Continuing the discussion from How did you get into Hitman?:
It has regrettably come to my attention that some people cannot fathom why many prefer Silent Assassin over Hitman: Blood Money. I will now attempt to explain the timeless appeal of Hitman 2. It really comes down to one concept, but just for fun I’m going to explore other aspects of the game that put it a cut above its sequels.
This might be long, you guys.
story / setting / music
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The story is the best yet because it perfectly includes 47’s personal and professional character (YES THEY ARE DIFFERENT) and because it has a seemingly unrelated variety of hits that ultimately add up to a cohesive story. The only other game that can compete on story is Codename 47 because Absolution’s plot was a shit-show and the other two games are Greatest Hits montages with no story besides “one time some guy almost got 47.”
The environments are fantastic, even Nuristan (which is only guilty of overstaying its welcome). The soundtrack is eclectic, classy, and perfectly complements the scenery. I love the full orchestra, especially when it knowingly evokes the theme from Lawrence of Arabia as 47 treads across the desert in a silly turban.
Hitman 2 introduced some unique ideas that are now mostly forgotten or at least under-appreciated. My favorite is the idea of 47 as a legend– not an “urban myth” as in later games, but a beloved figure in his own profession.
The random Agency contact in Nuristan who gives you the .50-cal rifle greets you as “Mr. 47” and says he’s “very honored.” The guy at the beginning of Temple City Ambush instantly recognizes 47 and is similarly cordial. In Hitman 2, the Agency operates all over the world and by extension, 47 has friends all over the world. It’s a bit campy, sure, but it’s more appealing to me than the brooding “fuck the world” 47 that we see so often.
It’s also neat how we hear from two Agency staffers besides Diana– the infamous Clera and some woman who answers the phone when 47 calls in at the beginning of the game.
Speaking of Diana, the mission briefings in Hitman 2 are the best in the series by far. Not only do we get videos and photos that help characterize our targets, and not only do we get to study the map beforehand while Diana talks about the geography, but the tone of the briefings is distinct. Diana is far less laid back in Hitman 2 than in subsequent games and details the enemy security in such detail that most assignments sound incredibly intimidating to a first-time player. She’s also more apt to scold 47: “watch your moves in there!” and “keep it clean!”
IMO the mission briefings have progressively become more… phoned in… and they’ve certainly taken more of a backseat to the rest of the presentation.
Hitman 2 has the best level loading screens of the series. It’s almost embarrassing how Contracts tried to continue the tradition but mostly recycled generic promotional art for each screen. Back in the day, everyone on this forum wanted a badass avatar of 47 holding a scalpel or something really awesome from the H2 loading screens.
There hasn’t been a good sniping mission since Hitman 2. Every “sniping mission” since has been along the lines of, “well there’s a sniper rifle on the map somewhere but really you’re better off using poison.”
TENSION . . .
Hitman 2 was a game of tension and suspense, about moving carefully and dealing with the consequences of your actions. This is where later games have really dropped the ball. This is the main reason why Hitman 2 is the best.
You rarely felt safe in Hitman 2. This is a good thing. In later games, it’s hard not to feel safe unless you’re doing suit-only sneaking. In many ways, Absolution was a step in the right direction in this area.
slow sneaking speed
The sneaking in Hitman 2 could stand to be a little bit faster, but if you’ve ever tried to sneak up on someone in real life, you’ll know it’s the most realistic in the series. Shouldn’t there be some danger and difficulty in sneaking up on someone? Blood Money and Absolution have made sneaking as fast as a brisk walk and I’ll never understand it. Sneaking has become purely aesthetic; 47 hunches his shoulders a little more, and he’s bookin’ it. In Hitman 2, it was impossible to sneak up on some patrolling guards, and you had to worry if the slow-moving ones were going to turn around just before you got within range.
slow walking… and no running!
Even more important is the slow walking speed. Why? Because that’s where the suspense comes from! When you walk by some guards in Hitman 2, and you see the suspicion meter fill up, you have no choice but to keep walking at an excruciatingly slow pace and hope— pray!— for the best.
This kind of helpless suspense is why the vault scene in Mission: Impossible is so much more compelling than any action sequence in which a protagonist is in control of the action. Compare with Taken— a highly entertaining movie, but one that never quite achieves that sort of emotional engagement because Liam Neeson is always in control.
The paranoia of the guards in Hitman 2 also makes them more satisfying to outsmart. Blood Money has oblivious NPCs who don’t realize you’re not actually a guard until you do something stupid in plain sight. Hitman is supposed to be about pulling things off right under everyone’s nose. Isn’t that more satisfying when everyone else isn’t a moron?
Adding to the tension were the limitations of the anaesthetic. You had to be strategic about who you subdued. You could subdue a guy for 5-10 minutes, or numerous guys for 1-2 minutes. But then you were on the clock— if they woke up too soon, it could compromise your mission. That added a sense of urgency to the rest of the mission.
Blood Money and Absolution have completely removed this element from the game. Now, 47 can effortlessly subdue infinite NPCs and they never wake up. Hiding bodies is no longer suspenseful, either– there’s a “hide-a-body box” in every corner of every room. I completed a particularly difficult section of Absolution by subduing literally every guard on the map and then sneaking up on the targets effortlessly. Silent assassin!
body dragging / no hide-a-body boxes
Do you even remember the last time you dragged a body more than 10 feet? It was probably in Hitman 2 or Hitman: Contracts because I’ll be damned in there’s any reason to do it in the more recent titles. Because usually the guy you have to kill is already halfway leaning into a hide-a-body box. Again, dragging a body is a suspenseful experience. It allows tension. Tension is good.
Also good is when the state of the game changes after you kill someone. Killing someone— much like in real life!— should be an irreversible action that often affects the dynamics of the level. Killing someone and instantly throwing him in a box where you know he will never be found just doesn’t have the same effect. It effortlessly maintains the status quo. Hell, even in “Anathema” you have to worry about the don’s brother eventually returning to the upstairs office. This shit adds tension. Tension is good.
picking a damn lock
Do you remember the last time you picked a damn lock and sweat about it? It was probably Hitman 2 or Contracts. Lockpicking is super-fast in Blood Money and Absolution’s Instinct lets you know damn well there’s nobody around the corner before you start picking that lock. Worrying about getting caught mid-pick adds tension. Say it with me: tension is good.
Nobody’s going to defend the glitches in Hitman 2, least of all the psychic Japanese guards. But you know what? I’d rather have super-paranoid Japanese guards than half the guards in Blood Money, who might find a dead scientist, turn their back for one second, then turn back around to see the body has disappeared and some guy they’ve never seen before has come out of a wardrobe and is now standing in the blood pool wearing the scientist’s clothes, and the guard says “this looks legit.”
Hitman 2 also made some creative missteps. Was “The Graveyard Shift” really necessary? Probably not, although it doesn’t bother me. But it’s clear they were trying to make every mission unique and the game the best it could be. I’d rather have that than 20 missions that are a variation on “drop heavy shit on someone’s head.”
Blood Money is also outstanding for many reasons. There’s a reason why so many fans call it their favorite. I would too if not for the complete lack of tension in most of the game. If we combined the general style of Blood Money with the paranoid AI and suspense of Silent Assassin I think we would have something really special.