You play a Hitman game very differently at home to how you play it at a morning preview event in central London.
I know this, because if I was playing Hitman 2 - follow-up to 2016’s brilliant sort-of reboot of the series - at home, I would probably have spent a lot more time stalking the bigmouth drug dealer, who I’d overheard talking about about his arrangement with one of my assassination targets.
I needed to pursue the oversharing mule until we were in a secluded area. That way, I could knock him out and pinch his outfit without upsetting the locals. But he wouldn’t do what I wanted, and I started to worry that this hopeless affair would be all I’d have to write about if I didn’t consider alternative options. It’s not like Agent 47 has grown a head of hair since we last saw him.
Anyway, I did manage to make some progress eventually, and I’m happy to announce that Hitman 2 is shaping up to be every bit as entertaining as its predecessor. The varied environments are as dense and detailed as you’d expect, the disguises suitably ridiculous, and the possibilities for murderous experimentation are pretty much limitless.
I also spent a bit of time with a brand new multiplayer mode, which puts a competitive spin on the core Hitman experience.
Hitman 2 has ditched the episodic format of the previous game, instead giving you six environments to explore right from the off. Developer IO Interactive has revealed quite a lot of its Miami level, but I was shown a new mission, which takes place in the vibrant jungle village of Santa Fortuna in Colombia.
It’s a picture-postcard setting, if you ignore the fact that most the people you encounter are either directly involved with or preoccupied by its cocaine-fuelled criminal underbelly. The still brilliantly bald Agent 47 has been sent there to knock off three high-ranking cartel leaders, who are once again introduced to you in a slick cutscene that plays before your dropoff.
If you’ve played a Hitman game before, you’ll quickly reacquaint yourself with the unique gameplay loop: soak in the surroundings, get a handle on the layout and eavesdrop on every conversation you can before you even think about reaching for your trademark fibre wire.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t accommodate newcomers, though. If the methodical approach is getting you nowhere and you need a nudge in the right in the direction, there’s a comprehensive hint system that’ll ensure you don’t miss out on 47’s singularly violent problem solving prowess.
You can play Hitman 2 as a fairly wonky shooter if you like. Hardcore fans, meanwhile, will spend hours trying to ghost through each assignment in the suit they arrive in, leaving not a drop of blood to rumble them before they head for the exit. You can hide in bushes now, which should make super stealthing a bit easier.
But, let’s face it, Hitman is at its most enjoyable when you’re hopping between a series of increasingly wacky disguises. In my playthrough, I discover that celebrity tattooist P-Power is in town to ink Rico Delgado, one of the drug barons I’ve been asked to eliminate. He’s been told that he can just rock up at the heavily guarded mansion on the edge of town and they’ll take him straight to Delgado.
My Hitman logic kicks in, and I know I’m going to have to become P-Power. First I distract the barman the tattooist is ranting to, before knocking him out around the back of the building and taking his clothes. I realise that I could poison P-Power’s drink, which will send him sprinting to the toilet - classic Hitman. Problem is, I don’t have any poison handy so I end up having to distract him with a coin.
It’s a bit messy, but I eventually get what I need, and suddenly I’m being ushered through the mansion gates and escorted to Delgado’s room. I had to ditch my gun in a bush, but tattoo machines are versatile tools.
With Delgado crossed off the list, my next fancy dress target is the local shaman, but my demo is cut short before that plan fully materialises. Let’s just say it was going to involve industrial machinery.
The Colombia mission is absolutely teeming with eccentric weirdos and what the game still calls ‘opportunities’ to explore. As someone who tends to play these games slowly I only saw a tiny portion, but it’s obvious that each assignment will be hugely replayable.
The unfriendly ghost
Brand new to Hitman 2 is Ghost Mode, a 1v1 online multiplayer mode that’ll sort the expert hitmen from the clumsy wannabees. Or in the case of the one match I played, hilariously expose the incompetence of both players.
It works like this: at the start of each round you’ll each be assigned the same target to take out, and the person who takes care of the job first within the time limit gets a point. This isn’t a running race, though; you’ll only rack up your score if you register the kill without anyone noticing, and you can’t be compromised at the time of pulling the trigger. To emerge victorious, you’ll need to find the right disguise and make your move at exactly the right time. Unlike single-player Hitman, you can’t just reload your save when things go pear-shaped.
Although you exist in a separate reality to your opponent, you can see their ghost running around the level with you, so if they’re garrotting people while dressed as a giant flamingo, you’re going to know about it. While you can’t scupper their progress, each player does have a ‘ghost coin’ which is effective in both realities.
Say you’re in security gear and your opponent is a chef who is supposed to be making soup in the kitchen. You can toss the coin at a fellow guard to alert them to the wandering cook. As you’re in the right disguise, they won’t care, but the other player had better start running.
It’s fair to say this mode is going to take some getting used to. It’s hard to be slow and methodical when you’re racing against the clock, and the match I played remained scoreless for an embarrassingly long time, with both of us diving into lockers on the regular in the hope that the heat would die down. Let’s just say when someone watching branded it the Burnley vs Huddersfield of competitive assassination, it possibly wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Hitman 2 initial verdict
While my time with Hitman 2 was brief, I’m confident that it’s going to be another fantastic entry in the long-running stealth series.
Mastering each sandbox requires a mixture of meticulous observation and trial and error gameplay, which is always going to put off some players. Hitman is slower than your average action game, and it can take a while to adjust to its rhythm.
If the Colombia assignment is anything to go by, though, it’s worth the time sink. Figuring out the most inventive way to carry out a hit, donning the right disguise and slipping away without anyone noticing you were there is satisfying in a way few games are.
Look out for a full review of both the single-player campaign and Ghost Mode when the game drops next month.