Hitman 2 is builtaround the idea that it’s an elaborate Rube Goldberg Murder Machine, and that the most optimal way to play is to carefully explore your surrounds, tinker with strange and hilarious ways to whack your targets then set everything off and revel in the results.
That’s all fine and cool, and if that’s the way you play the game, then I admire your skill and patience.
But I don’t have time for that shit.
I’ve quickly found that the wrong way to play Hitman is actually the best way, and it’s turned what was already a great game into something truly wonderful.
While Hitman encourages you to avoid guards and assassinate your targets anonymously, it doesn’t force you. There’s no failure screen once an alarm sounds, or checkpoint reset if a security guy notices that even though you’re in his uniform, you’re not actually his friend Dave (RIP Dave).
Instead, Hitman lets you wallow in your mistakes. Guards will rush the position of a crime (or discovery of a body), and if your cover is blown you can be escorted out or even gunned down where you stand. Escape is possible, but it’s frantic and you’re often flying by the seat of your pants, and while this makes everything sound stressful and maybe even broken I absolutely love it.
I get into situations like this all the time because, while scripted kills can be funny, there’s something appealing about doing things the old fashioned way.
The pros of an approach like this is the grim satisfaction of doing things like a big screen hitman. The cons are that you’re waving a gun around and leaving a dead body behind, so more often than not despite my best efforts I’ll murder a target then end up triggering some kind of alarm.
I should feel bad about this, but Hitman is pliable enough that even the biggest fuck-ups—and I have had some absolute units—can be salvaged in the most heart-pounding of ways.
So long as I’m quick on my feet and accurate with a few shots from my silenced pistol, almost every situation (barring all but the most heavily-fortified sections of the game) can be escaped by legging it to the nearest change of clothes, shimmying along a window ledge, hiding in a closet (or a combination of all three) and whistling as I strut past a bull rush of bewildered security guards.
That feeling of pulling off the textbook big screen hit, navigating a chaotic storm of confusion and gunfire then strolling out the front door with the bad guys none the wiser is a cocktail of emotions. There’s pleasure at a job well done, sure, but also a physical rush that I’d say is closer to the kind of thing you feel on the playground or sporting field than playing a video game.
There’s a primal thrill at being hunted the way you are in Hitman, one that goes beyond a regular gamey instance of “a thing is after me” (Alien Isolation also did this, but went too far). The fact you were in a disguise that’s now blown, that you’re being chased relentlessly but there’s a small chance of escape, and that the pursuit is taking place in a confined space that’s packed with onlookers is one hell of a combination.
It’s a Bourne movie chase scene, a horror movie and a Michael Mann shootout all in one.
What makes it so good though is that I shouldn’t be getting away with it at all! Plenty of games will just fail me automatically, or let a busted attempt degenerate into a mess, but the fact Hitman can take a broken situation and turn it into something wonderful speaks volumes as to how masterfully designed all aspects of its missions and levels truly are.
It’s not a Rube Goldberg machine after all. It’s just a toy box, and like a toy box, so long as I’ve got the tools at my disposal I can imagine my way out of any situation I want, no matter how tense or terrifying it might be.