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Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (PC) artwork

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (PC) review

"Hitman 2: Silent Assassin - Not the Newer One, the Classic Best-man at Your Shotgun Wedding"

Developed by IO-Interactive and published by Eidos Interactive in 2002. Available on PC (GOG/Steam), Gamecube, PS2, Xbox (Original, Xbox One and PS4 (HD Trilogy.)

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin is almost as confusing of a game as Codename 47--or as mindboggling as the fact that there is a sequel to a non-reboot entry with the same name, HITMAN 2 (2018)--yet Silent Assassin is, perhaps, the true genesis of Hitman. (For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to this game as Silent Assassin--and before you mention that the subtitle is a mission-rating across the series, you can blame the creators for this mess.) However, depending on what you consider cheating versus exploring a game’s mechanics to their fullest, Silent Assassin can vary from being the most brutal entry to the most exploitable game where the Catharsis of play can absolve its many former sins.

The only (new) Hitman 2 image here since there is no opportunity to drown a target in (old) Hitman 2. It counts, right?

Like a baptism ceremony, Silent Assassin is a game where you can experience the struggle towards that watershed moment when a franchise clears away its misguided roots (as well as relapsing into old habits because someone thinks he is an action hero after a few drinks.) This realization, more faithful than any mixed message the game wants to make, is the true sobering conclusion not only of Agent 47 but also the developers who have stayed by this series until their deaths will be the moment that they part--and if you think this is the last Judeo-Christian wordplay, then you be delighted to meet a bartender who only opens on Sundays as He-brews some more.

A Question Concerning Gameplay Infidelity, and Whether It’s OK

All jokes aside, let’s make one thing clear: the sequel may have addressed many core issues from the original, but it has also introduced new problems. Most of these issues come from the fact that, while this game was the second attempt for IO-Interactive, the stealth systems remain woefully underdeveloped to the point of being considered broken. The key difference between Codename 47 and Silent Assassin isn’t that one is less janky than the other; it’s that the jankiness is more in the favor of the player if he or she chooses to utilize its full depth, which is an important milestone for Hitman.

Move over Sekiro; this is how you master the art of being a sneaky ninja.

One of the most important distinctions between older stealth titles and newer entries is the emphasis on making the player responsible for their own mistakes, not their environments. Compare any classic stealth game like Thief, Metal Gear Solid or Tenchu with their modern counterparts (for Tenchu, Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice is a clear successor), and you will often notice from older titles how much more difficult it was to maintain cover because players had less control versus their environments. This impression often comes across when people say, “Stealth games are all about waiting, not playing,” and it’s when you play many modern stealth entries you begin to realize how much control they give to players as they improvise solutions to their own mistakes. These types of stealth systems ultimately add more depth--and a greater sense of engagement--that keeps players thinking that they are playing and not simply being more patient (or risk-taking).

Another way to think about this situation is to view the same consequence, being caught by a guard, in terms of passive voice (old stealth) and active voice (new stealth). Examine these two sentences: “The player was caught (by the sound? By line of sight? By material on the ground, etc.?)” and “The player knocked out the guard next to another one.)” The former sentence has many variables that aren’t immediately obvious to the player when the mistake is made, and it can ultimately dissuade the player from taking further risks so as not to waste more time. The latter sentence, however, makes the mistake perfectly clear that the player played poorly and was caught in the act. Some of this information can be displayed in both situations by the UI, sound-cues, reaction states or by other means, but in older stealth titles (like Codename 47) stealth is an on-or-off switch whereas newer stealth games operate on a scale of exposure (HITMAN (2016) and HITMAN 2.) This subtle difference may also prove that, out of all the tools in Agent 47’s arsenal, the throwable coins added in Blood Money were the most important inclusion to the series. When viewed in terms of this manner, Silent Assassin is the proverbial missing link, for the better and for the worst, that showcases how each approach can drastically affect the player’s experience.

Mastering the art of silent moon-walking since 2002.

