Hitman 2 is a stylish game. Whether you look at the graphics, gameplay, or the way the story develops, this title from Io-Interactive is one of the most intelligent and refined stealth action games you might have ever played.
The game is divided into 20 missions; each mission can be always completed in many, many ways, and all of them are equally rewarding and realistic. Hitman 2 is not a stealth action game with sci-fi elements and plenty of high-tech gadgets, like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Splinter Cell; instead, it's always extremely realistic, and pleasurably old-style.
Hitman 2 is not your usual pick-n-play action game. It makes good use of any button on the Dual Shock 2, which once again reveals its excellent versatility; anyhow, the fact that certain buttons are used for two different functions depending on the way you press them, proves that the controls were primarily created with the PC version in mind.
The Left analog stick is used to walk forward, backward and to strife left and right; the Right stick moves the camera and make Agent 47 turn left or right. In other words, while moving the character, you will always be controlling also the angle of view. This control system is typical of first person shooters, not of third person action games. In fact, by pressing the R3 button you can toggle 1st or 3rd person view; you can play the game in both ways, and depending on the situation you will find yourself switching intuitively from one view to the other. In narrow corridors I found myself switching to the excellent first person view; in open spaces, when infiltrating an area, the third person view was definitely the best choice, because it let me look at my position in relation to close enemies. The left and right buttons on the d-pad let you lean left or right, a necessary move when you need to look around a corner for just one second. Double press these buttons and you will step out of a corner. If you need to crouch, hold the L1 button. The L2 button is used to run - not by chance, this is an unusual position for an action that is usually addressed to one of the main buttons of the controller. In fact, running in Hitman is still a useful action, because often you have to be fast, and lethal, moving from one shadow to the next one; anyhow, you will usually have to walk normally, or enemies may consider your behaviour suspicious. X is a multi-purpose button, mainly used to open doors, pick up objects and drag bodies, Circle is used to drop an item, and R1 uses your current item. Other actions become available when needed, and a pop-up menu appears to let you select them. For example, in front of a door you might have the choice of pick locking it or looking through the keyhole (a great feature).
Hitman will find loads of weapons during his missions; you can collect them, and create an impressive arsenal. You can find hand-to-hand weapons, pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, automatic rifles, and bows for a grand total of roughly 30 different weapons. But you will soon realize that Hitman 2 isn't Max Payne. You can't go around and start shooting at any living being, because a few good shots from the enemy can kill you. Your best ally is always stealth action. The weapons I used more often were at the two opposites of the range offered in the game: sniper rifles and close combat weapons, perfect for silent kills. Aiming with a sniper rifle isn't easy; like in Metal Gear Solid 2, you will see the crosshair moving and trembling because of Hitman's breathing, but with a bit of practice and patience you should be able to understand when the right moment to shot has come. Close combat weapons include cool gadgets like fiber wire and anaesthetics. In order to use them you have to switch to Sneak mode (press once the L1 button) and approach your enemy slowly from behind. While the fiber wire strangles and kills your enemy, the anaesthetics incapacitate him for a limited amount of time. Why should you choose anaesthetics then? Because the game rewards you when you kill just your primary target, and not all the guards surrounding him: remember, Agent 47 is a professional, not a serial killer. If you are good enough to stay undetected for the whole mission, without killing innocents, you will get the Silent Assassin grade at the end of the mission, together with a new weapon. It's usually very difficult to get this grade because it implies that a) you have figured out a great strategy to hit your target and then escape b) you are not only silent and deadly, but also fast.
Of course, you can also choose the psycho approach, but keep in mind that there's no assisted aiming in Hitman 2, a good choice of the developers to make the experience more realistic and to force you to play without turning your brain off. In desperate situations - if you made an error and the enemies detected your presence - you will be forced to draw your weapons and fire. In the first mission I had been able to infiltrate the house of my target and kill him without being spotted by any of his bodyguards, but then I took the wrong path, and I was forced to engage a furious shooting against them to remain alive. I drew out Hitman's Silverballers - his favorite guns - and I started shooting at the enemies, room after room, running towards the garage where a car good for my escape was. I got a "psycho" rating at the end of the mission (no, that's not good), but because of the difficulty of aiming without a classic lock-on function, this was one of the most rewarding and realistic shootings I have ever experienced in a videogame. Hitman 2's core is stealth action, but when it's time to dance, it delivers like few other games.
