Hitman 2: Silent Assassin Preview

Have the developers at IO have fixed the problems that plagued the original Hitman? Read our impressions of this sequel to find out.

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Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
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Never had it felt so good to be so bad than in IO Interactive's Hitman: Codename 47, a game that placed you in the shoes of a nameless assassin who used a veritable 31 flavors of weapons to take out his oh-so corrupt targets, and woe to anyone who stood in his way. But the game had problems--serious problems, not the least of which were shoddy controls, questionable enemy AI, and the dependence on trial by error in almost every mission. Thankfully the developers at IO weren't blind to these shortcomings, and in designing the sequel to Hitman, fixing the original game's deficiencies was priority number one. Hitman 2 is now nearing completion, and we were recently able to get some playtime with the latest build of the game. With a checklist of problems from the original game in hand, we set out to see if IO Interactive really had worked out the kinks of the first Hitman.

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Click to see seven new movies of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin in action.
 
 
 
For those who don't know, the game takes place several years after the events of Hitman: Codename 47. Your character has resigned himself to a life of gardening in a Sicilian monastery. On a daily basis, the hitman confesses his life's sins to the priest who's taken him in, but otherwise he leads an uninteresting life--that is, until the priest is kidnapped by the Italian mafia. Determined to save his friend, the hitman reactivates himself with the "agency," and his first self-imposed mission is to break into the local mob boss's house in an attempt to rescue the abducted priest. Diana, the liaison from the original Hitman, will be back in Hitman 2 to brief you before every mission, though the way you move within each level will be a little different in the sequel. As you're getting briefed, you'll have access to a map of the level that you're about to enter, and it'll show you where your objective will be, potential trouble spots, and fallback areas so that you don't go into a hostile area completely blind. Gone is the notion of having to buy your weapons beforehand. In Hitman 2, you'll be able to choose what hardware you'll carry with you before each mission for free. What's more, each level will have several drop points that the agency will use to get you additional firepower should you need it. Your arsenal will include almost all of the weapons from the original Hitman, plus an additional 10 new weapons. Of course, the hitman's signature Hardballer .45 will be making a return, though you can now silence it and double up on it, John Woo style. If something with a bigger punch is in order, you can choose from an MP5 SD6, MP5A4, Beretta M92F (with or without a silencer), Colt Python, Desert Eagle, PSM 5.45mm, Ruger .22, AKS-74U, M4A1, Uzi, SPAS-12, M60, Barrett M95 .50cal, and Dragunov SDV. A garrote, a combat knife, a crossbow, some sedatives, and even an ax will be available if stealth is called for.

When silence is necessary, the crossbow will prove to be ideal.
When silence is necessary, the crossbow will prove to be ideal.

Playing the game, the first thing we noticed about Hitman 2 was a slightly revised interface and a new alertness meter in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. A little like the light meter in the Thief games, this rectangular-shaped box remains empty as you stay undetected and gradually fills up as others around you start to take notice of your actions. If you do anything suspicious in plain view of your enemies, the meter will turn red, and more often than not all hell will break loose around you. It's obvious that this new addition is meant to address the AI problems that plagued the original Hitman. Many people who've played that first game will remember a specific mission in Hong Kong, where your character--who is bald and whiter than snow--infiltrates a triad gang simply by dressing up as one of them. No more. The enemy AI in Hitman 2 will be far more complex than in the original game, and this new alertness meter will help you gauge exactly how interested others are in you and what you're doing.

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The hitman can choose to be stealthy...
The hitman can choose to be stealthy...

But it wouldn't be fair if the bad guys were the only people to get an advantage in Hitman 2. Thankfully each level is being designed in a way that will give you numerous paths to completing your objective. The lack of replay value was another problem that afflicted Hitman, but this branching path system will be the sequel's cure, and it was really evident during our hands-on time with Hitman 2. One mission, for example, gave us the task of breaking into a hospital in India to kill our target, who just so happens to be going under the knife for a total heart transplant. Of course, the obvious way to beat this level is to enter the ER with guns ablaze, but that might be problematic, since your character has mysteriously grown a conscience, and the killing of innocent lives is a quick way to end the game. The other methods for solving this mission involve everything from the logical (dressing up as a doctor, making your way to the operating room, and silently killing your mark) to the unconventional (finding your patient's refrigerated heart and replacing it with a heart-shaped explosive--it'll take more than Maalox to cure that heartburn!). Other missions will be just as involved. During a later mission, you'll have to make your way to a gang boss's penthouse suite, though the simple act of getting through the lobby of the building will prove to be a challenge. Tripping a fire alarm and dressing up as a firefighter to enter the building is one way of getting past the security, as is dressing up as a pizza delivery boy. You can even dump your weapons down a laundry shoot and stroll in through the front door without any cover at all if you feel brave enough. Even though Hitman 2 won't have a multiplayer component, the ability to try out different approaches to solving a single mission should extend the life of the game.

...or not.
...or not.

The open-ended nature of Hitman 2 means that you can contour it to fit your personality. Aggressive players who prefer the direct approach will be as pleased as those who like to carefully plan out every detail of their attack. There's even an option to play the game in the first-person, which should make the more action-heavy parts of the game a little easier to traverse; for some people, shooting in a third-person view isn't quite as intuitive as doing it from a first-person view. Still, Hitman 2 will primarily be a third-person game, and the designers at IO have gone to great lengths to improve control while you're in that view. The camera will no longer lag behind your character--move the mouse to the left, and the camera will obey your input promptly and follow your movement crisply. Because the game is being simultaneously developed for the PlayStation 2, IO Interactive has simply developed one control scheme that can be easily adapted to both the console's Dual Shock controller and the PC's mouse-and-keyboard setup--Hitman 2's design has no room for a needlessly complex setup.

Other additions to Hitman 2 include the hitman's ability to go prone while sniping and to lean around corners to get a better look at his surroundings. The game will also include a save-anywhere feature--which is something that fans of the original Hitman have been crying for--as well as a dynamic operatic soundtrack by the Hungarian philharmonic. In all, Hitman 2 is shaping up to be the game that the original Hitman should have been. The developers have taken all feedback from the original game to heart, and the end result should please fans who were put off by Codename 47. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is currently scheduled to release in the last week of March, but publisher Eidos has said that it will hold back the game for as long as it takes to hunt down those pesky last-minute bugs. For more on Hitman 2, be sure to take a look at the new batch of screenshots and movies that we've added to this gamespace.

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