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Review: ‘Hitman 2’ polishes a compelling take on the stealth genre

Genre: Stealth
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Rating: M

By Gieson Cacho | The Mercury News (TNS)

IO Interactive took a big risk when the developer turned its “Hitman” sequel into an episodic game. The entry itself was essentially a reboot, changing the direction of the series. Instead of being a linear, action-oriented project, the 2016 title made the game more like a point-and-click adventure.

It took advantage of more powerful hardware to create expansive levels, with hundreds of characters milling around, following scripted scenarios. The maps are stealth playgrounds, where players look for paths to eliminate their mark. The move opened up a new avenue of play, one where players eschew the use of guns, and instead rely on guile and the environment to kill their target. IO Interactive’s gamble paid off well enough that a sequel was green lighted.

“Hitman 2” is an extension of the reboot, one that polishes the gameplay and fixes its predecessors’ flaws. The main character, Agent 47, continues his hunt for the Shadow Client after he inadvertently took down people connected with an Illuminati-type group called Providence. The game offers a recap of the original, but those with the previous title can download a Legacy Pack for free. It includes the maps from the previous game and lets newcomers experience the whole story.

For the uninitiated, the Legacy Pack offers a good starting point for the rebooted series, and because the old content carries over the improvements of the sequel, it’s a better experience. Players can learn the language and tools of “Hitman 2,” and in the process, the goal of the stealth gameplay comes into sharper focus.

Like the original, this sequel lets players use guns and rifles to eliminate the mark, but in doing so, they’ll miss half the experience. As Agent 47, players are supposed to immerse themselves in the scene. They can follow Mission Stories from the menu or explore the world and uncover new leads on their own.

The non-firearm methods test players’ sneaking abilities as they often have to figure out how to isolate a target, knock them out and steal their clothes to infiltrate a facility. This often means luring a mark to an isolated site by tossing a coin, or poisoning their food to send the target to the bathroom alone.

Changing outfits in “Hitman 2” is almost like getting a keycard. It offers access to new areas, but at the same time, players must watch out for different characters who can spot Agent 47 as a fake. As with other stealth games, players have to worry about upkeep and not leaving clues of their presence. They have to hide bodies, find ways to distract enemies in order to sneak by them and shoot out surveillance cameras.

The more difficult missions require players to plan out a strategy to isolate a target or find a route inside a base. They may have to ditch their weapons because they’ll be frisked before entering a house or they may need to find poison so they can send a key figure to the bathroom, where they can knock them out.

This often requires a lot of saving and reloading as players figure out the assassination intricacies. That’s one of the flaws that remains in “Hitman 2.” It’s easy to understand and master the mechanics, but at the same time, it can be punishing if Agent 47 is discovered.

The other disappointing element is that the cut scenes introducing each level and explaining the aftermath of missions are essentially painted stills. Unlike the previous title, “Hitman 2” offers little in computer graphics scenes. That hurts the storytelling, which is more compelling this time around as it delves into the origin of Agent 47 and his relation to the Shadow Client and Providence.

To its benefit, “Hitman 2” does bring back the live content that the team introduced in the original. Elusive Targets are making a return and they give players incentive to replay the game. The other benefit from playing levels multiple times is that players can finish new Mission Stories, and they can gain new tools and starting positions with each play-through.

Two new modes — Sniper Assassins and Ghost Mode — are designed to give “Hitman 2” more of a multiplayer flair. Sniper Assassins is a cooperative mode, in which players work together to take down a target, while Ghost Mode is competitive scenario, where two people go head-to-head to see who can rack up the most kills.

Both should extend “Hitman 2’s” lifespan, but it’s the core single-player experience that’s special. It makes the franchise standout from a crowded field.

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