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Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

You are standing at the main entrance of the wall surrounding the mansion grounds, sweat beading on your forehead from the midday sun. Extremely bored, you cast a quick glance down at your wristwatch. Damn. Still over three hours to go until you’re relieved of post. Annoyed, you kick at a rock, sending it skipping down the path leading away from the estate. As your eyes track the bouncing stone, you spot the postman sauntering towards your position. What’s that he’s carrying? Flowers? Sent by another one of Guillani’s admirers no doubt. When will those bloodsucking women learn that they aren’t going to get any of his money? In fact, they’ll be lucky to keep their lives after he gets done using them.

The postman walks up to the entrance and you tell him to stop. A natural hint of suspicion springs up inside you as you don’t recognize his face, but the fact that there have been four different postmen this month causes your sudden wariness to quickly dissipate. Stepping forward, you give the man a rough frisking, squeezing the flowers together to check for any foreign objects. Seeing nothing amiss, you give the man one last fleeting glance, then motion him through the entryway. As the postman strolls up towards the house, your mind slowly begins drifting to thoughts of food and the slow caressing of your beautiful girlfriend’s…

Clink! Daydreams abruptly scattering, you look up towards the source of the sound. Up on the second floor balcony of the mansion Guillani is lining up for another swing with his driver. You watch as he slowly pulls the golf club back, pauses, then drives it down towards the ball with expert fluidity. Clink! The ball sails over the wall, thumping softy on the grassy knoll beyond. Guiseppe “The Don” Guillani. The man with everything – money, women, cars, estates in multiple countries and more bodyguards then the President of the United States. How great it would be to step into his shoes just once. To feel the thrill of being a man with seemingly limitless power. To be a man who is invincible.

Crack! The gunshot rings out with terrible clarity, echoing off the surrounding hills and causing your heart to take a sickening lurch into your throat. Time slows to a crawl. You see Guillani, ragged hole in the side of his head, slump drunkenly over the balcony railing and plummet to the ground below. Shouts bellow out all around as bodyguards frantically run about, complete chaos enveloping the mansion grounds. You stand staring at Guillani’s corpse, horrified into inaction, stomach twisting with nauseating intensity.

Then a bodyguard is running towards you, an R93 sniper rifle grasped in his hands. Confused, you look up at his face. It’s the postman. Comprehension rocks you with extraordinary force and you try frantically to remove your pistol. The imposter drops the sniper rifle and, with exceptional grace, pulls double ballers from his belt and aims them at your head. Blam! Blam! For a split second inconceivable pain rips through your brain, then everything goes black. You’ve just been had by Agent 47 – master of disguise, expert of 1001 weapons and star of Eidos’ excellent stealth-based title, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin.

The game starts out with 47 (who is the same antagonist from the original Hitman for the PC) retired from his career as professional assassin and working as a monastery groundskeeper in Sicily. Unfortunately, his quiet life is brutally interrupted when gangsters kidnap his good friend Padre Vittorio. This event propels the game’s story in motion, which has 47 coming back out of retirement and performing numerous jobs across the globe with the hopes of uncovering the truth behind the Padre’s kidnapping. The story is quite gripping and much deeper than it first appears, eventually exposing some shocking truths about the nature of 47’s mysterious past.

As mentioned earlier, Hitman 2 is a stealth-based title along the same lines as Tenchu, Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid. The goal in each of the game’s twenty levels is always the same – find your way to the target (ie – person you are trying to kill) and eliminate them. What separates this game from the other stealth titles available is the open-endedness of the gameplay. There are just so many ways you can go about accomplishing your goal. Agent 47 can sneak up behind someone, use a lethal or nonlethal method to disable them (choke them with fiber wire or knock them out with anaesthetic), and then change into their clothing. Once someone is knocked out/killed, you can drag his or her body anywhere you’d like, the object obviously being to hide it from detection by someone who may raise the alarm.

Once disguised, you have a much better chance to penetrate the facility in question, be it as a postman, delivery boy, security guard, fireman, etc. It is quite amazing how realistically people will react to your disguise. Using the introduction as an example, let’s say when 47 takes the postman’s uniform, he places his gun in with the flowers. When he tries to get past the bodyguard, the gun will be found and 47 will be fired upon. The game really forces you to be smart about what you do. If armed guards are all carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, you had damn well better be carrying one also if you plan on fitting in (and staying alive). Also, running around while in disguise is a big no-no. After all, there’s nothing more suspicious than a postman making a mad dash through a heavily guarded area (no, the guards won’t consider the possibility that he is having a severe bowel movement). Also, the game implements a stealth meter that fills up as people become more suspicious of your actions (like in Tenchu) and it definitely comes in handy when trying to infiltrate an area undetected.

