Improvements all around make this feel a lot better than the first game.
+ Even though they game doesn't stray too far from the original, the things that are changed make a big difference. I found Hitman: Codename 47 to be nearly unplayable, but I found Hitman 2 to be interesting and engaging.
My main issue with Codename 47 was the lack of direction. The levels were wide open, there were a number of ways of approaching the task, but the solutions were obscure and confusing most of the time. In this game, however, you are given more detailed briefings, the level design makes more sense, and the different approaches to the assassinations are highlighted better. Also the map has been greatly improved and is now actually functional. You can see the current location of enemies as well as important tactical locations (which are designated with exclamation marks on the map). This is extremely helpful because it shows you points of interest but doesn't tell you exactly what to do when you get there. So you know where to go, you might even pick up a useful item, but you still have to decide how to use it to its full advantage.
The other main improvement is how saves are handled. In the first game you only had one or two continues throughout a level but they proved to be incredibly useless and really played against the trial and error that the game dictated. In Hitman 2, however, you are awarded a set number of saves you can make throughout each level. This is a really great compromise. While you can't constantly save every few minutes (which would break the feeling of the game), you can decide for yourself when to create your own checkpoints. Usually you won't need all the save games available, but they are there if you need them. Also, you are allowed to earn bonus save slots in certain missions for doing something special.
The save game also keeps track of the weapons you have collected throughout your mission and keeps them in a safe house. Then when you start a mission you can select from any of these weapons that you have at your disposal. Even though I had a large collection available to me I typically only brought a silenced pistol, knife, and anesthetic with me. Still, it's nice to see a wall of weapons you've amassed and gives you something to look at in between missions. Plus, it actually serves a purpose later into the game.
The HUD is also updated and now not only displays your health (which, by the way, feels significantly greater than the first) but also displays a level of alertness. If you are completely discreet then you won't see any indication, but as you begin to cause more suspicious behavior the meter will fill up. This is really helpful to alert you whether you are getting close to being discovered.
The only bad thing about the game is that it feels a little too trial-and-error at times. I reloaded previous saves quite a number of times when playing. It's not as bad as it could be, but I guess that's the nature of the game. At least this game tries to reduce the occurrence as much as it can. Also, I wanted to stay stealthy throughout most of the mission and when something blew my cover I tended not to try and play it out.
I still think the gameplay could be improved some but this was definitely a big step in the right direction for the series. It began to feel unique and creative. I think I still prefer other games in the genre, but at least I can see what Hitman has to offer now. A stealth game that focuses on high-target assassinations. The freedom to take a number of different routes in each level. An emphasis on creative, subtle kills but the ability to unload the action when called for.
+ The story makes progress over the first one since the plot is more accessible and understandable. Also, the characters development is greatly improved. Your contact at The Agency has a voice and a personality, instead of just being a faceless wall of text. There definitely is room for improvement but everything is on the right track.
I do have to say that even though the storytelling was better, it did feel like the story served as bookends for the game. You start off in a church in Sicily where you've befriended a local priest. He then gets captured and ransomed for a huge sum of money. In order to save him you must come out of retirement and begin contracts with The Agency again. Throughout the levels you rarely hear more about this and instead it becomes a "kill this guy and then kill this guy" feeling. But then everything comes around at the end and you are back trying to save your priest friend. I guess the whole point of a hitman is to just take a name and execute your task, but I still feel like there's something missing and the story has potential to be taken to the next level.
+ The graphics aren't as problematic as the first. The draw distance no longer affects gameplay. The menus and maps are easier to navigate. The only problem is that the graphics overall don't really improve upon the original. The models and textures feel very much like the same. And if you look at other games released at the same time (like Splinter Cell) you can definitely see how this game lacks behind. Still, if you really don't mind outdated graphics then you won't find any problem here. It looks classic like a 2002 game should.
+ The game took me about 12 hours to beat. I did do a lot of reloading and replaying of previous saves, though, just because I wanted to make each run as great as I could. This game does add a rating system after each level, telling you your stats, how stealthy you were, how aggressive you were, and giving you an overall rating (with Silent Assassin being the highest accolade). This means that if you really wanted to, you can replay all the missions and strive to get the Silent Assassin ranking. Also, since there are a number of ways to approach each level there is plenty of room for replaying a level and finding something new. It feels a lot more deserving of its $10 price tag. If you want to get into the Hitman series I would definitely recommend to skip Hitman: Codename 47 and go straight to Hitman 2: Silent Assassin. It fixes almost all the problems of the original and represents the series a lot better.