To briefly summarize my point, if you enjoy the newer Hitman titles and if you want to enjoy Silent Assassin in the best manner possible, then you should be prepared to bend the game’s rules in your favor. These situations include using the “silent” walk-slide, constantly tapping the movement keys in the same direction, to mitigate the awful crouching speed, the absurd sound-detection system for the AI (as well as the fun-policing snipers who always blow your disguise if you run) and the godawful disguise system that is worse than Codename 47 because anyone will be immediately suspicious of you. This one exploit, which can be used for a variety of reasons like pacifying a guard to steal his outfit, can have a drastic impact on the level design as well as the player’s enjoyment. (Yes, this walk-slide was in Codename 47 because it’s an engine bug just like how you can hide behind gated doors; however, Silent Assassin gets away with these glitches because every level is of much higher quality.) Having played this game both the “intended” way as well as the more liberal manner, the difference makes you truly realize what it means for a game to be based on playing rather than waiting.

Good Games End When Built on Faulty Foundations

Of all the improvements Silent Assassin brought to the series, it’s the overall consistency of great level design that truly makes this game live up to its pedigree. Unlike Codename 47, almost every level manages to be worth your time, even if they are not all stand out moments, which is a godsend compared to the original--and that game had a level where you had to bring a pig’s corpse (or a soldier’s body) to a tiger so you could get to the real mission. Silent Assassin offers not only the largest selection of biomes but also the longest selection of missions out of any entry. However, if you expect to immerse yourself in the miniature worlds that IO-Interactive is known to create, then these maps may disappoint you if you expect similar quality.

This statement isn’t to say the levels are lacking in a variety of approaches, but that playfulness that you expect from the newer entries, especially from their stories you unraveled as you explored, is a rarity more than a frequent occurrence. Compared to the original, there is a far greater plethora of viable options in most stages, although some have very tight restrictions that makes other approaches impossible or more tedious than rewarding. As IO-Interactive’s second attempt, most levels retain their quality to this day when they operate on what Blood Money has perfected, which was creating more open-ended levels based on players creating their own solutions rather than a set path. Even when the game does create more focused levels, these areas also retain enough quality to reward the player’s ingenuity if they take the time to explore their options. The problem with these latter stages, as well as maps that are perhaps too large for their own good, is that they lack any character to make them memorable (or even better than the few good levels from Codename 47.)

I heard you needed a little more fiber in your die-t.

However, this issue does not mean the game lacks its share of moments. One level that stands out is the general’s party where you are tasked with not only assassinating the target but also tracking down a separate agency’s operative from killing your target before making off with classified documents. This level reminds me of the Ghost Versus Mode in HITMAN 2 (2018) except in a more scripted manner, which offered a welcome change of pace from the usual assassination contracts. Even when Blood Money explored a similar idea with three operatives, this mission in Silent Assassin still stands out from the mire of its worst missions. A trait that too often brings back memories about what did not work in Codename 47, although these missions are nowhere near as bad in their execution.

Two types of missions return from Codename 47 and, despite having better layouts to explore, they remain as some of the worst examples of mission-design in Hitman. These include levels where you must sneak through the map to get to the next stage (ex. the tiger one from Codename 47) and the pure action showdowns that try to add some variety to the gameplay. Stealth games that utilize the former levels are not necessarily bad because sneaking from point A to exit B is the name of the genre, but the problem is that these levels do not compliment the core Hitman social-espionage foundation. Without distraction mechanics or ways to manipulate the AI’s behaviors, the simple stealth-mechanics of Codename 47, Silent Assassin and Contracts show their greatest flaws--and combat has always been used as a crutch for players to vent their frustration on the NPCs when those cracks collapse the foundation of the stealth experience. Perhaps for these reasons, the omission of these types of levels from later entries--especially the newest ones--shouldn’t be all that surprising because these levels were always padding rather than actual content worth playing again.

After an hour trying to infiltrate the castle, this showdown was the only way to vent my frustration.

In addition to realizing what makes a better Hitman experience, maybe it’s also not surprising that future Hitman titles have done away with any plot structure. (Or it may be more correct to say that IO-Interactive has responded to the more positively-received entries like Blood Money or Contracts.) Unlike the original that had a threadbare, yet satisfying, narrative to unravel with the player, Silent Assassin somehow feels even more sparse on storytelling (or even character development for Agent 47) that its attempts to strengthen 47’s character makes him even more confusing to understand.

