Back In Black
You're trying to stay as quiet as possible as the snow crunches beneath your boots. There are guards everywhere, vigilantly pacing their patrol routes and looking out from behind barbed-wire barricades. You crouch at the corner of the nearest building, your gaze fixed on the guards. Slowly you bring your rifle up and peer through the scope. It's cold out here, making it difficult for you to steady your aim, and your crosshairs stray off-target until you eventually get it under control. You aim at the forehead of one of a pair of guards and gently squeeze the trigger. The second guard turns his back, and his friend drops to the ground as your bullet whistles through his skull. Startled, the guard turns around again only to meet the same fate a split-second later. You rise, and continue forwards slowly. Silently. If there's one thing IO Interactive are on the right track with in Hitman 2, it's the atmosphere. Whilst the game has a long way to go as far as AI routines are concerned, the locational detail and character animation alone really breathe life into your surroundings. I personally felt that the original Hitman had a strange artificial movie-set feel to it, much like that on display in the Rainbow Six series. This appears to have been alleviated with detail levels bumped up across the board; the characters, the textures, the story, the level design - they all feel so much more intricate, which elevates the game onto a far more atmospheric, almost theatrical plane. After the first game, our protagonist went into retirement and gave up his profession in exchange for a life devoted to the church, feeling he needed to pay for his sins as a hitman. However, when his beloved padre is kidnapped from the church in Sicily, 47 (as he's known to his friends) is forced back into work in order to rescue his benefactor and dispatch of those who dared bring him back into the shadowy world of hired killers. Going back into employment with the Agency takes him to a variety of real-world locations for his missions, ranging from sniping dignitaries in meeting rooms to the basement murder of a pizza-gobbling programmer.
The game plays very much like the original, though IO have answered critics of its control system by including an optional first-person mode for those who had trouble with the standard third-person viewpoint. Hitman still has the same moves in his repertoire, including the delightful piano wire-garrotte move, and an improved, expansive arsenal to orchestrate takedowns with brutal efficiency. Hitman 2 is also graphically very similar to its predecessor. The architecture is far more complicated though, and the textures, lighting and weather effects are tremendously lifelike. A lot of the audio was incomplete in our version, but the voice acting we did hear was above average, even if the lip-synching and facial animation didn't match it too well. A beautifully composed soundtrack permeates the experience throughout, though one couldn't help but feel it would have better been implemented as incidental music rather than a looping background track, providing a dramatic exclamation to the on-screen action. Bringing Hitman back to our screens with such panache is sure to appease the masses of Codename 47 fans out there. Having addressed many of the criticisms levelled at the first game, IO's sequel will be something undoubtedly worth looking into. We await its stealthy arrival with baited breath and taut piano wire in our hands.