One Convenient Package
We’re all used to the idea of having a certain platform that we play games on. Whether PC or one of various consoles, they all act as a singular machine that we use to access a variety of games and content. PC in particular has its share of software platforms like Steam and Origin, a central hub through which we can access all the content available on their respective stores.
A bit more unusual, though, are specific games that act as a platform themselves. Games that offer their central experiences, but also act as a constantly updated engine through which the developers continue to release more and more content that can be accessed by the player. It goes a bit deeper than your typical DLC experience; developers will use this base “platform” game to publish new content through rather than releasing constant full sequels.
The Rock Band franchise is relatively famous for their “games as a platform” outlook. While the series did have a number of retail releases, most mainline numbered entries offered the ability to import content from all previous releases, as well as consistently updated content you could add to the game as well. The most recent release, Rock Band 4, has gone a bit further with its platform ideals, with developer Harmonix opting to use optional expansions to update the game rather than iterative full-title releases.
A more interesting example is 2016’s reboot of the Hitman franchise. Simply titled Hitman, the game launched as a central platform through which content was added episodically. Sure, you could purchase the full game and access all of the main content (although upon release, content was only main accessible monthly), but you could also purchase just the base platform and then buy the specific content you wanted to play individually.
It was an interesting experiment, and one that appeared to work decently well. However, for the sequel, the developers decided to abandon the idea of episodic content. Despite this, though, today’s new release still acts as a platform, what with new content being made available regularly, and the ability to purchase the episodes of the original 2016 Hitman to play in the new engine.
Developed by IO Interactive and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Hitman 2 was released on November 13th, 2018, for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam. The Steam version was played for this review.
Hitman 2 follows everyone’s favorite assassin, Agent 47, through a whirlwind world tour of taking out drug kingpins, arms dealers, and mysterious figureheads. All of it is tied together in one of the more confusing and empty plots I’ve played through this year.
Honestly, the way the story is told in the game made it incredibly hard to follow. At first I chalked it up to not having played the original 2016 release, but I was still completely lost three missions in, which is the halfway point of the game.
The plot revolves around the hunt for a “Shadow Client,” who runs what seems to be some kind of secretive worldwide militia. There’s another group, Providence, who seems to be a similar organization that Agent 47 is working for…but not really, since Agent 47 is actually a part of some other kind of paramilitary group that is working for Providence. Between this are flashes of random backstory from Agent 47’s handler, random faceless NPCs being assassinated around the world that it seems like we’re supposed to care about, and various other things I’m having a hard time remembering but didn’t seem particularly important.
The story is a mess. I constantly confused the “Shadow Client” and Providence, and often didn’t really understand why I was assassinating these various targets in each of the missions. The presentation of the story isn’t all that great either, being mostly told through a series of cinematic still images.
Story often makes or breaks a game for me…but Hitman 2 is lucky enough to get a pass on this from me, as its gameplay is just so damn enthralling.
Much like its predecessor, Hitman 2 takes place across six massive stages. You’re given a quick briefing on your targets, a chance to customize your initial loadout, and then you’re dropped into the level, left to your own devices on how to get the job done.
The game gives you the freedom to approach your mission however you want, but at the same time manages to walk the line of not becoming too overwhelming despite the number of options you have. For people like me who prefer a bit more structure in their games, Hitman 2 offers up a selection of “mission stories,” optional sequences you can follow to take out your targets in specific ways. You can choose to follow these right from the outset, or you can come across the opportunity organically while exploring a level.
The mission stories wound up being my favorite way to play through each stage, as they allowed a bit more interaction with the characters in the world around me. When playing through freely, I would often fall into the same pattern: sneak through an area, knock out some guards to take their disguises, wait until my target became isolated, then take them out with a choke and a neck snap. No interaction with them or other NPCs, just getting things done in a cold and calculated way.
Through a mission story, I would find myself eavesdropping on characters, learning more about them and their relationships to my targets, and often had the chance to actually converse with the targets themselves before terminating them. They really help to flesh out a game that I played as more of just a murder simulator without.
Of course, that’s not to say these two play styles are the only way to go through the game. Those of you with more patience and creativity than me are sure to find more experimental ways of eliminating marks. That’s what so amazing about how this game was put together – you can approach missions however you want, with whatever play style you prefer, and still have a great time with it. The game doesn’t penalize nor encourage any specific method.
Actually, that’s not completely true. If there’s one thing Hitman 2 encourages, it’s patience. Despite everything available to you, Agent 47 is still a stealthy assassin. Going in guns blazing is a surefire way to bring your run to an end incredibly quickly.
If there’s one issue I really had in the gameplay, it was getting some button prompts to activate. For some reason, after knocking someone out, I had a really difficult time getting Agent 47 to start dragging the body, as the prompt wouldn’t often appear if I was standing too close to the body or if the body was a bit out of bounds of the camera. It was a bit stressful if I was trying to hide a body while being hunted, but it was hardly a game breaker. More of a nagging issue.
Oh The Places You’ll Go
Hitman 2 may only have six stages, but all of them are amazingly crafted and diverse. From a racetrack to a crowded Indian city and some sleepy suburbs, each environment you’ll be making your way through is distinct. Even in singular stages, there’s a surprising variety to the specific areas within them. For example, the aforementioned racetrack stage includes the track itself and the bleachers surrounding it, an expo center, an aquarium, various offices, a medical center, and a VIP club-like area, and that’s just off the top of my head.
I did run into some occasional slowdown when wandering through areas extremely crowded with NPCs, but it was so minor as to be near unnoticeable. Otherwise, the game ran incredibly smooth on my system set to max graphical settings (running on a Radeon RX 480 at the time of review).
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to comment on when it comes to sound. There isn’t much of a soundtrack here; most of what you’ll be hearing is ambient noise. The voice acting though is relatively decent, though, even when it comes to one-off NPCs.
A Bright Future
Overall, Hitman 2 is an incredible game marred by the inclusion of a confusing and hollow story. However, the story is definitely not necessary to get enjoyment out of this title. The way the game is built allows practically anyone to have a great time executing stages and targets in their own way.
The game’s strong focus on replayability will also hope extend this game’s legs for quite a while. Practically every stage clear unlocks another way to tackle the same stage, whether it’s a new starting point or new items in your initial loadout. Hell, I played through the racetrack stage at least three times before I moved on to the next one, trying out different mission stories and discovering new locations within the stage.
IO Interactive appears to have plans to support Hitman 2 as a platform as well, with its first timed exclusive mission to kill Sean Bean coming available shortly before this review was published. I look forward to seeing what else the developers release, and I imagine it’ll keep me coming back to this game well into 2019.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Screenshots taken by reviewer.