1st October 2016 marks fourteen years since the release of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, and even after all this time, it’s still considered one of the greatest stealth action games ever made. The second entry in the Hitman series is showing it’s age a bit these days, but I will always see this special game as a major pioneer of the genre.
The main protagonist is a cloned assassin, a man who was born to destroy. He has no name, only a number. Agent 47, a cold-blooded contract killer with no emotions and one objective: to get the job done well. The game’s plot focuses on Agent 47’s quest to rescue a priest, which forces him out of retirement and takes him on a journey around the world, with hits taking place in Sicily, Russia, Japan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and India.
The protagonist may not have much of a personality, but the missions certainly do. Every one has a distinctive flavour, from infiltrating an extravagant party at an Embassy building in Russia, or stalking your prey through a dusty Afghan market. Each level is an intricate sandbox which gives players the freedom to improvise a plan and follow it through to its violent, and sometimes darkly comic conclusion. Objectives can be tackled from multiple angles, and the game never forces you down a particular path. The story of what happens to the targets is ultimately yours.
The creative level design means that sneaky players will find holes in levels, allowing them to use subterfuge in order to take out only the targets, or if you don’t have the patience you can get rid of the silencers and go on a spree. As Agent 47, you can keep his tailored suit and red tie on and sneak your way through a level, garrotting enemies from the shadows. Or instead, knock out an NPC using chloroform and steal their clothes, then hide in plain sight. The game never punishes you for trying to find your own way. Instead it rewards the player’s thirst for discovery with snippets of information that will enable them to perform the perfect hit. You don’t just play a level once and then forget about it. You go back to it, and learn the secrets to be gathered from exploiting every clever little detail.
The story of Agent 47’s return to a world of murder-for-hire was excellent, and allowed console players who had never experienced the PC-only Hitman: Codename 47 to ease right into the sinister world of assassination that the International Contract Agency plays a major role in. It improved upon the original in every way, and is considered by a lot of fans to be the best entry in the series, whilst also being the best-selling Hitman game ever. The success of the entire franchise is down to the original design intention first explored in Hitman 2, which was to let the player be whatever kind of assassin they wanted to be. At its heart, Hitman 2 is a puzzle game, rewarding patient players who manage to fit together each piece of the bloody jigsaw, and it’s this unusual but rewarding gameplay quirk that made Hitman 2 stand alone in a crowded genre. It’s also why the Hitman series is still the best of its kind.