We visited IOI's HQ in Denmark to get a proper look at the next assassination sandbox.
The Hitman series has taken various forms over the years, some more well-received than others. After the narrative-driven Absolution, IOI reinvented the series with the episodic, modern, and deliciously sleek Hitman. The episodic format scared away some players, but some reviewers later came to think that the series had finally found its true form. The developer not only allowed the player to commit the perfect murder in any number of ways through open environments but also give us new challenges again and again through Elusive Targets, Escalations and user-made missions. Hitman only needs new environments and more story to tie it all together, and that is exactly what IOI is ready to deliver in the shape of Hitman 2, which is set to be released in its entirety this November. This is why we visited the studio's beautiful HQ in Copenhagen and tried out the sequel. So far it represents a confident refinement of the concept, sporting huge, sun-drenched environments and an Agent 47 in great shape.
To begin with, it was a remarkably natural experience to play Hitman 2. When we sat down in a comfortable chair and grabbed a keyboard and mouse, everything was as expected. From the menus to the music and the choice of colours, Hitman 2 was as we had hoped; a natural development of the Hitman we know. The cold black and white colours of the UI had partially been replaced with pink-ish reds and cyan, which allowed for a bolder, summer-like look, but otherwise, our first impression was that it was reassuringly familiar.
The first stop was Miami in the mission The Finish Line. After a long cutscene, which led us to conclude that this was not the first mission, we were met by a busy large-scale event, one which we were about to ruin in a calculated manner. The event in question was The Innovation Race, where large car manufacturers compete in their latest racing cars. The people about to be assassinated were the race driver Sierra Knox and her father, Robert Knox, a wealthy businessman who runs a company called Kronstadt.
How do you get away with two murders at an event like that? We began by running around like a headless chicken, looking for a place to hide our gun before being frisked at the entrance. When we finally got in through the entrance, we tried to make sense of the area. We quickly realised that the Opportunities - now called Story Missions - were the easiest route to a clean kill. We found a mechanic and overheard his phone conversation, which revealed that Sierra's pit crew was in need of a replacement. Naturally, we followed him to a secluded area, knocked him out and took his clothes. From there, it was quite easy to loosen the race driver's wheels, which resulted in her death soon thereafter.
Now only Mr Knox remained. He walked around an exhibition in another part of the area, and it soon proved to be more difficult to keep track of where we were in this complex than it was to kill Sierra. It took a bit too much time to find the lockpick, which was hidden in a briefcase in a parking lot that we had been through several times already. While our sense of direction is probably more to blame than IOI's level design, it was bothersome that we were still forced to carry a gun around when a lockpick is much more meaningful to carry (as long as you aim for a Silent Assassin rating).
That being said, we are very much looking forward to playing around with the suitcase, which can hide a sniper rifle and other suspicious objects. As a new rule in Hitman 2, you can no longer walk around with suspicious objects on your back and expect guards not to notice. This update makes much sense, since it always seemed strange to walk around as an ordinary guard with the World's largest custom sniper rifle on your back.
We decided that Mr Knox should die at the hands of the thing he loved the most, just like his daughter. Of course, that meant that he had to die from his love of the local food stand's coconut balls. This perfectly coincided with us finding some rat poison en route, and when we had "borrowed" a set of clothes from the stand's owner, The Florida Man, the stand could open. The rumour about the delicious coconut balls quickly reached Mr. Knox, and when he arrived to receive his daily sugar rush, his belly didn't handle the new recipe too well. Luckily the stand was situated alongside the waterfront, so when Mr. Knox tried to empty his stomach of its contents, he could easily be pushed into the water. And thus the mission was completed with a Silent Assassin rating.
The next level was set in Colombia. Once again, this was an enormous area. In fact, the area was so big that IO employees later asked if we found a hippo and all kinds of other stuff (we hadn't). The list of things to do in this level wasn't short either since the mission is to kill three targets in three different areas, all of whom play a part in a drug cartel. Jorge Franco was located in a drug stash in a guarded cave, while Rico Delgado could be found in a large mansion, and Andrea Martínez was in a villa closer to the rundown jungle village, which is the centrepiece of the level.
In Colombia, we followed an absurd Story Mission which led us on a hunt for glue and rat poison. With the glue, we pieced together a broken toy which someone had used to smuggle cocaine in. After knocking out the hippie, we were able to deliver the toy to Jorge Franco, who then tested the wares and who subsequently could be killed with discretion. From there, we could more easily access the rest of the level and we took down two of the three targets. To kill the remaining one, we went into the jungle close to the city and tried our luck with a shaman outfit. Unfortunately, our plan seemed to be less effective than expected, and our time with Hitman 2 was up before we could finish the mission.
As expected, parting with the game wasn't something we did willingly. Hitman 2 seems to improve on the already excellent formula of the series in nearly every way, and we had a blast playing it. Story Missions are highly entertaining, and it feels like there are dozens of opportunities in the levels that we didn't get a chance to explore. There is an insane number of options in terms of how you might infiltrate each place. IOI also informed us that the plan for this title is to release more levels later on, while there will also be new game modes, Escalations and Elusive Targets down the line.
The first, relatively easy murder of Sierra Knox did cause us to worry whether the game was going to be a little too easy. However, it later became clear that this entirely depends on your approach, and most targets require some thought, as we witnessed in Colombia. It should be mentioned that Hitman 2 also have new difficulty levels: Casual, Professional, and Master. We only played on Casual, and it was very similar to the normal experience in Hitman. Unlike its predecessor, though, all three difficulty levels are available to begin with (so we were told), which will please some fans, since the alternative can be a bit grindy.
The game impressed on the technical side too. It ran very smoothly on the test computers and the whole thing looked great. Each location was not only filled with little details, but they were also well designed audio-wise. The race level in Miami was busy and the sounds of cars and people whistled all around, while the jungle sounds in Colombia, combined with the animal life and street musicians, framed the experience of that level excellently.
Perhaps most importantly, for some fans, Colombia showed us that IOI has finally fixed one of the most frustrating aspects of the last game: the voices. In Hitman, everyone spoke with distinctly American or British accents, which is absurd in a game where you travel to otherwise authentic digital versions of Marrakech, Paris, and Bangkok. This time, fortunately, Colombians speak as you expect, and often in their native Spanish. Consider us delighted.
With robust main missions, inspiring and dense maps, as well as the promise of much more content down the line, we are extremely excited for Hitman 2. The Danish developer has very good reason to be proud of its work so far, and we cannot wait to get our hands on the finished game this November. Even though we saw nowhere near every aspect of the game, we have a bit more intel to share with you, so keep an eye out for that on the site in the near future.