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Hitman 2’s crowd-skulking is quiet but effective

"Sorry sir, I lost the suspicious bald man with the barcode on his neck in that crowd of five people"

The man who kills bad guitarists is back. Hitman 2 looks mostly to be polishing the first game’s bald head, which makes sense when you think of it as the stand-in for a 2nd season that never happened. As a sequel, it doesn’t appear to be changing much, apart from giving assassins a bunch of new murder playgrounds in which to plot against wealthy charlatans. But the changes it is making are quiet and helpful. If Hitman was a game about killing your boss (and we reckon it is) then Hitman 2 will be about hiding from your boss in a throng of admirers. And then killing him.

Let’s start with that change: hiding in crowds. I recently got to play a demo level in which I had to kill notable financier and racecar driver Sierra Knox. Like all of 47’s target, your handler Diana makes sure you know that Sierra is a bad person with bad habits. Habits like WAR CRIME.

Anyway, as part of this mission, I’ve got to sneak through the stands and VIP sections of the race, dress up as a mechanic, and plant a bomb on her car (there will be other methods available but for the demo I’m told this is all I’ve got). To do this, I need to make use of the big crowds gathered in the stadium. The sequel will be able to generate many more people than the first Hitman, and walking among them now acts as a way to keep a low profile. Guards who would normally see through your disguise are thrown off once you’re surrounded by the chattering masses, similar to the cover you gain by “blending in” at waiter’s counters or mop buckets.

It’s odd that it took IO this long to borrow a gimmick from the Assassin’s Creed series. It isn’t quite as seamless as those stabby hoodlums lowering their heads and pretending to be a pleasant monk, blending into a unit of people. Judging from the demo, it’s cruder than that. You just waltz in among the throng and stand there. At one point, I stand amidst a group of chatting race fans, dressed as a security guard. They seem to take no notice of the large, bald man standing in the middle of their conversation, nor do they care about the predatory looks he’s giving that racecar driver. But it works and it’s useful, another sneaky addition to the murder playground. An obscuring ball pit, except instead of coloured balls you’re covered in rich people wearing fancy clothes.

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The sniper’s briefcase also makes a return. It’s dead-dropped into specific areas, containing a sniper rifle you can assemble in a quiet place. I’ve never been much of a sniper in moderno-Hitman. It almost feels ungrateful to use a gun to snuff out your target when the level designers have given you so many cups to poison, chandeliers to sabotage, and masseurs to impersonate. However, for those who enjoy the thrill of the crosshairs and challenge of finding a good vantage point, the briefcase seems a handy tool for setting up those chances.

Far more useful, I feel, are the new picture-in-picture moments. These small windows of action appear when something important is happening out of sight. Remember that paramedic you clubbed on the head with a crowbar? Some innocent passer-by just found their body slumped against a radiator, and thanks to the pop-up window, you get to see that. Before, sloppy assassins would simply be told “body found”, leaving you to briefly guess at which of your five recent disguises is now out of date. Although, to be frank, you should probably just stop leaving bodies in the living room.

All of these additions are neat, tidy and sensible. At the same time, they also feel like they should have been in the 2016 reboot in the first place. But that concern is secondary, because it’s the exotic locations and clockwork level design that murderers really love. I didn’t get to explore Miami enough to make up my mind, but if the level is to surpass the protests of Marrakech or the exploding golf balls of Sapienza, I feel like there’s room for improvement. Aside from the race and the crowds, the expo hall on offer was mostly boxy corridors and rooms of glass and concrete. Although, that’s 99% of US architecture. So maybe I just find America boring compared to North Africa and Bangkok.

I should also add that I did find at least one random NPC speaking completely in Spanish, which is hopefully a sign that they’ve taken to heart criticism about the out-of-place Brits and Yanks spread throughout the world, the Thai bellboys speaking with thick English accents, for example.

With changes as quiet as briefcases and camera angles, some could worry that not enough has been freshened up for a sequel. But the last thing I’d want is for Hitman to try to reinvent itself. The framework of Hitman 2016 is easily sturdy enough for a second round of Bond-like skulking and silly killing. The new features are welcome, but even without them, I’m keen for more violent holidays. Hiding in crowds is good, but the important question is: where will those crowds take us?

Hitman 2 is coming out on November 13 for £44.99/€59.99/$59.99

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