Review by EDDY555

Reviewed: 06/01/04

Introducing Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, or "How Bald Became Cool"...

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is the sequel to a surprisingly average Hitman: Codename 47, released for the PC yonks ago. What works in the developer's favour here, however, is the moderate amount of people who played the original can see how vast the effort has been to address the glaring flaws the series might have still suffered to this day had the guys and gals behind the Hitman games got EA Syndrome and become so lazy they only ever updated graphics with their latest instalment, which EA rightly comes under fire for due to a certain collection of popular sports titles that insult the punter's intelligence and, more importantly, their wallets, on a yearly basis.

Um, enough of that.

Let's shift the focus entirely toward Hitman 2. It's a great game. It mixes the stealthy action of Splinter Cell and the action-packed stealth of Metal Gear Solid 2 and then pops a Grand Theft Auto-style freedom engine in on top that allows you to complete the mission objectives pretty much however you like. This is a supremely slick and immaculate package that gets the best of not two, but three worlds, and emerges one of the finest games on the console.

The first thing that sticks out when you load up the disc are the graphics. The opening movie is a tasty slice of what's to come, with smooth backgrounds, dark colours and gritty facial detail on the characters, as a few men observe surveillance footage of an enigma known only as "47" slaughtering a group of people unlucky enough to find themselves on somebody's list. The men wonder if 47 ever existed, or if he was just a legend. If he ever DID exist, what is he up to now? Is he dead or alive? 47 was never paid to question who these people really were or if they had people that cared about them, wives, children. He was a cold blooded killer then. He was just paid to do his job...

Shift to the present day. 47 is living on the island of Sicily, having taken early retirement as a gardener. He feels that the local priest and his best friend, Father Padre Vittorio, can help him seek redemption and forgiveness from God for all the lives he's taken in the past. Just as 47 is attending Confession in the church, Vittorio is kidnapped by a Mafia boss who informs 47 that there's now a $500,000 ransom demand for his friend. 47 has donated most of his money to good causes and there's no way he can afford half a million, so he has no choice but to don the black suit and gloves one last time.

The first real level sees 47, armed with little more than a small gun, a garroting device, a pair of binoculars and enough anaesthetic for a few hard doses via a syringe, infiltrating the Mafia mansion with the intentions of murdering the boss and freeing Vittorio from an underground jail, as he is reportedly being held prisoner there.

Seeing as 47 can steal any outfit a fellow male wears in Hitman 2, straight away you have several options. You can eliminate the postman while he's smoking a cigarette and take his place, finish off the delivery boy, hide your guns inside his groceries and innocently walk into the mansion's kitchen, wait for a Mafia heavy to leave the mansion grounds to answer nature's call and strangle the poor guy in the middle of his leak, subsequently passing yourself off for a bodyguard, or then there's the Rambo method: simply storm the mansion, shoot everything that moves and leave with the Don's blood on your shirt. That's the first part of the first mission, and there are about 20 sprawling missions, so with four main ways to go initially imagine how limitless your options can be for the entire game! There are often multiple ways to carry out each mission's hit(s) as well; whether it involves a spiked glass of champagne, a poisonous bowl of soup, a pair of car bombs, a surgeon's scalpel, a sniper rifle, a golf club or a pizza, when your target ceases to produce a heartbeat the sadistic smile that will inevitably spread across your face reflects the satisfaction of pulling off the job cleanly, or perhaps not so cleanly. What a feeling.

The enemy AI is top-notch. Baddies have a realistic field of vision and even when 47 is disguised as someone less suspicious than his usual self, seeing his face or his body form close up (47 is tall and well-built, Caucasian with very pale skin and has no hair, which may not fit with the current level very well - in a mission involving Japanese guards it's hard for 47 to pass for an Asian in broad daylight because his skin colour is out of place) still creates the possibility of the alarm being raised. Guards can judge any odd behaviour, such as running instead of walking or carrying a revolver instead of a sub-machine gun like everyone else, as hostile and attack. Also, if an enemy finds the corpse of a comrade clad in his boxer shorts and nothing more, he'll assume that he was killed for his clothes and no matter if he was a ninja, soldier or policeman, security will be tightened and guards will be on the lookout for anyone wearing an attire that could have been stolen from the dead man. It's the clever little touches like this that make Hitman 2 rule.

