Editor's note: This review was originally conducted in a podcast format, available as a video above or right here as an audio file. A summary of the review follows.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who already know the glee of 2016's Hitman reboot, and those who have yet to experience IO Interactive's wildly entertaining world of absurdist assassination. Fortunately, Hitman 2 is easy to recommend to both groups, owing to a big list of necessary improvements to the formula, a smart integration with the previous game, and another big pack of great new maps. There's really never been a better time to get into this unique, quirky franchise.
The core of Hitman 2 is exactly the same as in the first game: you roam around massive clockwork levels swarming with hundreds of characters, all interacting with each other and carrying out their own routines, as you plan dozens of ridiculous ways to bump off your targets (quietly or not). But Hitman 2 is chock-full of incremental changes and additions that make it a much better playing game on the whole. Some intelligent interface tweaks help clarify abstract information like compromised disguises, off-limits areas, and scripted murder opportunities and make them much easier to parse. New gameplay features, like tall foliage that lets you hide in plain sight and a briefcase you can use to smuggle conspicuously illegal items around, give you more options to devise creative strategies. And in what must be one of the most generous decisions made by a developer in recent history, owners of the first game can import all of its content into the new package for free and replay it with all the new features--and newcomers can add all that content to the sequel for a measly 20 bucks. Seeing two whole games' worth of Hitman encapsulated in one tidy package is a special kind of satisfying.
Hitman 2's locations cover almost as much exotic ground as those in the first game, from a high-tech Miami speedway to a drug cartel's jungle compound, suburban Anytown USA and a secret island meeting of billionaires who not-so-secretly run the world. At five full-sized maps and one smaller one, there's more than enough content here to get your money's worth. And while this sequel maintains the goofy, totally-serious-but-not-really tone of the series, I have to give Hitman 2 credit for making me genuinely care about the story in a Hitman game. The first game raised a ton of questions about illuminati-type groups and shadowy rogue agents without providing many answers, but the sequel makes good on that residual suspense with a taut international cat-and-mouse thriller that not only develops the characters of Agent 47 and his handler Diana Burnwood, but also provides some closure to the first game's mysteries. In the course of making good on those lingering plot threads, it also raises the stakes to such a degree that seeing the conclusion of the whole thing might be the number one reason I want a Hitman 3. That's not a sentence I ever expected to write.
This is a great package in total, though Hitman 2 feels just slightly rougher around the edges than its predecessor. The production is a little less polished and elaborate, with cutscenes composed of rudimentary still images compared to the full-fat CG treatment the story got in the first game. That's made more noticeable since both games' cinematics are housed side-by-side in the same menu. There's a little less map content to work with overall compared to the previous game's six full-sized locations and two sizable training maps, but the five new maps are gigantic, and Hitman 2 does come up with a handful of new variations on the standard objective of just killing all your targets that help to freshen things up a bit. And while the game offers a couple of supplementary modes with Sniper Assassin, where you attempt to take out targets at a wedding from a lofty perch with a scoped rifle, and Ghost--a head-to-head "beta" multiplayer mode that has players racing to get kills, which doesn't feel like it plays to Hitman's loose, anything-goes strengths--this ancillary content isn't really the reason you come to a Hitman game. Luckily, the first limited-time "elusive target" starring none other than Sean Bean is a great sign for more of the free post-release support that defined the first game, and there are DLC releases planned down the line to provide more of those great locations.
Those complaints don't amount to much when you step back and look at how well the Hitman formula has matured in this sequel and just how much content IO has crammed into this single package. The developer's uncertain future under Square Enix made a fair number of headlines a while back, before IO went independent and became the sole master of Agent 47's destiny. The fact that Hitman 2 turned out as well as it did in spite of that business turmoil is a great sign for the future of the franchise, and we should all be fortunate enough to get to play another one of these games a couple of years from now.