Republished on Wednesday 1st September 2021: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of September's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Poor Sierra Knox. She lived her life as a successful racing car driver, and along with her father was a powerful figure within Kronstadt Industries, a tech firm making waves in the robotics field. She had it all: fame, money, power, and a name that made her sound a bit like a baddie from a Bond film. It's everything a girl could ask for. And then out of nowhere an assassin dressed like a pink flamingo kicked her down an open trap door to her death. The ignominy of it all. Kicked down a trap door by a pink flamingo. He got away with it, too. "An accident," they called it. Nobody ever suspects the pink flamingo.
In a game that takes itself seriously, an amnesiac killer hunting down members of a cabal secretly pulling the strings on world politics from behind the scenes would be even more eye-roll inducing than the last season of Prison Break. Rather than settling for being a po-faced techno thriller, Hitman 2 – mercifully – knows exactly how ludicrous it is, embraces the absurdity, and at times, goes full tilt into black comedy territory. Murder has rarely been this amusing.
Each of the half a dozen missions starts out pretty much the same way. You play as Agent 47 – a remorseless contract killer who has no memory of his childhood – and you're given a job to do by your quintessentially English handler, Diana. She'll give you the low down on a target or two that somebody is willing to pay good money to have bumped off, and then it's up to you to figure out the best way to do it.
The contracts all take place in separate, fairly sizeable sandboxes. You'll visit dense jungle, overpopulated city streets, quiet suburbs, and lavish parties, each offering their own unique risks and opportunities. The assassinations are meticulously crafted puzzles and it's your job to solve them using stealth and occasionally action. Underhanded tactics are the order of the day here, and making a murder look like a tragic – albeit hilarious – accident is thoroughly rewarding every time. The sneakier you are the better since a) you'll get a better score once you finish the level if you're neither seen nor heard, and b) the third-person shooting mechanics are as rough as a badger's arse.
As you wander around at the start of a mission you'll occasionally pick up intel, or overhear a conversation which might contain some juicy information you can use to your advantage. Tapping the touchpad while listening to one of these conversations allows you to track the hint, and seeing it through to completion will often put you in the perfect position for murder. These routes through the levels are generally entertaining, and often offer you an opportunity to pull off some of the more elaborate and amusing assassinations, but you can turn them off if you find it makes the game a little too easy.
It took us around an hour to beat most missions, but that time doesn't include reloads that were required when everything went a little pear-shaped. Fortunately, the auto-save system is fairly forgiving on the standard difficulty, and so if some big-nosed neighbour walks into the room while you're half way through drowning your target in the toilet, you can go back to an earlier part in the level without having to do whole thing again. This is a Godsend as there's an awful lot of trial and error involved in working out where you can go and what you can do without drawing unwanted attention to yourself or your dastardly deeds.
Once your targets have bought the farm and Agent 47 has made his escape, you'll be given a rating based on how efficient your murdering was. Killing anyone other than the targets hurts your score, along with being seen, or taking a long time, while making the assassinations look like an accident, wearing disguises, and leaving no trace that you were ever there will net you a better one. The better score you get the more you'll level up, and this in turn unlocks items you can now use either when replaying the mission or in future ones. Unlocking the briefcase, for example, allows you to conceal a weapon inside and carry it into areas where you get frisked by security, meaning that you can approach missions you've already finished using tactics that weren't available to you the first time around.
If you played 2016's Hitman reboot then this will all sound incredibly familiar. And it is. Hitman 2 takes the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach to sequels, and so you shouldn't go into this expecting any revolutionary new mechanics or features. There's an online multiplayer mode, which adds a competitive streak to the murder, and in a nice touch, if you paid for Hitman previously, you can download all of the missions from that game to be played here in remastered form.
Each mission in Hitman 2 is a treasure trove of wonderful emergent gameplay, excellent satirical writing, and lashings of delicious, jet-black humour. The targets you'll hunt are almost universally rotters which thankfully takes care of any lingering moral quandaries you may have about their imminent demise. It's better that way. We really don't want to feel bad about tinkering with an old man's oxygen tank so it blows up and kills him when he sparks up a cigarette, do we?