Home Reviews Third Person Games Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Monday, 27 February 2006 18:00
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Developer: Io Interactive
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Official Site and Demos (1, 2)
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood, Strong Sexual Content, Violence)
PEGI 16+ (Game contains depictions of violence, bad language)

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A Drop of Time
Back in college, a friend and I played the demo of Hitman 2 to death. It became a contest to find out just how many different ways we could take out the same mark. After exhaustive practice, he got good enough that he could peg the target across the map at just the right moment, knocking him off a balcony and simplifying the rest of the mission. I, on the other hand, could get in and out in under nine minutes, never once spotted, no shots fired, no blood spilled, no one even touched save the mark, and no body to easily find afterwards, either. And this was a single mission demo. Think about that for a second.

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Requiem for a Hitman
The game begins with a retired Agent 47 now living out his days as the gardener for a church in Sicily.  Good things never last, though, and 47 finds himself drawn back into his old world when his only friend, Father Vittorio, is kidnapped. Turning to Agency, the company for whom he’d performed hits in the past, 47 works out an agreement wherein they’ll put their considerable assets into looking for Vittorio while 47, in exchange, performs a few jobs for them. But as time passes, Vittorio’s trail goes cold and the odds of his survival grow slim. And 47, once the repentant sinner, finds himself settling more and more back into the way things used to be.

Rest assured, though, there’s more going on with the story than the simple impetus to get 47 killing again so we can have another game. The seemingly disparate threads comes together quite well, interweaving revenge, betrayal, old enemies, and nuclear weapons into a fairly compelling yarn. But the most interesting aspect of it all is 47 himself, a man literally not of this world, who struggles with issues of morality and mortality. The ending in particular takes a rather unexpected twist, so to its credit the game does a good job of approaching the life of one who kills for money.

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Renaissance Man
Being a hitman of 47’s caliber means operating on a global scale, so the game does not disappoint on the visual front. From the warm Sicilian countryside and the wintry streets of St. Petersburg to the comparatively barren deserts of Nuristan, a variety of different settings are all presented. Each location, in turn, consists of anywhere from three to five individual missions, some as small as a single plush skyrise apartment to others encompassing entire city blocks. Whatever the needs the game engine is up to the task, juggling physics and scores of NPC’s to boot.

Of course, there are ways to cut down on those crowds and to test those physics—what would any hitman be without his arsenal? You’ve got most everything you could want, from concealable sidearms to bigger boomsticks like shotguns, machineguns, and sniper rifles. There are even more exotic items like golf clubs, crossbows, and katana. Rest assured, 47’s trademark weaponry also returns in the form of the Ballers and Fiber Wire, and in a pleasant addition you can actually gather weapons from the field to add to your personal collection (but more on that later).

Lastly, there are those who stand between you and your target, and they’ve got some solid AI behind them to make things interesting. Guards and the like can both see and hear, and they know enough to note suspicious behavior and shady characters. Many a mission can hinge on whether or not a guard glances your way while you try to sneak past, and tense moments await when you see how well your latest disguise holds up. Learn how to read the awareness meter on the HUD to see just how far you can push it. Don’t panic, play it cool, and stay flexible—words to kill by.

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Work’s Murder
You may have noticed I mentioned disguises a moment ago, and if you’re not familiar with the series a bit of an explanation is in order. One of the main gameplay features is the ability to disable characters, hide their bodies, and then don their clothes. While the disguise isn’t necessarily perfect, it will allow you to reach areas that would otherwise have been off limits to you in your sharp suit and bright red tie. A waiter’s outfit, for example, to get into the kitchen, or a guest’s to get into the party, or a guard’s to access the off-limits second floor.

Hitman’s strength is in this kind of open-ended structure. Chances are if you can think of an approach it’ll probably work. Granted, there’s noticeable linearity in some regards (items that only appear on certain levels with only one use therein) and sometimes your options can be too vague (damn pager), but for the most part the game does a good job of giving you a blank canvas on which to paint. On the easier settings, you can just shoot your way to the target, but the slicker the job the greater the sense of accomplishment. The game even goes so far as to rank your levels of stealth and aggression.

It’s not all perfect, of course. There are a couple of missions in Japan, for instance, that never should have made it into the game with such glaring flaws. But don’t let that scare you away. For every fault, there’s a wealth of perfectly realized aspects. Take the shed where you store the weapons you’ve collected, weapons you can play with between jobs so you’ll know what you want to take on your next hit. Even more than that… well… some spoilers coming, so if you don’t want to know about the last level then skip the next paragraph.

Are they gone? Okay, good. Not that I want to gush, but I love that the last level is set at the church. Not only does this bring us full circle thematically, but it also gives you access to your entire set of weapons for the final, high body count showdown. Any moral ambiguities are washed away in the storm, and that moment when you stand in your armory and decide what you want to bring is priceless. Io Interactive proves they know how to handle the concept of the central hub by making it more than just an interactive loading zone.

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Serial Killer
I thought I’d take a moment here before wrapping this up to touch on the Hitman series up to this point. The original—Hitman: Codename 47—had a lot of great ideas but was seriously flawed in its execution. The lack of an in-game save feature is practically unforgivable considering the nature of the gameplay. The same fate nearly befalls Hitman 2: Silent Assassin in the Japan levels, but the save feature salvages it, and along with it the game and the series as a whole. But to its credit the original does have some good ideas that are absent from the sequel.

Hitman: Contracts, it seems, is Io’s response to that. Contracts is essentially a retelling of some of the best levels in the original (along with an equal serving of new missions) but with the more polished tech of Hitman 2. It’s not really a true sequel and lacks the cohesive structure that makes Silent Assassin as strong as it is, but it also serves as a noticeable shift in the series’ direction. Whereas Hitman 2 is epic (helped in large part by the excellent orchestral soundtrack), Contracts establishes a dark and stylish tone. Perhaps, all things considered, that mood is a better fit for the path 47 is now walking.

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Conclusion
The Hitman series occupies a unique niche in the stealth genre, and Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is easily the best in the series so far. It’s more refined than its predecessor and a better overall package than its pseudo-successor. Were it not for a few regrettable flaws it’d be hard to imagine the next game in the series having any hope of surpassing it. Like many older games you can pick up a copy for only ten bucks, so if you’ve got any interest in this sneaky little genre, with its thieves and its spies, then Hitman 2 is not a bad place to start. 

 

Game Rated 8/10
 

 

 

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