Last night IO Interactive and new publishing partner Warner Bros. unveiled Hitman 2, the next entry in the long-running assassination sandbox series. As part of the reveal, we were treated to a handful of new details about the narrative, which will juxtapose revelations about 47's past with a story that sees the bald-headed assassin unravel the powerful forces that answer to the mysterious Shadow Client. And when we say "unravel" what we really mean is "garotte".
Naturally, once again 47 will be travelling to different locations around the world, and IOI revealed one of them during the trailer that you can see above. The video shows several possible paths through the mission with the player able to sabotage a racecar in a number of ways to get at its driver, with the highlighted hit part of a two-target mission based in Miami. The trailer revealed that the trademark range of murderous possibilities open to the player will once again return, and we'll be able to arrange a selection of creative accidents to befall our targets (the promo art shows an iron, a fish, and even some muffins - we're assuming they're indicative of content that'll make it into the game).
47 will also have a few new tricks up his sleeve with IOI suggesting new stealth mechanics are on the horizon, and that should give us more options when moving through crowds and during certain more natural environments. The Miami level is a case in point, with IOI describing it as being one of the most ambitious made by the studio to date; as you can see in the screen below the studio is certainly planning on packing the environment with NPCs. Silly costumes are also still in the mix for Hitman 2, with the developer seeming to promise a range of devilish ways to approach your targets. The range of outfits and usable environmental objects are always at the heart of any Hitman game and if you're playing them through without experimenting then you're not really playing the games as intended (you do you, of course).
While we've got a good idea about how the game will play, ultimately we're still guessing at this stage, and we'll have to wait until it launches in November to find out firsthand. That said, those who pre-order the game will get instant access to Hitman Sniper Assassin, a standalone mini-game that's much like the 2015 mobile title, Hitman Sniper. In the new mission, which will be included in the final game for those who can wait, 47 is perched a good distance away from an opulent estate that's playing host to a wedding. As in the mobile game before it, our murderous anti-hero has to take out his targets as well as dispose of the patrolling guards, using the environment to conceal their bodies wherever possible. If you're a fan of sniper games then this will instantly appeal, and there's longevity in the challenges included as well, and the high score chasing encourages you to take risks as you search out quick targets. Better kills mean more points and, as everyone knows, points mean prizes (in this case, weapon upgrades).
The level itself is nicely detailed and if you've played a Hitman sniper mission before then you'll feel right at home. What's particularly interesting about this mode, however, is that it ushers in something we've never seen from the series before: co-op. Two players can tackle the challenge together, assuming the roles of Stone and Knight, characters who banter gently in between taking shots aimed at the skulls of henchmen who patrol the grounds below. It makes for an interesting dynamic, and players who time their shots to perfection can quickly earn additional bonuses to increase their score.
Having a friend can certainly help, but it can also be a hindrance in certain situations, and you'll both make mistakes that will ruin a perfectly good run. If guards are alerted and the situation isn't addressed immediately, all hell breaks loose and characters run around in panic, making kills much harder to pull off before the named targets and their bodyguards escape unscathed. That being the case, there's a bit more pressure on you to make your shots count; nobody likes to be the one who messed up.
On the surface there doesn't seem to be a lot to it, what with its solitary map and given that you're offered the same targets to kill again and again, but over recent years IOI has become the masters of making the most of their work, and challenges built into the level ensure that there is some depth and replayability there for those who seek it.
The question is, then, is that going to cut the proverbial mustard? Will some new maps with the same mechanics and a few co-op sniper missions be enough to elevate Hitman? As you've probably guessed by now we're rather fond of the series, but at the same time we can't help but think that the franchise really needs to mix things up more if it's going to stay truly relevant. When you consider the likely imminent return of Sam Fisher and the fact that Arkane is now extremely capable when it comes to making stealth-driven action adventures, it's clear that the team at IO Interactive has got to build upon the ideas laid down in the episodic Hitman. With that in mind, head over to the next page for a few things that we'd like to see added to or enhanced in Hitman 2 when it lands on PC, PS4, and Xbox One in November 2018.
Improved production values are right at the top of our list for a reason. The graphics in Hitman games have always been pretty decent, but they're hardly bleeding edge either, and IOI would do well to freshen things up in the visuals department in Hitman 2. With the episodic Hitman series, the studio introduced huge sandbox levels and this approach served them well; it'll be interesting to see what they do with regards to level design in Hitman 2. We know that there are going to six main sandbox levels in the full game, and two expansions have already been revealed and they'll each contain a new location. As mentioned, those who pre-order the game will get the new Sniper map described on the previous page, and there'll be two more included in future content drops.
Regardless of how pretty the levels are and how big they look, one of the things that the studio absolutely has to consider updating is the presentation and quality of the NPC characters that populate the game space. The AI is generally solid but perhaps could be more nuanced. More character models would go a long way to making the environments feel more alive and less staged. Perhaps most important is the studio's approach to regional accents. The single most immersion-breaking part of the last game was the constant soundscape of American or English accents filling the air around the player, regardless of where in the world the level was based. IOI absolutely has to address this if they want 47's globetrotting exploits to feel more authentic.
Two's company, three's a crowd (or so the old saying goes). Playing Hitman has always been a solitary affair, although in recent years IOI has been building around the edges of the game and now there's a wealth of player-made content for people to busy themselves with once the official missions have been completed. It's only natural to expect that players will continue to test each other with fiendish challenges, but we're also thinking that IOI can and should go further. The signs are positive, however, as the new Sniper mission demonstrates. As mentioned, two players can work together, taking it in turns to snipe away at distant targets in search of high scores. Might we start seeing more of these co-op sniper scenarios built into the package, or something similar to Splinter Cell's last co-op offering whereby standalone missions were crafted specifically for pairs to tackle together? We've got two new player-characters in the game, so why not use them?
One idea that we like the sound of is some sort of mode that imposes role reversal on players. Sticking with the multiplayer angle, wouldn't it be interesting if you got the chance to play as one 47's victims instead. We'd love IOI to experiment with a mode whereby players hunted human-controlled targets. A really exciting game of cat and mouse could emerge if it was balanced right. Whether it's a mode like the one described or something entirely different, one thing we know is that there is room for IOI to explore new ways of playing Hitman. Perhaps an adversarial mode is too much to ask for on the back of another multiplayer first, the aforementioned co-op mode, but we still think there's room to experiment. The recent release of a number of asymmetrical games like Dead by Daylight proves that being a potential victim can be fun too. Hell, it could even work against AI. Hitman: Isolation - now wouldn't that be a thing.
Another thing that we hope IOI can bring to Hitman 2 is a greater emphasis on story. The episodic nature of the last game made for what was ultimately a forgettable overarching campaign, and that needs to be addressed. To be fair to the studio it sounds like the stakes are going to be raised higher for everyone concerned this time around, but perhaps more environmental storytelling would help connect the player to events and the locations being explored. It's all very well having a digital playground full of interesting things to experiment with, but a greater connection between story and setting wouldn't go amiss. There's potential here to add even more depth to the already content-packed levels, and if it serves to connect us better to 47's story then it can't be a bad thing.
Clearly, we're looking forward to playing the finished game in November and we're pleased as punch that the campaign won't be drawn out over an extended period of time. That said, we hope that IO Interactive is able to push the series forward and explore some new ideas, building on top of the foundations that have been laid down not only in the last game but since the series started all the way back in 2000. There's always a chance that it can backfire or fail when you try out new things, but with great risk comes the potential for great rewards, and this is one series that we'd love to see fulfil its true potential.