Hitman 2: Silent Assassin for PC Review

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Hitman is a series that’s come a long way since it was first introduced to the world and I’m always curious to see how a popular series like this has evolved over the years. My gateway to the franchise was Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and it wasn’t until recently that I played the first game for the first time. It’s an interesting and rewarding game but also very punishing. It’s the kind of game that demands patience. It’s not perfect and its flaws can lead to frustration. It basically introduced a unique formula that shows a lot of potential with obvious kinks that still needed to be worked out. As we all know, it did spawn sequels and the first was Hitman 2: Silent Assassin which ended up becoming a commercial success and is considered an improvement over its predecessor.

Developed by IO Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was released for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in October, 2002 and GameCube in June, 2003. An HD port of Silent Assassin along with it’s successors, Contracts and Blood Money, was released in 2013 in the Hitman HD Trilogy for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For this review, I played the PC version, specifically the Steam version. Due to controversy surrounding one of the missions, the game was patched to remove the controversial content. This patched version of the game is what you get on Steam but you can downgrade it to version 1.01 so the content is restored. If you want to play this on a modern system, I would recommend consulting the game’s PCGamingWiki page to see what you need to do to get it running properly.

Set after the events of the first game, an investigation into the massacre left by Agent 47 at the facility of his creator is underway. 47 has retired and lives a peaceful life as a gardener at a Sicilian church owned by a his friend and priest Emilio Vittorio. His peaceful life comes to an end when a group of men arrive at the church and abduct the priest. Unable to pay the ransom, 47 contacts his former employers, the International Contract Agency, for assistance and they agree to help him in exchange for completing several contracts. I do like the story more than that of the first game. It has a more cinematic quality and the writing digs a little deeper into 47’s human side so he comes across as more than just a stone cold killer.

The gameplay in Hitman 2 is similar to that of its predecessor but more refined and accessible. That’s not to say it’s not punishing because it is. Any mistakes can fuck up your plans and the enemy sensitivity is still finicky. But let’s talk about the positives first. For one thing, you can manually save your progress now but only a certain amount of times per mission and how many times depends on the difficulty. On the Professional difficulty which is the hardest, you get zero but you can unlock bonus saves. Second, the game is a lot more informative. It doesn’t really hold your hand but it does provide more information so you have a better idea of all your options and where to go. The map screen now shows the locations of NPCs and their movements along with points of interest and icons for stairs, elevators, doors, and ladders.

Hitman 2 centers heavily on stealth. I think the last mission is the only time I struggled trying to be stealthy. Other than that, I never felt forced or encouraged to whip out any firearms unless I was spotted and had to defend myself. You’ll be required to kill numerous targets throughout the campaign and how you go about that is all up to you. You can go in all-guns-blazing but the quieter approach is usually the safest and also one of the most challenging. Each map is a sandbox and also a puzzle and finding all the pieces and putting them together is all part of the challenge. In between several missions, 47 can navigate around the church grounds where he can access and try out all the weapons he’s acquired as well as start the next mission. Leaving missions with weapons will add them to his arsenal. Hitman 2 also introduces a rating system so at the end of each mission, you are rated based on stealth and aggression. The best possible rank is Silent Assassin and achieving it is a way to unlock specific weapons.

I have a love/hate relationship with the rating system but more so in Blood Money. However, I feel the need to talk about it here because this is where it started. You’re free to eliminate your targets however you see fit but the rating system makes it obvious that the game is encouraging you to be as quiet and stealthy as possible. That means minimizing your kills and not getting detected among some other specific things. I like the rating system because it’s a way to see how well you did so that maybe you can try to do better in subsequent playthroughs. You are rewarded with some weapons for achieving the Silent Assassin rank and you can accumulate lot of cool firearms but my problem is that the game basically tells you not to use them or at least most of them. That’s what bothers me. I want be clear and state that this is not really a complaint. I’m just venting. I completely understand this is a stealth game and figuring out how to get close to your targets undetected is all part of the fun and challenge.

Even if you can remain undetected throughout an entire mission, killing more than one enemy in some cases means you won’t achieve the Silent Assassin rank. But I like killing people in cool ways and with cool weapons. And not just the targets but any foes in my way. I like being the assassin with the badass sniper rifle on the roof in the distance. I like silently sneaking up behind a guard and putting a bullet into his brain. I like following guards around until they’re isolated and then strangling them. I like entering a room full of guards and mowing them all down with a suppressed submachine gun. There’s nothing stopping you from doing any of this, from killing any enemy or even innocent civilians in your way. The marketing for the game indicates you can play your “own way” and use a diverse arsenal of weapons. That’s one of the best things about Hitman 2 and the series in general. You can choose your own playstyle. But what it doesn’t tell you is that you’re only rewarded for one. You are rewarded with weapons for achieving the Silent Assassin rank.

Stealth works pretty much the same way as it did before. You can sneak up on people to kill them and this time, you can even knock them out. You can drag and hide bodies out of view and wear their clothes as a disguise to blend in with foes and gain access to new areas, and you can get pretty creative when it comes to how you want to kill your targets. You don’t necessarily have to just shoot or strangle them. Unlike the first game, you’re not instantly immune to suspicion when wearing a disguise. If you get too close to enemies, they become suspicious and if they stare at you long enough, they’ll eventually see through your disguise and enter attack mode. Furthermore, running can make them suspicious so you need to be careful and take things slow. That said, walking everywhere can be time consuming but you can exploit the walk and run mechanics to kind of slide your way around quickly without making enemies around you suspicious.