Hitman 2 wouldn't be half as fun without the meaty arsenal that 47 can access from his garden shed between missions - whenever 47 takes a new weapon out of a level and brings it back home it is immediately stored for future use. There's something for everyone here. For the Arnold Schwarzenegger types, try a sawn-off shotgun, M4 assault rifle and AK-47, while those who prefer to use small arms have magnums, standard .45 service pistols and 47's trademark guns, the beautiful silver Hardballers, to play with. For those of you with sneaky yet deadly preferences, the silenced 9mm, long-distance crossbow and fibre wire (a la Red Grant in Bond flick From Russia With Love!) will all be right up your street, while for those that want to be as silent, professional and harmless as possible, there's nothing better than sleep injections for any guards, while the only "permitted" kill - the target - should have a traditional army combat knife reserved exclusively for their throat...

Accompanying 47's assignments is a wonderfully eerie score, the separate tracks changing to fit the mood or setting of the missions. When an enemy gets unsure of 47's identity the music pumps up and becomes more frantic, representing 47's nerves of the moment. As the enemy shrugs it off and continues his patrol, the head stops throbbing and the sweat stops gushing as the music dies down and 47 is calm once again.

If you're in an area with a Far Eastern theme, the tunes and ambiance correspond with this, while in snowy Russia - with the weather effects stunning, by the way - music is more spooky and you can hear the trudges of 47's boots as he walks down fluffy main roads. Brilliant stuff. However, the real standout piece is the main theme, that can be heard at the title menu in all its glory. It's wonderfully haunting and opera-like with orchestral accompaniment, symbolic of Hitman 2's many European locales and 47's new start there, and you WILL be humming it as you head up to bed after somehow managing to switch the game off in the early hours of the morning.

Hitman 2 is brilliantly acted as well, with the various accents from around the globe effortlessly done, 47's contact, Diana, providing sultry, mysterious tones that are all we have to go by seeing as we never see her in person, and 47 himself has the perfect voice - 47 is an American but since he has moved to Europe he has picked up a very slight yet noticeable accent from the continent, and you certainly gather that from the delivery of 47's lines. The cast are flawless and really add to the quality of Hitman 2, as if it weren't high enough already. A true highlight.

Criticisms leveled at Hitman 2 include its lack of pick-up-and-play simplicity and "zero" replay value, which seem pretty absurd to me. Although the game is impossible at first, with you helplessly watching 47 get rumbled in the first 5 minutes repeatedly, once you've learnt the generous controls on the suited PS2 controller, the game is a solid challenge throughout - never getting too frustrating - and the free roaming that has been allowed for 47, along with the various ways he can complete the missions and the three difficulty levels, should keep anyone who likes the game from hanging up the hitman gear for quite some time.

The main sticking point for me was the obsession with getting the top rank for each and every mission. See, at the end of a level 47 is ranked on how he handled proceedings; how quiet he was and how aggressive he was. Vicious players who like to decorate walls in brains often receive ratings like "Mass Murderer", "Psychopath" and "Postal", which is cool if you like a bit of gore, but for more subtle players the elusive "Silent Assassin" rating can be earned by creating the illusion that 47 was never there. Nobody except the ultimate target dies, the guards are never alerted to 47's presence and the mission generally goes without a hitch. There are secret rewards for Silent Assassins only, so here's a hint: if you want some of the classiest weaponry in the game try to become one. Getting a Silent Assassin rating after what can seem like hours of hard work makes you hugely proud and not only is it just well worth it in the end, a lot of Hitman 2 players find themselves enjoying the sneak-'em-up approach much more than mindlessly blowing heads off shoulders left and right, even if they don't expect to - I should know. Then again, each to their own!

To conclude, I cannot recommend Hitman 2: Silent Assassin enough. I found the stealth aspects less irritating (in fact they didn't irritate me one bit) than in Splinter Cell, the firefights just as exciting and strategic as MGS2's and more visceral, which I like, and the neat storytelling proves you don't have to drift into 20-minute cutscenes to be effective and interesting in that department. Majestic graphics and sound are like the cherry on top of a lovely cake. Hitman 2 is an absolute must for anyone who at least thinks the prospect of stepping into the shoes of a contract killer for a couple of hours at a time might intrigue them. Don't let the recent release of Hitman: Contracts put you off this as it is the older game, it is actually the better game, and seeing as Hitman 2 has a budget re-release in PAL and NTSC territories I can't see any excuse for passing it over right now. Bargain price, tremendous game.

Buy it.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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