Hitman 2: Silent Assassin review
I'm the hitman, I want your life
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
With a hit on their hands, IO Interactive decided to make a sequel that would hopefully expand on the concepts laid out in Codename 47, as well as iron out the flaws like sudden difficulty bumps and a poor camera. What came as a result in Hitman: Silent Assassin is just that – a game that takes Codename 47 and expands on it whilst ironing out the flaws. Isn't this what every sequel should be? Not lobotomizing the formula in an effort to make the one size that fits all? But that much is for another day, because Silent Assassin is a truly brilliant game that manages to keep you compelled as you carry out your job as a hired killer, infiltrating enemy strongholds and killing your targets without any guards knowing what horrible things you've done to their comrades and boss.
Well, I guess it's debatable whether every flaw is ironed out or not. If you need your Hitman games to have a compelling storyline, you'll be disappointed to know that outside of an opening scene and the last few missions, the story largely consists of killing targets that The Agency wants dead in exchange for getting some information from them about the kidnapping of Father Vittorio at the hands of the Sicilian mob. Even though Agent 47 wanted to retire from his profession of being a hired killer and take up a job as a gardener at Gontranno Sanctuary, he has to do what he has to do in order to rescue his friend and mentor. Until the big revelation towards the end, that's... about all that you'll get. Until then, the most that you'll get are some briefings from Diana that explain who your target is and why they must be disposed of. Honestly, thank god that the only cutscenes that take place in this game are ones relevant to the mission, like acquiring some information or whatever - that about sums it up: Whatever. The plot twist at the end is not too shabby. Without spoiling anything, it manages to turn the entire story on its face and give you added motivation to finish your targets off.
Besides, Hitman's X-factor is the disguise system, which is largely the same as before. The idea is to find somebody who wouldn't be terribly out of place within where you are, subdue them either lethally with wire or non-lethally with anaesthetic, and snag their clothes. From there, you infiltrate the level without the guards being suspicious... for the most part. See, while the disguise system isn't really any different from before, the AI has certainly undergone some changes. Besides being even more relentless in their pursuit once they discover that you've killed their buddies, they tend to be rather suspicious of you regardless of disguise. If you draw negative attention to yourself by killing other guards in plain sight, firing really loud guns, carrying around the wrong gun or even going up close to them, the disguise meter will go red, the guards will sound off the alarm and all of a sudden, you'll be swarmed by guards. Doubly so if you're dealing with groups who can recognize their own people lickity split, like the mafia. If you keep the disguise that you're wearing, they'll immediately pursue you. If, however, you can secure a different disguise that still fits with wherever you are and without them noticing, then it'll be as if you were never there.
Having said that, the AI isn't necessarily perfect – it's a tad inconsistent whether they'll notice you or not and their aim is about on par with the Stormtroopers from the Star Wars franchise at the worst of times. Theoretically, you could eschew the whole sneaking routine and just run and gun your way through the entire game - the shooting mechanics are passable as you can at least aim and fire finely enough while Agent 47 seems to be able to take a fair bit of abuse. However, I wouldn't recommend doing this on the harder difficulty levels as the enemies tend to have slightly better aim and are more likely to suspect you than those on lower difficulties. Really, as much as Hitman is about how you choose to go through levels and the utilization of various tools to dispose of your targets, it's also about total immersion. Want to gun down the guards? *bleep*ing go for it! Just be prepared to shift gears as soon as you find yourself in a situation where stealth is an absolute necessity. Want to sneak your way through of these levels? Do it, don't let me stop you! “But Polarity, what if I'm afraid of *bleep*ing it up completely and have to do all this shit again?” Not to worry, disembodied internet review reader – you're given a few in-level saves so that you can reload in case you screw up something, and the difficulty in general is smoother with no patches of frustrating difficulty between a more tolerable challenging difficulty.
