Review by Black_Seed

Reviewed: 06/10/08

Classy stealth game.

Hit man 2 : Silent Assassin, released in 2002 on multiple platforms is the follow up to the lesser known Hit man : Codename 47, a widely praised PC only title that unfortunately did not receive much attention in its initial release. Knowing the potential of the series, Eidos Interactive gave the go ahead for a larger budget sequel and this is the result, a globe trotting, expansive and highly polished product.

Story

Once again you take control of 47, an otherwise unnamed assassin with a very bald head and an ominous barcode imprinted on the back of his neck. Tired of killing, he seeks to live quietly and peacefully in Sicily, settling in a Church and maintaining the gardens. Luckily for us, the mafia turn up and abduct the priest, and 47 decides to don his famous suit and red tie, pick up his double Ballers, and sets off in pursuit. What follows is a fast paced and rapidly escalating story line which takes 47 all the way to Russia, Japan, Kuala Lumpur, India and Afghanistan to save the priest from whatever horrors the mafia had planned.

Obviously running around the world would not be much fun without people to kill, so 47 has to reprise his role as a hitman with his agency in order for their help in tracking down the priest. It gets more complex as the game goes on and is a well written plot, the only problem is that I don’t think it suits the game one bit.

Think about it, pretend you’re a hitman. A cold blooded highly trained merciless assassin that completes assignments without remorse or mercy. Are you the same person that will travel the world to save one man? I don’t think so. There needs to be a vague storyline to keep the players interest, but if the gameplay is good enough surely the most realistic portrayal of a hitman would be one where the targets could be anybody. I don’t care if they are ruthless generals or evil doctors, as a hitman I will just as happily take out a cheating wife if I’m paid for it.

Io Interactive feel that hit you make has to be justified in the games plot and most targets are shown to be some deserving dictator or equivalent. In some 20 levels, there is only one female target, where’s the variety? Maybe I should just sit back and try to enjoy the story, but if I am to buy in to the whole hitman theme I want to be killing more than just the bad guys, I want to kill nice guys and pretty ladies too. I think a plot which examines an assassins increasing ruthlessness as he kills for cash from a variety of clients would be much more powerful if done well then a cliched hero running around the earth to save the world scenario we see all the time. Don’t even get me started on 47’s own background – admittedly this is examined in the first game so I won’t moan about it here.

Graphics

For 2002 on the PS2, the graphics are superb. Some levels are huge – well not massive compared to nowadays but plenty big enough for the task at hand and usually with enough stuff to prevent large useless areas going to waste. The textures are great and everything is glitch free – there are lots of useable items lying around and they stand out enough to alert the player, preventing any Tomb Raider III esque endless rambling.

You view 47 in 3rd person, with the option to switch to first person, a nice touch but with little use. The characters are the best thing about the graphics, they move nicely and look good - 47’s tie even blows in the wind as he runs. The 3rd person view is very functional, you have a wide range of vision and can pan the camera with ease, making navigation simple –highly important in a game where you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings. The game includes a highly stylised map which is easy to read and fairly effective, although on more complex maps they don’t offer much help other than cheapening the gameplay by checking for guards with the map which you couldn’t possible see without exposing yourself in game.

Sound

I am a big fan of Jesper Kyd, who has composed for the Hit man series throughout. He creates dark atmospheric music that fits perfectly with stealth gameplay, and in Silent Assassin wrote an orchestral score which as a classical music fan I can’t fault. It slots in so well with the game you don’t notice it half the time, until it suddenly crescendos into a full orchestral climax. The title screen theme is excellent, and really sets the mood for the game itself.

The voice acting unfortunately does not live up to the high bar set by the soundtrack. There is not a great deal of dialogue, but enough for me to not like the voice of 47. The actor (David Bateson) portraying him seems to be trying too hard to sound like an all conquering badass and doesn’t quite pull it off in my opinion. His dialogue grates which is a shame as perhaps I would have enjoyed the storyline more if the acting wasn’t bugging me. Diana, the upper class Agency controller, is much better and sounds like the kind of lady that would go about assigning hit men to targets with brutal efficiency

Gameplay

Most missions follow a similar format – work your way past a few guards, locate the target, kill the target by any means possible and then get out alive. The easiest way to do this is run in guns blazing and shoot everybody you see, eventually one of them will be the target and hey presto the level is done. 47 has far too much health and can withstand plenty of bullets before dying making the ‘shoot your way through’ option a viable but unrewarding one – the real skill lies in killing unnoticed. The game ranks players according to their level of stealthiness and brutality throughout the level. A rank of mass murderer, the lowest possible, indicated that you have killed lots of guards, made a lot of noise, and even killed civilians in your path to the target. Silent Assassin is the opposite and can only be obtained by leaving no collateral whatsoever – no one can bite the bullet apart from those with a price on their head and even their body has to be hidden so that once you leave nobody can know you were ever there.

Sneaking around is simple enough if you have the patience for it. In the first level, 47 has to gain entrance to a heavily guarded mansion. I don’t want to just shoot my way in, so a bit of recon and thought is needed. Whilst seemingly impossible to do unnoticed, wandering around and just observing what is going on reveals a multitude of ways to obtain entry. I can pose as a postman and come bearing gifts for my target, or wait for a guard to take a whizz and steal his outfit whilst he’s in the act. There is plenty of variety and the developers do a good job of making these methods obvious and intuitive for gamers to spot the opportunity. It is all a lot of fun and I could sit and praise it for while but instead I want to concentrate on what I don’t like.

The Hit man games use a so called ‘suspicion meter’, a bar which remains empty when 47 stands around innocuous but fills when he attracts too much negative attention from guards or soldiers. Allow the bar to go red and fill completely and they will open fire, not the ideal result. This is all well and good, but the sensitivity is infuriating. I don’t know if it is bug related or simply and effort to increase the difficulty but Guards want to open fire on 47 at the drop of a hat. Simply walking around and getting too close to someone is enough to set the alarm, and other then being in close proximity to a guard 47 has done nothing suspicious.

There are two levels in that are extremely disappointing, and those are the two wooded levels set in Japan. There are no targets here, the sole aim is to make your way across the map in the middle of a snowstorm. The idea is that 47 is trying to gain access to an out of the way castle and this is the only route, which is fair enough, but the levels are just frustrating and boring. Who wants to walk through a snowstorm when they could be posing as a waiter with a poisoned glass of champagne at a cocktail party? They are no more than filler and offer no replay value whatsoever, only a few hours of frustrating tedium as 47 wanders aimlessly to the other end of the map.

Longevity and Conclusion

There are 20 levels here, of varying but usually quite high quality. Some you will want to play again and again to explore the various methods available to you but some offer little choice and once done with will not tempt you back. Even though I have explored every possibility there are some levels that are still such a joy to play as they are so much fun and I am not bored of them after many playthroughs. The ranking system offers replay value as gaining Silent Assassin in the levels has its rewards. Ironically these rewards are all weapons, which you won’t be using to gain Silent Assassin ranks anyway, but it’s nice to have them for completeness.

This is a polished and classy release which remains a good game years after its first hit the stores but does have flaws. The later levels are not as fun as the first few which is disappointing for me, but this may just be a matter of personal taste. The suspicion meter is useful but needs to be ironed out as is prone to going into overdrive with little cause. The story line is typical cheesy Hollywood and takes 47 to places that are no fun to play in. Nonetheless the game gets an 8 for being so much fun to play.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (EU, 10/04/02)

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