We recently got hold of the E3 demo of Hitman 2 for the Xbox so we could take a closer look at how it's coming along. Though Denmark-based IO Interactive's Hitman 2: Silent Assassin was originally announced for the PC more than a year ago, the console versions were revealed relatively recently. Fortunately, thanks to the Xbox hardware's compatibility with PC-based code, the game is coming together quite nicely on Microsoft's system.
The original Hitman game cast you as a bald-headed, genetically engineered assassin (known only as "47") who is forced to rid the world of a number of villainous individuals using any means necessary. Unfortunately, cumbersome controls, the inability to save mid-mission, and frustrating camera angles made Hitman a lot more difficult to play than it needed to be. The sequel addresses all these technical issues yet retains the hard-boiled style, great level design, and impressive graphics of the original. The result promises to make for a better sequel and a solid first offering on the Xbox and PlayStation 2.
Our expectations for the PC version of Hitman 2 have been quite high, based on what we already knew about it. We've also been expecting the Xbox version to look quite good, considering that other PC-to-Xbox ports, like Max Payne, have fared well. However, we weren't sure what to expect from the PS2 version--historically, shooters originally designed for the PC have had some decidedly mixed results when ported to the PS2. So we were surprised to see the PS2 version looking just about as good as the other two. Though the Xbox version looks sharper and richer than the PS2 version does, both versions are visually solid. Both versions ran at a nice, smooth frame rate and featured impressively modeled characters that sported a great deal of detail. The character animation was also well done and added personality to the various characters in the game. The environments in the game were equally well done, featuring a good amount of detail and background activity to keep them from being sterile.
The game features a tremendous arsenal of real-world weapons, though 47 can carry only a small number at a time. Ranging from fiber wire (used to silently strangle unsuspecting victims) and high-powered sniper rifles to devastating auto shotguns, the variety of weapons in Hitman 2 is impressive, and each one is modeled realistically. Since the controls have been improved, Hitman 2 functions better as a straight run-and-gun shooter than its predecessor. Yet for the most part, you'll need to choose your targets carefully, taking time to observe each environment and figure out exactly what you need to do to reach your mark. Hitman 2 is more about stealth than pure action.
The Xbox demo let us play three levels: The Gantranno Sanctuary, Anathema, and Basement Killing. The Gantranno level functioned as a tutorial on the basics of the game's control and started us out in a shed near a church. The level's slow pace let us ease into the game and also showcased the background activity in the environments, such as birds that reacted to out presence as we roamed the grounds. The Anathema level was structured more traditionally, beginning with a briefing from our contact at the mysterious Agency that took place during a fly-through of the level. As you'd expect, we were assigned to get to a heavily guarded Mafia member and take him out. The Ananthema level focused on stealth, much like the final playable level, Basement Killing, which required us to make our way to a room in a heavily guarded building.
Controlling the action still takes getting used to. The default controls in the Xbox version currently require you to press in the left analog stick to run, which was awkward. Fortunately, the PS2 version of the game assigns run to a shoulder button, making it a bit easier to get around. Pop-up menus let you choose which weapons to equip or which actions to perform. For instance, 47 might opt to either open a door or peer through the keyhole to see what's on the other side, and he can either take the clothes of a victim as a disguise or drag the corpse out of sight.
Hitman 2 will include levels set in a variety of real-world locations throughout the world. The game's violent theme and stylish presentation should appeal to anyone who likes Hong Kong action movies or anyone looking for an action game that requires a lot of thought in addition to some good reflexes. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is scheduled for release this fall for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and PC. Stay tuned for more information.