Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls it's that time again...it's time to step back into the shoes and the black tux of an old bald-headed friend. Mr Tobias is back and he's bigger and better than ever. Agent 47 has returned for a sequel that sets new standards in the 3rd person and 1st person 'shooter' genre. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin on the Xbox is truly a magnificent game. I was a fan of the original PC Hitman: Codename 47 and I was very eager to see what the developers had done for this version. So after the Intro I was champing at the bit to get into the meat of the game. IO Interactive have taken great pains to ensure that the Xbox's controller configuration should suit most players and I found the layout to be very sensibly designed. Once you get used to the amount of buttons, you find that you're quickly switching weapons and performing skilled tasks in seconds.
But what's new, why is Silent Assassin tonnes better than Codename 47. Well there are many reasons, but the most telling is the whole feel of the game is vastly different from the first one. And there are many more missions, it feels more polished and it certainly is bigger. There's more to do and the wealth of ways to accomplish these missions and tasks has been expanded. You can go from outright guns-blazing psycho tactics and gung-ho lunacy (you'd best have a quick trigger finger and a place to hide) to perfect stealth and silent kills. It really is a game that's made to suit the play styles that exist throughout the gaming community.
So what's the story, well as you know, I'm often not one for revealing much about the story as I am about the various gameplay elements and things that I think you want to know about. So I'm not going to make any changes to my style, apart from to say, you've retired and are attempting to live a peaceful life when one of your friends is kidnapped and you're forced to work for the Agency again, don the black suit, reach for the hardballers and mete out some serious justice with that fibre-wire.
When the game begins you're in your hut in the garden of the local church, and this is the perfect place to learn about the controls before you venture onwards. After a short but sweet tutorial about movement and control you are then advised to find your friend and attend confession - it's during this scene that eventually your buddy is kidnapped and the game begins in earnest with you seeking revenge. I will note that you spend a good deal of time in that garden, it has your hut and the weapons store where you can find the various guns you acquire throughout the game nicely stored for you to take with you next mission. I really loved that touch and found it to be an incentive to replay levels to gain guns I didn't have. Consider that you can take as many pistols as you want, but are limited to one rifle, to get all of the best equipment you must leave the level with the /one/ rifle you want and replay to get another.
Will you take the tasty SMG-Silenced or the long range rifle for the perfect assassination? It's up to you and nothing is really ever forced on you in this game. You have the choice to kill whom you want, or only focus on the chosen target. At the end of the mission you're awarded a rating for how well you did, if you can score the perfect stealth - aka - Silent Assassin you unlock a special weapon for use in the game. Mission #1 sees you unlock silenced hardballers for instance. I'm a big fan of this kind of technique and therefore the game gets big kudos on the replay factor. I could play it again and again, trying to achieve that perfect goal.
Hitman 2 doesn't push the Xbox to the limits but the graphics, animations are outstandingly good and the physics models in the game are pure Hollywood style action, and it really does suit the kind of genre it fits in. The addition of a switchable 1st person mode really adds to the gameplay and gives you a distinct feeling of being 47 rather than detachedly watching from a godlike camera behind the old baldy. There are a few texture flickers here and there which is where the game looses some points but they are more than made up for by the sheer style and gameplay that lurks in this excellent title. The developers have added a new option to doors, which allows you to look through the keyhole and scope out the room before you enter, good for those moments when you don't want a guard to catch you dumping a body.
Back too are the constant costume changes that allow you to move around virtually unhindered in enemy territory. But take note, the AI in Hitman 2 is a frighteningly accurate type - the guards are often possessed of almost supernatural senses depending on their type. Mafia bodyguards are often a little easier to sneak past as long as you don't do anything suspicious - but hand picked Japanese Ninjas will often get suspicious and stop you to check your ID. The keyword in Silent Assassin is stealth, if you really want to impress your mates - try to do missions with the minimal of casualties and sneak everywhere.
The GUI has a meter that monitors the guard's suspicion levels and can be a good indication of how well you're doing when walking around. Carry the wrong gun, or stray too close to one of them and often they're follow you around for a while trying to get a good look at your face, if they do see you, most often or not they'll work out you're not Bob and decide to either run and alert their mates or whip out a pistol and deal some lead action your direction.
They'll also raise the alarm if they find bodies and suspicious circumstances, so make sure you drag your kills into secluded alleys, behind boxes or into rooms that aren't patrolled. Those clever amongst you will do as I did and change costume the moment the enemy have found the body, often you can go and view the scene of the crime while you're wearing a new costume. As long as you're circumspect you'll be ok. The sound in Hitman 2 is pretty damn good too, it has atmospheric music and sound effects that really keep the blood pumping as you're involved in a frenetic gunfight or are sneaking up behind the enemy with your fibre-wire stretched and ready to drag them off into the shadows. Character models are highly detailed and the voice acting is good but not excellent, though you don't really expect it from this title - it's better however than Hitman 1 and that's all that matters to me.
So to give you a nice summary here, Hitman 2 is everything that Hitman 1 should have been and more, with bigger and better missions. With improved AI and stealth options, a shedload of guns - more than a national armoury to be honest and a storyline that will keep you playing. It has better graphics and textures than the prior game and adds the goodness of 1st person to the mix, it also comes packed with a variety of useful in-mission tricks to off your targets, a seriously cool number of ways to complete the level and the double-barrelled action of Agent 47 himself. You owe it to yourself to experience the next chapter in the ongoing saga of 47...step into those shoes, stretch that wire and remember to keep it clean, and keep it professional.