Generally speaking, you may want to scavenge as many weapons as you can so that you'll have access to them in later levels... just in case you'll need them to either blend in or survive a rather intense firefight. But really, given the openness of each level in tandem with whatever weapons and tools you can acquire throughout, it's your ball park to do whatever you want. The general rules are that you kill your target, kill whoever else you're required to kill, do the occasional secondary mission and don't die! Other than that, you have a plethora of options to take them out. Beyond the standard issue fiber wire, you can find all sorts of guns, and as usual, you can holster smaller guns while bigger guns need to be hidden away unless you want to go John Rambo on their asses or blend in with guards. Not to mention, each level has many different paths to take, expanding your options quite a bit, and the map lays out everything you need so that you can hopefully stay at least one step ahead of everyone. This extends replay value quite as bit as you'll find yourself trying to find other ways to complete missions, trying to get the elusive Silent Assassin ranking at the end of the mission by doing your objectives and killing your target(s) without a single soul knowing you even did it – meaning you didn't get spotted and you don't kill anybody else. You may get some extra weapons out of this, but the biggest reward of them all is the feeling of satisfaction from being a professional hitman.
Codename 47 was a very good looking game, but Silent Assassin manages to up the ante quite a bit. Given how big each of the levels are, it's amazing that it manages to maintain a consistently good framerate, granted that you're playing this on a decent PC. Low end PCs – like, really low end PCs - in this day and age (2013) may experience poor framerate, but given the amount of detail in the textures and high polygon count in the character models, it's not a huge surprise. Speaking of character models, the animation is a lot smoother, especially on Agent 47. Not only are his movements more natural, but even his tie blows in the wind! I always appreciate little details like that whenever they're done well, but overall, the animation is definitely fluid, which puts it above its predecessor. Might also help that the camera is not complete shit anymore. You can actually see what you need to see as it's not zoomed in so much unless you're against a wall. That, and you have three different angles – one for exploring and sneaking, one for when you get your weapon out, and a first person view for said weapon. Much better than its precessor. But it's style where it counts and in terms of style, Silent Assassin nails it as it manages to give each of the levels a distinct identity – whether you're infiltrating a chuch, a mafia hideout or age old buildings at St Petersberg, the designs of these levels will make different impressions on you, using their architecture and colors to establish a different identity from one another.
The sound design is also quite a treat. Once again, the soundtrack is one that really manages to set the mood. Whether it's the droning ambient soundscapes that play as you explore each map or some added percussion to make fights seem more intense, it's clear that Jesper Kyd has quite an eye for immersing soundtracks that keep you glued to the edge of your seat. Some may be wondering if this is technically better than Codename 47, and... I guess it is? One common thing with Jesper Kyd's soundtracks (at leat for the Hitman games) is that they're more for ambiance than memorability or played on your portable music player on the bus, so it's hard to say whether it's better – what it is, is that it perfectly gives off just the right mood for the situation at hand, and that's that. The voice acting is a bit better as the audio quality is a lot more crisp and a lot of the voices are actually somewhat good. It helps that the characters speak in their native tongue to better immerse you into the experience. The only sore spot is Agent 47... he tries to sound badass, but winds up sounding goofy. Diana, however, sounds like the kind of lady I'd do potentially dangerous missions involving murder for.
Hitman: Silent Assassin is proof that game sequels work in reverse from movie sequels – the mechanics feel more fleshed out, most sore spots from Codename 47 are ironed out and everything, from the camera to the controls, feels more robust. It does have a couple of small issues. The story goes nowhere until the last few missions out of 21. There's also the matter of how the AI can sometimes fail to recognize and/or shoot you. But surprisingly, the former doesn't happen all too often and the latter, if you're playing this like a good hitman, should be irrelevant. That's what this series is all about, after all: Being a hitman. The silent assassin; the person who kills without anybody knowing it was them; somebody who can use the environment to their advantage. How you use the environment to your advantage is up to you. The levels are your playground and whatever you can procure from each level is yours for the taking. This and Hitman: Blood Money, I feel, encompass this Hitman magic very, very well and although this isn't quite to everybody's liking, if you have any amount of appreciation for the stealth genre, then you are basically required to play this game.
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