There's no mistaking what Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is all about. One look at the bald, sharply dressed man on the cover, grim as death and armed with a hardballer pistol in each hand, and you can tell that this isn't exactly lighthearted stuff. Hitman 2, released simultaneously for the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 platforms, is the sequel to a PC game released two years ago by Denmark-based developer IO Interactive. The original Hitman: Codename 47 featured some undeniably impressive technical elements, but it also had a number of serious problems. Some players were able to overcome the control issues and punishing difficulty level of the game and appreciated it on the strength of its violent concept--you played as a genetically engineered contract killer and were tasked with stealthily eliminating a number of well-guarded targets. At its best, the game offered both full-on intense action as well as plenty of nail-biting suspense. The sequel takes this same idea a step further and fully realizes it, proving that IO Interactive has the ability to back up flashy graphics and controversial subject matter with great gameplay. Simply put, Hitman 2 fixes virtually all of the problems of its predecessor and stands tall on its own merits as an outstanding action game.
As 47, you'll be charged with a number of high-risk assassination assignments.
Those who never played the original Hitman already know all the background on Hitman 2 that they'll really need. The game begins with the enigmatic man known only as 47 working not as a hired gun but as a gardener. He's given up his violent ways and is now serving as a humble groundskeeper in a Sicilian church. But when the church's kindly minister is kidnapped, 47 has no choice but to once again don his black suit and unpack his deadly arsenal of firearms and close-range weapons. He contacts his former employer to try to track down the priest, but he'll need to perform a few jobs before they'll cough up any details on his friend's whereabouts. So much for early retirement. Yet though the story unfolds vividly using beautifully staged cinematic cutscenes rendered using the game's 3D engine, the actual story of Hitman 2 doesn't really get too far off the ground. It's largely an excuse to send 47 around the world to exotic locations like Japan, Russia, Malaysia, and India, where you'll help him infiltrate heavily fortified locations from an ancient castle to a high-tech software corporation.
The game comprises more than 20 missions in all, which you'll play through one after the other. Though the settings and the details of each mission are different, most all of them share some basic themes: getting in, eliminating a key target, and getting out. How you meet your objective is up to you, whether by guile and stealth or by brute force, and most missions are cleverly designed to have at least several viable, even intuitive solutions. If you're really good, you can make it through most missions leaving only a single corpse behind--the only one that matters--and you can make it through having never even drawn a firearm. If that's too subtle for you, you can opt to try to mow down anyone who stands between you and your victim. But you'll need to be careful, because your primary target might flee the scene amid whatever turmoil you cause.
Actually, one of the big differences between Hitman 2 and its predecessor is that, for various reasons, a forceful approach is much more viable in the sequel. At the normal difficulty setting, it's in fact much easier, and much faster, to just blast your way through most missions, partly because your enemies just aren't that smart in a shootout, though they can overwhelm you in numbers. Nevertheless, the game still encourages you to be stealthy, and you'll have to be at the game's two higher difficulty settings. Regardless of how you play, the fact that you can just start shooting if you blow your cover will lead to many thrilling, unscripted gunfights against large groups of foes that look realistic and often act realistically too.
A frontal assault can be effective if you catch your foes by surprise.
As 47, you have access to the sorts of moves and weaponry that you'd perhaps expect from a character of his nature. You'll get to see 47 ply his deadly trade from a default third-person perspective, though the developers added an optional first-person view as well. That's a nice touch, but still, it's hard to pass up the third-person option, since it gives you a clear look at all of 47's lifelike animations and gives you some good peripheral vision too. While 47 has no hand-to-hand combat moves, he can take out foes at close range by slashing their throats in one quick motion, strangling them with his trusty fiber wire, or knocking them out with chloroform--an uncharacteristically humane addition to 47's arsenal. Melee weapons ranging from a golf club to a katana are also available, as well as a massive variety of real-world firearms. All manner of pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles can be found and used, and as you scavenge new weapons from your missions, you'll find them lovingly displayed as new additions to your collection back at your inconspicuous base out of Sicily. While you can then select which weapons to bring with you on a new assignment, you can't just lug everything around. In particular, you can only carry a single rifle at a time, and these bulky weapons can't be concealed.
Concealment, of course, is critical to 47's success. As in the first Hitman, in the sequel you can relieve just about any killed (or unconscious) male character of his clothing and drag prone bodies out of sight. Donning disguises is handled as strangely as before, meaning one moment you'll be wearing your original outfit and then, moments after selecting the "change clothes" command, you're suddenly wearing a new one as the old one appears neatly folded on the ground. In a game that's generally so believable, this aspect of Hitman 2 comes across as a bit silly--but the fact that you don't have to spend hours looking for a victim who wears the same size of pants that 47 does certainly helps the gameplay. At any rate, unlike in the original, in Hitman 2 there's more to concealment than just putting on a disguise and then having free rein to walk among your enemies. When the 6-foot, pale-skinned 47 tries to blend in with the locals in India, you'd best believe he'll have to do more than just put on a turban. Generally, you need to stay relatively far away from most passersby if you want your disguise to work, and you need to act casually.
This creates some tense situations. Enemy guards will eye you warily and may decide to confront you if you're acting strangely. Their cold stares will often leave you feeling unsettled as you try to walk--not run--through an enemy-infested area as quickly as you can. Yes, 47 can run tirelessly, but doing so generates noise and also rouses a lot of suspicion, making running impractical for most situations requiring stealth. Fortunately, 47 can also walk, sneak, and crawl. Sneaking and crawling are silent, and 47 can aim sniper rifles more steadily from a crouched position. The thing is, these other means of movement can seem excruciatingly slow compared with running, and realistic though this may be, you'll have to practice a lot before you can successfully sneak up behind an opponent.
Stick to the shadows and keep quiet to avoid detection.