When compared to its predecessor, almost everything in Hitman 2 is more clear. Not just in terms of where to go but how to do things and how things work. Like the first game, the maps here are large but feel more focused and most offer a lot of ways to reach and eliminate your targets and that includes multiple silent or quiet approaches. You have more room to experiment and the game gives you some room for error. But not a lot. It’s still a trial and error experience and a mistake can result in your death. You will need to explore, study the map and enemy locations and patrol patterns, and figure out each step of the puzzle one at a time. Alternatively, you can simply blow everyone away.

Despite Hitman 2 being more accessible, it is a very challenging experience and, unfortunately, the gameplay can sometimes break and sometimes it’s the result of actual bugs. Either way, it leads to frustration. For one thing, enemies are still very sensitive and whenever you have to move through or near a group of foes, getting passed them undetected can be a gamble. It doesn’t really take long for them to see through 47’s disguise. Enemies also have great hearing. You need to make sure you enter sneak mode if you want to strangle them otherwise they’ll definitely hear you moving behind them and they can even hear you pull out weapons. There were multiple times it was unclear as to how I got detected. At one point, I was detected picking a lock even though I was out of view and the enemy who detected me was on the other side of the wall in a room off to the side.

In the mission titled “Invitation to a Party”, I’m convinced the waiter disguise is broken. Whether I knocked out the waiter in the beginning and took his clothes or took the clothes in the embassy, enemies would eventually become alerted for reasons I still don’t understand. I restarted the mission well over ten times before I was finally able to do what I needed to do in the disguise undetected. Then there’s the mission called “Hidden Valley” where a bug can cause trucks not to move through the underground tunnels and depending on your approach, you may need to ride in some of them so if they get stuck, that’s a problem. According to one post I saw on the internet, if one of the trucks runs over an NPC, they all just stop moving and from what I read, the problem could be related to the frame rate. I can tell you that after forcing vsync through the Nvidia Control Panel, I was able to get through the mission with the trucks moving but I can’t confirm if it was the frame rate being capped at sixty or if I just got lucky.

Hitman 2 will take you to a good variety of locations around the world. You’ll get to kill people in Sicily, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and India. You’ll navigate around metro station, embassy, offices, temple, hospital, underground tunnels, and sewers. Sometimes the agency will leave a stash of equipment for you to retrieve and you can basically move around each map freely and go anywhere you want. But that might not be so easy without the correct disguises. You will need them and even specific items to gain access to certain areas. Unless you kill everyone, of course. I found several of the earlier missions to be more difficult than most of the later ones. The sometimes questionable enemy and civilian sensitivity can simply make getting through certain areas and accomplishing things very tedious.

Visually, Hitman 2 looks noticeably better than its predecessor. From the character models to texture work, everything looks better and the environments are diverse and detailed. From the snowy streets of St. Petersburg to the temple in India, every location looks and feels distinct. The concept of Hitman gives these games a unique charm and atmosphere and I think what really drives the atmosphere is the music. Jesper Kyd returned to compose the soundtrack and it’s easily one of my favorite things about the game. There’s a good mix of tunes which not only help add tension to the gameplay but also make the experience feel more cinematic in a way. On the technical side, the game did run smooth and I can’t say I ran into too many technical problems outside of the “Hidden Valley” mission bug which may or may not be the result of the frame rate.

Even though Hitman 2 improves the formula, it’s still a flawed game that can lead to frustration but I think it was a better starting point for new players at the time it released. This is the one I remember people playing and talking about and that’s kind of how I got introduced to it and the series. Now that I’ve finally played through the first game, I can understand why this one received a lot more praise and it’s well deserved. It’s much more welcoming and accessible. The stealth genre contains a lot of different games and Hitman has it’s own unique thing going on and when it works, it’s truly a phenomenal experience.

Ultimately, I had fun with Hitman 2 but it certainly has problems. Like its predecessor, it is a punishing game that requires patience but when a punishment is the result of something that simply broke or in other words, is not working the way it should, the result is not a fun learning experience. When you do everything right but somehow a guard becomes alerted and starts shooting and it’s not clear why, that’s just annoying. Nevertheless, most of the time, mistakes were my own and learning from them is all part of the fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I consider the Hitman games, at least the ones I’ve played, to be puzzle games disguised as stealth games. You’re just not required to solve the puzzles and that’s what great about them. Hitman 2 gives you so many options, there are numerous ways to approach most situations and whether you solve the puzzles or do it your own way, it’s always fun.

I would recommend Hitman 2 but having played the future games, I don’t know if this is a good starting point for newcomers anymore. It’s one you should definitely play but I can see the punishing gameplay and some of the broken stealth elements and bugs turning people off. It’s certainly more accessible than the first game and has more replay value but you need to be able to forgive some of its shortcomings. Overall, it’s a great sequel and is where the series really started to take shape. Definitely check it out.

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