Anyhow, what makes this game so enjoyable is the extraordinary mission design. Overall, there are 20 different missions that take place in different parts of the world (Italy, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, India, Nuristan), and each of them can be played and completed in multiple ways. But don't overlook the expression "multiple ways" - in Hitman 2, you can actually go and play a mission you have already completed two or three times and find out a whole new way to successfully reach your final target, a way that's often more exciting, smarter than the ones you already used. Hitman 2's mission design is so surprisingly good, so believable, so capable of offering freedom of gameplay that it surpasses in my book Splinter Cell's mission design, excellent but more linear, and Metal Gear Solid 2's organic maps, excellent but more fragmentary.
A.I. design is extremely refined. In each mission you'll meet various types of characters; there are enemies, clearly hostile, innocents, like persons in the metro, drivers, waiters, persons that do their job in the location where your mission takes place. Each of them will react to you, and to your disguises, in a different way. You can incapacitate or kill any character, and you can take the clothes of almost any of your victims. But it's not sufficient to dress like a bodyguard to make other bodyguards believe you are one of them. As long as you stay at a reasonable distance, they will just look at the way you dress, and they will let you pass; but if they have a chance of looking at you more closely, they will see you are cheating them. Differently, if you approach a waiter and you are disguised as a bodyguard, he will not have any doubt about your identity, since he can't know personally each of the guards. The same thing happens if you try to enter a place infested by bodyguards and you are dressed like a waiter - they will let you pass, but then the cook might recognize you if you just wander around the kitchen doing nothing. So, grab those cups of champagne and let others think you're just doing your job. And remember to walk without running, or everybody will immediately notice your suspicious behaviour.
I will make an example from the beginning of the first mission, showing bits of mission and A.I. design. If you think this might spoil something, just jump to the next paragraph.
In the first mission, you have to get into Don Giulliano's villa, kill the boss, and rescue your friend Padre Vittorio. The Villa is heavily guarded, a sort of fortress protected by two dozens of men. There is one main access to the villa, and two secondary ones; all three are guarded by Giulliano's men. You notice that a postman is carrying some flowers to the villa; you activate the Sneak mode (L1) and send him to sleep with anaesthetic. You can now take his clothes. You have flowers and you are dressed like a postman. But do you really think the guards at the entrance will let you enter if you are carrying any weapon? They will surely frisk you. So you should probably drop your weapons and enter the villa disarmed. It should work, and hopefully, you will find a decent weapon inside. But there is another approach. At the other entrance, at the opposite side of the villa, there is the truck of the delivery boy. He has to carry three or four bags into the kitchen. You might incapacitate him too, and take his clothes. But you should drop your weapons also in this case... why don't you put your weapons into one of the bags? The guards probably won't search them! And if you don't want to take the risk, you could put your weapons into one of the bags, and let the innocent milkman make the delivery for you! In the meanwhile, dressed like a postman, you will enter from the opposite entrance with no weapons on you. See? We have figured out three methods of silent infiltration. And there are also other more direct ways...
The only flaws I can find in the gameplay are the unintuitive controls, that may dishearten some players, and the fact that positions and patterns of movement of the A.I. controlled characters remain always the same. In other words, the postman in the first mission will always follow the same path, the delivery boy will always pick up the same bag before the others and so on. This is absolutely normal in action and adventure games, but it detracts a tad of realism from the experience, even if the amazing open mission design assures a replay value unique in this genre. Sincerely, it's probably a bit non-sense complaining about the "fixed" A.I. movements when it's obvious that they are all in one with the mission design.
Overall, Hitman 2 delivers one of the most convincing stealth action experiences of the last years. Refined and exciting at the same time, Hitman 2 is an intense, smart game like few others. Great.