I can't possibly imagine what it's like to assassinate people for a living.
But I can imagine it's the kind of job that requires a break every once in a while.
"Hitman 2" retains everything that made IO Interactive's 2016 stealth game so brilliant except for one major bullet point: It released Nov. 13 as a full game. While the episodic structure of "Hitman" let you play one of its stunningly intricate levels for months before the next one released, the sequel has the next one ready. And with its more story-driven campaign, "Hitman 2" motions you forward, all so you can skim that next level before you move on yet again.
It's a curious problem. Hell, many wouldn't even label it a problem. Many would argue that a full game is innately superior to a piecemeal one, and I'm sure the economics are preferable for IO Interactive and publisher Warner Bros. And really, there's no legitimate reason you can't continue to play one level 10 different ways, take that break, and then move onto the next.
Still, I wonder whether I would have developed more appreciation for the speedway bustle of Miami, the cartel machinery of Colombia or the stratified crowds of Mumbai were they staggered like the levels of "Hitman." And that's to say nothing of the Isle of Sgail, the best level in this game or the last, a castle beset by crashing waves where .1-percenters wear orgy masks and buy teched-out bunkers to survive the looming climate apocalypse. With a couple months to dissect each level, I could have savored the thrill of naturally discovering each storyline setup to one of Agent 47's patented "accident" kills. And in "Hitman 2," they're fantastic: programming an infantry drone to shoot its inventor, blowing a lecherous Bollywood star off a rooftop set with a fan, feeding a drug lord to the hippo he uses to disappear corpses. But instead of carefully piecing together the chain of events and costume changes I needed to realize these artful assassinations, I used the menu to lead me to them so I could review the game on time. To be clear: I don't recommend doing that.
Those menus, and the game's controls, continue to be so elegant as to evade your notice. The only technical hiccup in "Hitman 2" is its considerable load times. Guards and other enemies can shoot Agent 47 dead in seconds and their AI is impressively vigilant, leaving you little room for error. So smooth assassinations will require much saving and loading, or at least they will while you're new to a level, its social landscape and its lethal secrets. The question, then, becomes how much loading screen time an immaculate kill is worth.
It's appropriate that "Hitman" is my first "Hitman" game on the basis of the name alone.
But "Hitman 2" is about more than just killing. Its story sees Agent 47 and his handler, Diana Burnwood, unravel the secrets of both the shadowy cabal they've been manipulated into hunting, Providence, and the bald, bar-coded assassin himself. So later levels of the game introduce a few objectives that don't involve murder, such as slyly gathering intelligence about a future target and even making sure someone isn't murdered.
IO Interactive ventures further outside the box with Sniper Assassin mode, a preorder bonus. Set at a luxurious outdoor wedding in Austria, it looks like a stationary shooting gallery at first. But as you play it, you realize the level has a similar depth of causative possibility as the levels of the main game. For instance, Agent 47 can lead a guard toward a lily pond with a distraction shot, then shoot him into the water with another, notching bonus points for hiding the body. Or the assassin can blow targets off a platform with shockwave bullets. Or he can disrupt the wedding by shooting the pigeon cage before the vows are exchanged. Or you can play co-op and truly blow open the scope of damage you can do. It's tremendously fun, hampered only by the need to fully squeeze the right trigger to fire Agent 47's rifle. Hopefully, more levels are inbound.
Like its predecessor, "Hitman 2" will stay alive through updates and new contracts, such as the Sean Bean-starring elusive target mission that recently expired. And yes, I know its levels will always be there. Its goofiest and most exacting challenges will always be available to players who sped past them, players who didn't have the patience or discipline to tease them out from IO Interactive's delicate ecosystems because the next one beckoned. But I also know that wasn't a problem with the last "Hitman" game.