Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 11/17/02 | Updated: 11/17/02

Cool as ninjas are, they can't stand up to a .45

I wanted to like Hitman 2 even before I bought it. With my lack of human empathy, a game where unsympathetic contract killing is part of your job description would be right up my alley. For the most part, it is. As former hitman going only by the moniker of agent 47, you’ve settled down in a quiet monastery in Sicily to put your past behind you. Your path to redemption is somewhat spoiled however, as the local mob kidnaps the preacher and demands a large ransom. 47 goes out of retirement, grabs his .45s, and hits the road: so much for retirement.

What makes Hitman 2 different from the other legions of third-person shooters out there lies within the meshing of stealth, action, and strategy that most games fail to get right. Each level in Hitman 2 is a separate contract killing, meaning that every mission has some person that needs to be executed. The catch is that these people aren’t end-level bosses: they’re average Joes protected by an armada of suspicious bodyguards. Ideally, you want to eliminate the mark without anybody else knowing of his tragic end.

To its credit, Hitman 2 boasts some of the most ingeniously designed levels and scenarios I’ve run across in a game. In order to track a Japanese arms dealer, you need to kill his son and plant a bug on his corpse: when they bring the late Hayamoto Jr. back to his dad, the whereabouts of his hideout is revealed. What’s even more interesting is that you can take out Hayamoto Jr. by sabotaging his dinner with some highly poisonous puffer fish. Most missions give three or more ways to accomplish the hit and remain undetected.

One staple of Hitman 2 is the disguise: by killing someone, you have the ability to steal his clothes. Even though the effectiveness of a middle-eastern get-up (complete with turban) might seem wasted on a large bald white guy, you have that option nonetheless. Knowing what disguises will get you where is paramount to many of the levels, and certain guards are inherently more suspicious of you if you look like you’re not supposed to belong. By the way: steal the tank top and pants of a Yakuza bodyguard, and you’re a dead ringer for the beloved cleaning fluid icon, Mr. Clean.

With all of these things going for it, Hitman 2 turns out to be a most excellent game most of the time: you have access to all sorts of weapons and playing styles can be extremely diverse. I’ve beaten levels where I’ve taken out only the mark with a silenced 9mm, and conversely I’ve played through the same level like I was Jack Nicholson in The Shining: I chopped down anyone that came near me with a fire axe. Send foes flying with multiple .45 shots to the chest, or go the humanitarian route with some chloroform.

It’s good that some playing styles and methods simply don’t work: firing a sawn-off shotgun indoors will alert anyone around to hear it, running will attract unwanted attention, and disguising oneself as a pizza delivery boy won’t let one sneak into high security areas. The problem is that the reason why your style fails is almost never this sensible. You can walk past a mafia henchmen wearing the same suit, shades, and hold the same weapon: he may respond by yelling at you, shooting you, and causing every person in the level to come running out the front door and ****ing up any trace of stealth you might have had.

There are several horror stories about the AI like this: I once got shot to death for lamely picking up a kitchen knife that was lying around—not even swinging it around like a maniac. The problem isn’t even that alone: I was disguised as a waiter, and I was in the kitchen. If that doesn’t give me an excuse to hold a kitchen knife in a non-threatening manner, I don’t know what does. Kitchen mishaps aside, the guards on any difficulty mode besides normal are comically omniscient—you might as well not wear a disguise at all. Japanese guards can spot you as “a gaijin” even in the middle of a blizzard when you’re wearing full body armor and hiding in the back of a truck. This should not happen. Normal mode is mostly free from these extreme cases, barring a few unwanted exceptions, but it’s somewhat disconcerting that any other difficulty level becomes virtually impossible to execute with stealth because of these mind-reading guards.

This doesn’t take anything away from Hitman 2’s atmosphere though: its environments may be relatively low in polygon-count, but they capture exotic locales all over the globe quite well in feeling. Agent 47 is motion captured beautifully and moves both casually and methodically; he’s completely free of any jerky motion. Hitman 2’s world and characters are very lifelike and believable.

Hitman 2 also features the work of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, whose work provides a perfect score for the serious and callous setting. Though oft repeated, the relatively few themes are good enough to shoulder this burden. Each gun has a meaty sound, every guard speaks in their respective languages, and the voice acting is actually quite good—especially 47’s slight accent and solemn delivery of lines.

Hitman 2 becomes an excellent game after a while. The problem comes in that you really need to know how to minimize your chances of the AI going absolutely ape-**** on you. Once you get past the almost maddening periods of trial and error, you’ll find one of the deepest third-person shooters out there with an excellent emphasis on using intuition to defeat your hapless target. Every time I get pissed off that some commie bastard sees through my identical disguise and actions, I can think of several times I’ve snuck past everyone in the level to kill the target with a scalpel or blasted some dude in his Jacuzzi.

And really, the game does way more good than bad, even though when the bad sneaks in, it’s a game-ruining, counter-intuitive sort of bad. I guess the bottom line is that I can’t stay mad at it: when some useless jerk tells me to freeze, I always get a kick out of launching their body about a hundred feet away from where they were with my .45s. Hitman 2 treads the line between stealth and action quite well in several brilliant missions, even if the game has the occasional tendency to decide which kind of game it’s going to be without your approval.

7.5 / 10
Ultimately original and fun, even if frustrating from time to time.

*Does the lack of gun licensing bother anyone as much as it does me?

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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