Review by Capt Snow

Reviewed: 09/30/04

Other than a few flaws, Io Interactive's gothic stealth title is nothing short of brilliant

We usually see two types of stealth in games. The first I call computerized stealth, which gives you a radar and has you sneak while looking at it, so that you can stay away from enemies. This system has been used in games like Metal Gear Solid and Commandoes. The second, which I call light/dark, is surely preferable. It gives you a light meter that shows you how dark you are in the shadows, and makes you see everything firsthand, not on a radar. Splinter Cell and Thief both used that system.

When Io Interactive released Hitman, it tried something new. Hitman featured lots of disguises, and encouraged more undercover stealth. However it was nigh-impossible and extremely flawed. Hitman 2 totally fixes some flaws up. While it isn't perfect by any means, it offers nail-biting suspense, brilliant sound, non-linearity and is also pretty humane considering it's gothic premise.

Gameplay: There's nothing similar. You are guided through a series of missions, filled with other routes and real-time patrols and duties. While it could be argued that the purpouse of the game is to kill, the goal is to not kill as much as you can. You take a lot of disguises, and walk by guards, trying to get them not to notice your conspicious appearance. For instance, if you find a ninja suit, assume patrol, and than while people aren't looking, dash into an office, it might work, because a ninja suit covers your whole body. But if you take a servants disguise, merely a jacket, guards may see you, bald and with a barcode on your head, and start getting alerted. It is somewhat frustrating how some guards pull guns on you for relatively no reason, but there is a very useful quick save which thankfully saves you a lot. There are loads of mission routes, none which have you improvise like in Thief and Splinter Cell, but still feel great to figure out. If you don't alert a soul, you'll get a great mission rating, and you'll search for ways to beat a level cleanly. If you get seen, switch to First Person view and try to get the job done with sloppy results. I should mention, on "Normal", the easiest difficulty, it is way to easy to win in firefights, so I really recommend starting on Expert. Not that it's an easy game at all, Hitman 2 is incredibly suspenseful and hard, and Expert's only difference is that you can't easily win going in guns blazing. I would say the level scripting feels sloppy, and I really don't recommend you continue playing each mission after each other. Work on one mission, memorize a strategy, and get a perfect or very good stealth ranking. Getting the famed SA rating is hard, but it gives you an unmatched sense of achievement. And another brilliant feature is how you can take anything, from an M4 to a golf club, from a mission, put it in your shed, and use it for other missions. Coming back to memorized levels with new gadgets is really awesome. So, in short, although Hitman 2's gameplay has some big flaws, it's so original and rewarding it earns itself 9/10.

Graphics: Animation is pretty good, and you'll go through some extremely varied locations, though you now see some graphical flaws. Hitman 2 is a bit of a seam party, and enemy movements are laughable. At times you'll see enemies gesture at you, turn, and then sit down in the middle of a computer. Framerate is okay, and you'll see some comic rag-doll effects that forward an art style that is both dark and moody, but not overly so at all. While a creepy approach would have worked (and is used in "Contracts"), this feels right. The game is a bit bloody, but nothing like every movie that seems to be out today, so even though the word "Hitman" is treated wiith contempt by violent video games activists, it's actually fine and more humane than I expected. Lighting is nice and moody too, so all and all and all I would say Hitman is a graphical achievement. 8/10

Sound: You might be baffled by my graphical description, but Hitman 2 is immersive because of SOUND. This is some of the best sound I've ever heard. The music, contrary to an earlier review, is purely orchestrated. The music is a triumph, some of the best I've heard in a game. Each piece is subtle, and can get you shaking with suspense, humming, or feeling like you actually are in Japan, Sicily, or Russia. It's not purely atmospheric like the scary music in Thief, it's very good to listen to. And everyone talks in their native languages, an impressive achievement. The voice acting is very good, 47 (you) coming off as European, and Diana, your employer, coming off as ruthless and clear. Though the overall thin story hardly does justice to this (each mission is more a story of it's own, with some continuity), it's worth it. And gunfire is loud and opressive. The only flaw is the beep beep of HUD "warnings" and "reminders", which will tell you bodies have been found like 50 times if you're in a gunfight, but this is easily overshadowed. 10/10

Replay Value: Wow. This really exceeds. With lots of missions, thousands of mission routes, and the ability to take things like katana swords and shotguns from assignments and use them in different ones, if you like the gameplay of Hitman, you'll play it for a very long time. Getting perfect rankings is great, and Professional mode, which doesn't allow quick saves, gives masters something to look forward to. 10/10

Basically Hitman 2 is a startling achievement. It's strategic, deep, and suspenseful. I'd say rent it. If the stealth, patient and rewarding gameplay appeals to you, and you're ready to overlook some flaws for near infinite replay value, buy Hitman 2 by all means. It's not as polished or as good looking as Splinter Cell, and isn't as fun just playing through the missions in the story without replaying and getting better rankings, the purpose of the game. But it's great and fresh.

8.5 rounded down (sorry) to 8/10

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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