Holiday Gift Guide 2018: ‘HITMAN 2’ (PS4) – Electric Strangle-oo

Like Christmas morning, Hitman 2 is laden with gifts. Deadly, deadly gifts.

The sprawling, highly-cinematic levels of Hitman 2 will envelop you and devour your time. As the assassination simulator takes you through it’s impeccably-detailed setups, you’ll experience the delicious satisfaction of observing, stalking, and choosing exactly the right method of disappearing your targets. Before you know it, it’s 3 AM and you’ve just gotten started.

I haven’t played a Hitman game since 2006’s Hitman: Blood Money, but in spite of that, I was able to drop back in and guide the elegant and highly-skilled assassin Agent 47 through a campaign of murder and intrigue with ease. The controls feel natural and the refined mechanics over previous iterations, leaving just enough familiarity to feel comfortable right off the bat, allow for an impressive amount of improvisation, which is Hitman 2’s bread and butter.

HITMAN 2’s mechanics feel natural and provide you with powerful tools to accomplish your missions.

I could recant the story of this game, but let’s be honest, it’s both unnecessarily convoluted and not that important, though longtime fans will find a lot to like. All you need to know is that you’re a perfect, emotionless, impossibly-skilled assassin named Agent 47. Your business is murder, and business is booming. At the beginning of each stage – a cruise ship, an auto racing event, a packed city block, a jungle environment, among others – you’ll be given a target (or multiple targets) to dispatch. The game might give you some loose parameters or side goals, but most of the time you’ll be set free to run amok and to go about your grisly business any way you like.

Will you move silently through the crowd, hiding in closets and dark corners? Will you hide in plain sight, wearing a disguise pilfered from a subdued passer-by? Or, and I would probably not recommend this since it’s always the hardest option, will you go in guns blazing and take out everyone you see? The choice is yours, and Hitman 2’s greatest achievement is its ability to adapt to the play style with which you’re most comfortable (other than the guns blazing thing – seriously, don’t do that). There’s a nearly infinite number of strategies on offer, and you’re encouraged to try them all.

Presentation is fairly minimal, and Hitman 2 wants you to observe your environment – it’s sounds, it’s little details, the striking variety and unpredictability of it’s non-player characters – instead of looking at health bars and onscreen maps as much as possible. Menus are cleanly and intuitively designed and the ‘save anywhere’ feature lets you go back to any point you like during a mission if things go badly, or if you just want to try out a new way to take down your target. I find that Hitman holds your hand exactly enough to give you a good grounding on the mechanics of the game, but you never feel like you’re forced, or even gently nudged, onto a path that the game wants you to be on.

Few games boast the kind of replay value that Hitman 2 does. Once you’ve completed the objectives in a level, you can still go back and play them again and again in completely different ways. Maybe you’ll try to do a non-lethal run, or try not to use any guns – the world is yours, and you’re more than welcome to snap its neck. I find it fascinating how deep each level is, boasting multiple subplots and side stories that are revealed just by hanging around and listening to conversations around the environment. For example, in the auto racing stage, you’ll hear random partygoers talking about how the race’s mascot was beaten up and had his costume stolen, which will allow you to find the attacker, don the pink flamingo costume, and undertake a series of tasks that are wholly unnecessary to the main objective, but add depth to the story overall.

Sometimes, you just have to strangle the flamingo.

The promise of new levels via DLC greatly enhances the replay value as well. Included in the Legacy package are remastered versions of the six levels from the 2016 game, which is a treat for both long-time fans and for newcomers to the franchise, and the Legacy Pack is free if you already have the prior version. There’s also the Elusive Target series of DLC levels, the first of which is called “The Undying” and stars Sean Bean, of “always dying in the films/tv shows he’s in” fame. You can tell that Hitman 2 is a game that aches to be played the way you want to play it, because everything on offer in the game – every level and game mode – is unlocked from the start, so you can play the levels in any order you wish.

If there’s someone on your holiday gift list that always seems to be sneaking around with piano wire, or maybe you just want to treat yourself to some stealth mayhem, it’s hard to find a more complete and satisfying package than Hitman 2, especially when bundled with the Legacy Pack. The combination of an engrossing story, solid gameplay, and unparalleled freedom makes it an easy sell.

Hitman 2 is available now from WARNER BROS. INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT and IO INTERACTIVE for the PS4, PC (Steam) and XBOX One. We reviewed the PS4 version.

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