My parents used to warn me that I would go blind if I kept playing with myself; I somehow don’t think that videogames is what they had in mind. And yet the day has arrived that I must wear glasses when I play videogames, the alternative being all my future reviews peppered with phrases like “The graphics sure are blurry,” and “Focus!” Witty, yes. Productive, no. I’m also going bald, probably due to excessive radiation levels from the monitor. Not as bald as Mr. 47, the protagonist in Hitman 2, the topic of this week’s game review, but on the downside I rarely get the opportunity to strangle people with fiber wire at my job. Perhaps baldness has its privileges, or maybe I just selected the wrong vocation. But my myopia, follicular dysfunction, and employment qualms are none of your concern, right? You’re here to read about Hitman 2.
That’s been absolutely lodged in my skull ever since the Batman: Vengeance review. If it doesn’t vacate soon, I’m planning to resort to a plunge-router lobotomy.
I think in order to effectively review Hitman 2, you’re going to have to know what I thought of Hitman the 1st (which I reviewed for GO about 3 years ago). In many ways, Hitman colored what I expected to find in the sequel, and made me interpret what I ultimately found perhaps differently from someone coming into the series cold. So, what did I think of Hitman? I liked it. I liked it a lot. But it had certain elements, was at turns too easy and ridiculously hard, that kept it from true greatness. The missions were very tightly scripted, so tightly in fact that most of the time any slight deviation from the “planned” solution meant almost certain death and failure. It made for a solid plot, and excellent cutscenes, but also meant that most of the time I would fail a mission on the first run through. I came to view the first try as almost recon – what is the guard’s schedule and who sneaks off where to take a whizz? Couple that with the lack of in-mission saves and long missions with multiple objectives, and I had to go through some of them dozens of times before solving it the way it was “supposed” to be solved. On the other side of the coin was the fact that you could kill a guard, slip on their clothes, and despite the fact that you’re a six-foot tall, pasty-skinned, bar-coded, bald-headed freak wearing a suit covered in blood or full of bullet holes, and the guy you killed was Asian, the other guards didn’t give you a second glance. So, both too easy and too hard – that’s what I thought of Hitman.
Hitman 2 begins a couple of months after the end of the first one, and you’ve traded your garrote for a garden weasel. You kill weeds instead of people. Spending your days planting daisies instead of making other people push them up. Insert favorite killer turned gardener observation here. You tend the gardens at a church in Italy where, with prayer, meditation, and huge donations to the church coffers, the local priest has befriended you. It’s a good life – the priest hears your confessions of your murdering days gone past, while he no doubt regales you with stories from the wonderful world of alter boy molestation – but your idyllic little life is soon shattered. A local Mafia Don knows of your past. He kidnaps the priest and demands $500,000 for his return. Has this Don learned anything from the dozens of movies in which a reluctant hitman retires, only to be dragged out of retirement when a friend or family member is threatened, and ultimately ends up killing everybody? Apparently not. Dust off the old handguns – school is in session.
I travel to the Don’s estate where a cutscene shows me looking the place over. I’m warned that if the Don sees me coming he’ll kill the priest. I better be sneaky! Obesrve: a delivery guy carrying groceries in through a side door, and another delivery guy walking up the road with flowers in hand. Duh! Kill the delivery guy, take his clothes and flowers, and waltz right in. This plan has worked dozens of times, I chortle to myself as I slip on the deliveryman’s jacket (which magically fits as if it has been tailored for me) and pick up the flowers from next to his lifeless body. Only it doesn’t. Up close the guards become suspicious. I’m too tall/bald/white/covered in blood/armed to be the regular flower guy, or maybe I’m just behaving suspiciously. There’s a suspicion meter in the corner of the screen, and when that baby peaks, the lead starts flying. Old habits die hard, but these guys don’t, and shortly bodies surround me, the estate resembling Flander’s Field. Guards from all over the place have come running at the gunshots, only to be mowed down with their compatriots. The Don knows I’m coming – the game tells me so – and I’m awaiting whatever crying-over-the-dead-priest, mission-failed graphic they have prepared for me. Except that it doesn’t come. I complete the mission successfully, though the game ranks me as a “mass murderer.” Going through it again, I chloroform the flower delivery guy instead of killing him, secreting the gun onto the estate amongst the groceries (the guards at the gate search the flower delivery guy), avoiding guards when I can, and killing only the Don himself. I’m ranked this time as a “silent assassin,” but otherwise the outcome is the same.
The entire gameplay has been loosened a little – OK, a lot – from Hitman. I could be sneaky, watching and waiting, picking off the guards unwise enough to leave the security of the pack, as I stealthily work to my objective. Or I could kick in the front door, guns blazing, bulldozing the straight line between A and B. For most missions, Hitman 2 doesn’t much care which route I take. If you take the guns blazing approach, treating Hitman 2 as a 1st person shooter, you can whip through the twenty missions in less time than it takes to cook a turkey (Happy Thanksgiving). You’ll find that the guards are dumb as bags of dirt, either running straight at you or standing still and shooting at you. They do not have a good 1st person shooter AI, and if that’s the way you play it then you’re going to be disappointed. Their AI is definitely all set up to catch the sneaking killer, and at that they’re excellent. If you play the missions over and over, even after solving them, trying to be as sneaky as possible or just looking for different sneaky ways to solve each mission (some missions have 3 or 4 drastically different solutions), then you’re going to find it no less enthralling, if somewhat more forgiving, than the first one. The greatest downside to the level of freedom that Hitman 2 offers is that the cutscenes are no longer as relevant (and far less frequent), the designers of the game unsure what route you would take to solve any given mission. And the plot, which has you again working for the “agency” looking for nukes while they help you locate your priest, often feels utterly indistinguishable from many other pot-boiler spy thrillers.
They have fortunately added the ability to save your game in-mission, the number of saves dependent upon the level of difficulty you choose to play, but your pre-mission intelligence information is, as in Hitman 1, woefully inadequate, and for many missions I again end up treating the first run through as recon. The Don’s house, by way of example: I don’t even know if it has a basement until I’m actually standing in it. You’d think they could let me know a little thing like that ahead of time. Unlike its predecessor, Hitman 2 allows you to keep all the weapons you find for use in later missions, and believe me, after just a few missions you have a pretty extensive arsenal at your disposal. And one other note, as long as I’m here: Hitman 2 (like its predecessor) has no multiplayer component whatsoever.
The graphics are very good, with exotic locals and architecture well drawn. I like the skeletal modeling system that the game uses to make bodies fall and drag in a realistic manner, but every so often it goes a little wonky. I once shot a guy at close range with a shotgun, and he flew maybe 20 feet, and then hit the ground and slid another 30 into a wall. Had the wall not been there, lord only knows how far he would have slid – he didn’t look like he was slowing down. Ironically, he wasn’t dead, and I had to run way across the yard to finish him off. There is also the occasional problem of body parts coming through walls and especially doors, like if a gunman is hiding in the next room right by the doorway, or if you kill a guy in the doorway and the door closes on him. I’m by and large happy with the sounds – weapons, music, and especially voice acting – all good stuff.
So in a peculiar kind of way Hitman 2 is a game that can either be very good or suck abysmally, depending on how you chose to play it. If you’re like me, the kind of person who maps out every square centimeter of every dungeon, even when it is unnecessary to finish the game, just to squeeze out the last molecules of gameplay, then you are going to find Hitman 2 about as good as the first one, if a little generic plotwise. However, if you’re one of those people who finishes games just to finish them, to collect notches on your joystick or whatever, then you’re going to find Hitman sadly lacking as an engrossing or challenging game.