There’s a World of a Difference from Repentance and Acceptance

You probably noticed that this review had many Judeo-Christian references loaded upfront before this review delved more seriously into the merits and the problems with Silent Assassin. This cheeky introduction served a far more important purpose than telling you enjoy the game Yahweh or to make this review more entertaining to read. The real point was to communicate how bizarre Silent Assassin’s narrative comes across as it front-loads its plot with an inciting incident, a Catholic reverend being kidnapped by some local mafia, and then spending twenty-or-so random missions around the world before coming back to resolve the original conflict as if it were an afterthought. To say the themes brought to the story--such as redemption, morality, and the influences of religion and science on the ethos of a contract killer--also suffered would be understating the narrative issues.

You are worse than my own conscience.

Before any die-hard Hitman fanatics want to correct me that there was an underlining purpose from the wiki’s synopsis, here are several reasons why this approach does not work in Silent Assassin. Codename 47, for all its many flaws, did more with this scenario than Silent Assassin tries to do because the story began with you escaping Doctor Ort-Meyer’s facility and then applying those lessons as you worked for the International Contract Agency (ICA). As 47 and as the player, these situations began like tests to prove your worth as a contract-killer before the real story was revealed to you by the notes from your main targets and the finale where Doctor Ort-Meyer tries to clean up his own mess by luring you into a trap. This approach does not work in Silent Assassin because every mission after the first one has nothing connecting these adventures together except as a level select screen, and it’s only after the twentieth mission that the plot remembers it needs to tie itself back to the opening cinematic. Even if you want to argue the earnings were going to pay off the ransom, no one acknowledges that fact, especially the reborn 47 that the opening wants to portray of a killer learning dealing with guilt. 47 simply reverts to the money-obsessed contract killer he always was--and if you want to argue that was the point, then okay, but why bother making a huge deal about his remorse only at the start when he goes straight back to making wisecracks with the Agency? To imply that the story was rushed would be stating the obvious; had there been more care to create subtle character development, however, then the narrative would have improved an otherwise bewildering set-up and execution.

Clearly 47 is stricken with guilt he needs more money to forget about it.

The reason why so much of this section focuses on the character of 47 rather than the plot itself is because this 47 doesn’t come across as the same 47 before or after this game. In many ways, this game’s narrative can be successful in making someone as deplorable as 47 sympathetic to the player because the plot makes him a victim of circumstances in a world that wants his talent, which prevents him from giving up that life he once sought to leave before accepting it in the end. This side of 47’s personality, one who secretly views his deeds with remorse and who needs a Holy Father, contrasts well with the fact that he is a genetically-modified clone without a traditional father (Dr Ort-Meyer and the other biological donors from the best assassins.) In addition, this transformation and regression of 47 makes him into another by-product of a world that only values his utility in life as a thinking weapon--that bitter truth is made sadder when you realize those confessions with Vittorio are the only outlet 47 will ever have to be the person he perhaps wants to truly be, a gardener in the quiet pastures of Sicily.

47 sure doesn't enjoy his job whatsoever; he simply wants to put you out of your misery.

As boring as this alternative life would leave 47 in future installments because no one would want to play a moping contract killer, it’s also equally confusing to accept that 47 has ever displayed a shred of guilt afterwards. Even in the rare cases where this side of him comes out like in Absolution, the contrast between 47 in Silent Assassin and in Blood Money are so extreme that it’s impossible to believe they are the same person. These lines of remorse in Silent Assassin also come across as being hollow as the newest entries often have 47 is situational ironic situations or have him make dramatically ironic statements that gives off the impression that he truly does enjoy his work. As a result of these paradoxes, and as much as I want to believe 47 is a complex character, the most likely conclusion is this development was another accident that further molded him into the character he is today.

Let Critics Who Have Not Played Cast the First Shade, or Something

This is Silent Assassin when looking at the warts from Codename 47.

Maybe these observations, gameplay or narrative, aren’t as important to other players who simply enjoy these games as an outlet to devise dumb, impractical ways to kill horrible people. However, these thoughts also make it difficult to accept Silent Assassin as the masterpiece some players would like you to believe it is. These players are not exactly wrong because there is more than enough to praise as much as there is to criticize, but that distinction of quality comes with one too many strings attached and one too many knots you have to tie. (We are still talking about marriages here, right?) You can either accept those failings and learn to love the game in spite of them, or you can embrace those flaws and have even more fun by exploiting them and by going your own way--the decision is yours.

Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (June 10, 2019)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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