help the game achieve a steady framerate. Otherwise, the game looks fantastic and handles exactly like the previous entry — I just wish the performance matched the game’s superb ability to entertain.
Hitman 2 doesn’t break the same ground as the 2016 reboot, but it really doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel at this point. IO Interactive’s formula functions just fine, and the quality of life changes, new features and weaponry, and the ability to play the older scenarios with all of Hitman 2’s goodies only reinforce this incredibly solid foundation. It’s unfortunate, then, that the follow-up occasionally struggles to keep up with itself in terms of performance, especially on a console that’s designed with power in mind. These framerate drops are unsightly blemishes on an otherwise solid package, though I doubt they will be enough to prevent Hitman aficionados from delving deeper into Agent 47’s world (and his story) once again. And even if you’re among the many who blunder their way through the professional killer’s many outings, there’s still plenty of fun to be had as you try your hand at becoming the world’s most efficient killing machine. Naturally, if you have to beat some poor schmuck down with a wet fish to complete the assignment, then so be it. Who needs fiber wire, anyway?
This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
Although it suffers from some framerate hiccups, Hitman 2 delivers a solid, enjoyable experience that's stacked with tons of content designed to keep you entertained for hours on end.