2014 has been a relatively disappointing year in videogames. Underwhelming releases like Watch Dogs and Destiny, as well as a continual disregard for the customer by releasing unfinished messes like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and the Master Chief Collection simply to meet corporate quota, made this one of those “clear the backlog” type of years. Just when I was thinking that I managed to dodge out of the way of the over-hype/upset train, The Hitman Collection went free on PSN. At first glance, this was a great thing. I had not had the opportunity to play these highly-rated games when they were new, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see what made this series popular. What I ended up getting out of the 2002 stealth title was a tough lesson in historical game design. I had to learn (the hard way) a truth that many others who’ve revisited older stealth games, like the original Splinter Cell and Thief, already have: that stealth games age like cheese, not like wine.
The game begins with a couple of cinematic opening cutscenes. The one before the start menu appears is where the mixed feelings began. The VO work sounded laughably amateur. It felt like the two mysterious figures, who discuss some slight exposition regarding the main character, were actually just a couple of the developers talking into a microphone. Fortunately, that changed once the game started. Player character and protagonist, Agent 47’s voice has that dangerously soothing characteristic of heroin. 47 is a man of relatively few words, but every time he opens his mouth, you want to listen to what he has to say. Especially considering the surprising depth which he conveys thoughts with. Judging by the way he looks (white, bald, suit with red tie), I figured he would be the most cliche assassin type ever penned, but as his philosophical conversation with a priest indicated, the book is not just the cover. The aforementioned priest is actually the catalyst for the story of Hitman 2. Upon Father Emilio Vittorio’s kidnapping and subsequent ransoming for half a million dollars, Agent 47 digs up his past in order to rescue him. But after the first mission, in which 47 fails to find him, he is quickly forgotten about. However, the game wasn’t the only one who found themselves dismissing this mystery of the missing priest. I soon found myself wrapped up in Det. 47 and the Case of the Anomalous AI.
Hitman 2’s mission structure is really quite simple. There are 20 levels, each one with a unique map and a designated target for Agent 47 to hit. The player is tasked with getting from point A to point B, and back to point A again, without dying. There is only a couple minute deviations from that formula throughout the whole game. I honestly would be fine with that if not for two things: The game too often looks and feels bland, and the frustration. Oh, the frustration. Unless the difficulty is set on the easiest of the three options, you will spend hours reloading saves because the game will work against you at every turn. There are problems regarding every single thing that moves in this game. First off, Agent 47 controls in 3 speeds, all of which are too painfully slow for what they need to achieve. His normal walking speed,which he’ll have to go at for most of the game in order to not draw suspicion, is approximately somewhere between the pace of grass growing and paint drying. The crouching crawl necessary to sneak up on guards is marginally faster than a snail. With brain damage. That was stepped on. Luckily 47 can run infinitely. Technically though, his “run” is really more of a brisk jog and even then the cost outweighs the benefit, as being seen moving at a speed faster than absolutely still will capture the attention of guards. You see, Agent 47’s utter lack of tempo isn’t the only test of patience Silent Assassin will have in store for you. AI problems abound, ranging from simply annoying to absolutely infuriating. Minor stupidities include not being alerted by piles of clothes (which can be changed out of in favor of disguises) to nonchalantly going about their business as bullets literally whiz past their head. More severe grievances generally involve sixth sense levels of detection on the part of guards. You’d think that being crouched behind a guard, amidst some foliage 50 yards away, would be ample distance and obscurity to work with. Well, you’d be dead wrong about half the time in this game. Because instead of lurking like the human predator you’re supposed to be, the guards can randomly be granted the power of omniscience and down you with their best Billy the Kid quickdraw before you can say “Get Noscoped.” This only gets worse when levels have snipers in them. The worst part of that whole scenario is the “half the time” clause. The fact that the AI is so inconsistent means there’s something of a dice roll as to whether or not something that worked once before will work again. The other mechanic Hitman is well known for, donning disguises in order to hide in plain sight, had just the worst implementation it possibly could. Even dressed up head-to-toe in ninja garb (obscuring the head and face), I was approached by literally every guard who caught me in their peripheral vision. Is this game seriously entertaining the idea that every guard is paranoid to the point where they have to check each other’s ID every time they see one another? Why are they questioning me? I looked EXACTLY like all the rest, had all defining features masked, was walking the insipidly slow walk, and was still being confronted. Logical? No. F**king annoying? You bet your sweet gaming ass it was.
It was once I began questioning just quitting on the game when I decided to look back and actually see what the reviewers had deemed praiseworthy about the game back in the day. What I found gave me a mild surprise. Much of the talk was about how ‘realistic’ and ‘detailed’ the graphics and animations were. Just looking at these screenshots, you can tell that one of those compliments can be chucked right out the window now. As for animation, I had no choice but to laugh at this review of yore, considering I’d actually been jarred on multiple occasions by how stiff and clunky Agent 47 is. (Seriously, the animation to get on a ladder going downward is so bad that I thought the game was glitching out the first time I saw it.) The reviewer also spoke of how the game felt rewarding on harder difficulties, which I can now confidently say is 101% false. The amount of trial-and-error repetition forced onto the player, mixed with the Eagle Eye AI, had the end of every mission feel more like the sweet release of euthanasia than the thrill of victory. The reviewer did mention the ridiculousness of the ragdoll physics in the game (I can attest to having seen enemies do multiple cartwheels upon being shot), as well as the tendency for random shoot outs, but overall, they stood with the consensus that this was a vastly superior game over its previous entry for having fixed what the last game lacked. Here are a few standouts of the “new” features in Hitman 2: crouching. silenced weapons. THE ABILITY TO WALK BACKWARDS.
It dawned on me once I finally had enough of the game, and stopped playing it before having beat it (something I can’t even remember the last time I had done), that this particular entry in the Hitman Collection is only for two kinds of people. Those who want to see some of gaming’s history and should not be attempting this on harder difficulties lest they develop stress-related brain aneurysms at the same time, and those who actually played this when it came out. Stealth games have just come so far since then. Not only is Hitman 2 boring by comparison to modern stealth games, but it’s constantly trying to push away those who were willing to look past the flaws. I wish my complaints were limited to the terrible draw distance and bad graphics, but the meat and potatoes here soured and grew fuzzy long ago, as well. A couple of slight commendations for its orchestral score, and the inclusion of a first person mode which showed your feet (something first-person shooters still weren’t doing in the ps3/360 generation), are nothing more than lipstick on a very ripened and musky swine. If you really, really want to see this game in action, just watch the videos of people who mastered this game on Youtube. I guarantee it will be more fun. I will have no negative feelings about deleting Hitman 2: Silent Assassin from my hard drive.
Obligatory Number at the End: 4/10