On top of the ability to use various disguises, there are nearly endless methods of completing the actual hit. Do you want to grab a sniper rifle and take out the target from afar? Go for it. Maybe you’d like to sneak all the way in as a bodyguard and take the target out with a silenced pistol? That’s fine too. Or how about kicking in the front door and blasting your way through with an automatic shotgun? Yup. All the game does is place you at the same beginning point when you start the level and leave the manner in which you get the job done up to your imagination. You are rewarded more for the use of stealth (by unlocking secrets) and the main goal is to kill the target without harming anyone else, but you are still free to be as covert or aggressive as you choose. This nonlinear gameplay style is a big diversion from other stealth games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid 2 and makes Hitman 2 a very unique and engrossing experience.

Controlling Agent 47 is relatively easy using the intuitive setup that maps moving, looking and strafing to both dual analog sticks. As usual in GameCube titles with this type of control scheme, the tiny C stick can be a bit bothersome when trying to perform precise aiming, but it’s certainly doable. Sneaking, firing weapons, dragging bodies and other actions are all simple to learn and become like second nature after a bit a practice. The game can be played in both first person or third person modes; the latter being more useful during sneaking situations, while the former is more practical during hectic firefights. The camera is surprisingly well behaved during third person mode and only gets hung up on obstacles on rare occasions.

On of the coolest features of the game is the ability to collect weapons. When a level is completed, any weapons you have in your possession are saved and placed on hooks inside the gardening shack that serves as Agent 47’s headquarters (remember, he was a groundskeeper). As you get further and further into the game, your shack will fill up with various goodies, including a golf club, revolver, knives and multiple assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and pistols. The best part is all these acquired weapons can be used in previously completed missions, adding a good deal to the game’s lasting appeal. There’s nothing quite like going back to the first level and trying to receive the Silent Assassin rating (for using extreme stealth) with a single katana sword.

Visual-wise, Hitman 2 looks fairly good on Nintendo’s next gen system. Especially worth noting is the animation quality for 47 and the various other characters. Everything from the fiber wire choke to the simple act of opening a closed door is accompanied by extremely fluid animations that really draw you into the game. Even the rag-doll animations are extremely well done, as bodies limply lay according to the environment in a very realistic manner. For example, if you use a shotgun to blast someone on a staircase, they will fly back against the wall, slump to the ground, then tumble slowly down the stairs. Other nice touches worth noting concerning the character models include 47’s tie that whips back and forth as he moves and detailed facial textures. Also, no matter how many bodies you create in any one level, they will never disappear (so don’t leave them lying about or your cover will eventually get blown). And if you ever do go on a killing spree you’ll be met with some fairly liberal gore effects, as blood will splatter on walls and pool on the ground under bodies.

The environments in Hitman 2 are well designed and often quite impressive. Whether it’s a Japanese castle, gritty subway, gothic cathedral or rundown apartment building, the locations are always convincing and feature plenty of subtle details. The texture quality of the environs isn’t as good as it is in the Xbox version of the game, but the levels are still as expansive and exceptionally modeled as ever. Just like in the PC iteration, many stages feature impressive dynamic lighting that causes realistic shadows to be cast by characters and other obstacles in the environment. Even during firefights, muzzle flashes will briefly light up the surroundings and cause momentary shadows to appear. Unfortunately, the game’s framerate can chug when too much is happening on screen, but it’s never more than a minor annoyance.

Anchored by a great score from the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, Hitman 2’s aural presentation is top-notch. The soundtrack ranges from gently moving to pulse pounding and enhances the overall experience significantly. The voice acting is always spot on and never cheesy, whether it’s coming from a simple thug or your contact at the Agency (during pre mission briefings). Gunfire, footsteps and other general sound effects are not as blaring or overdone like in many other action games, giving Hitman 2 a more realistic flavor. On many occasions sound effects actually influence gameplay, such as creaky wooden floors that can alert guards to your presence when walked over; it’s nice to see such great attention to detail in the audio department.

With amazing nonlinear gameplay that is unmatched in other stealth/action games like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Splinter Cell, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin stands as one of the most unique and absorbing titles for the GameCube system. Eidos and IO Interactive’s (the game’s developer) near flawless assassin simulator will provide months of entertainment for anyone with a strong enough stomach to handle the game’s dark and brutally violent themes. Now snatch up those double ballers and grab that bottle of chloroform – it’s time to go to work.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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