Over the past few months, I, late to the party, have fallen head over heels for the new Hitman trilogy. Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to, including several Kotaku colleagues, have said Hitman 2 is the best of the three, or at least the one I should play first. They did not mention how jarring the cutscenes would be.
Some background: For all intents and purposes, January’s Hitman 3 is the first Hitman game I’ve really played. (I dabbled with the Paris level from Hitman 2016 but was too young and short-sighted at the time to fully grasp its brilliance.) Once the credits rolled, I needed more. So I went through the byzantine process of transferring Hitman 2016 levels into Hitman 3 and started powering through those.
Between levels, Hitman 3 features glossy cutscenes that match the sheen of a globe-trotting spy film. Same goes for Hitman 2016. Even the scenes that don’t depict sumptuous elegance—the glamorous destinations, the over-the-top fashion—just ooze luxury.
One that comes to mind sees Agent 47 and his handler, Diana Burnwood, sitting in a nearly empty airport terminal. It’s overcast. The two are talking about murder and espionage, but they’re discussing it as flippantly as you or I would discuss lunch plans. It’s the most banal experience—killing time on a layover—and yet smacks of the good life, thanks to how the moment is visually framed. Consider that the appeal of luxury is rooted in aspiration. Watching 47 and Diana kick it next to Gate 121 made me crave for a long-haul flight to some place I’ve never been. (In fairness, I suspect these feelings were exacerbated by a 14-month-long pandemic that has all but precluded the possibility of international travel.)
Hitman 2, however, does not feature the high-quality cutscenes of the first game. Rather, each vignette goes down as a series of still frames while fully-voiced conversations play in the background. The art is gorgeous, but it’s a marked departure from the rest of the trilogy. Having played the last game of the trilogy first and the first game second, I likely felt the shift more keenly than someone who’d played them in the “proper” order.
It’s most apparent during Hitman 2’s second cinematic. The game’s antagonists all beam into the most evil-lair evil lair: a conference table in an inverted pyramid suspended by cables between the peaks of several snow-crested mountains. (To the best of my knowledge, the modern Hitman trilogy never addresses how in the world this structure is constructed.) The group discusses nefarious plans and other sinister chatter that tends to serve as conversational touchstones among secret billionaire puppetmasters. No one’s lips move. No one walks around, gesticulating wildly. Everything is still as glass.
Mind, this creative direction isn’t bad. It’s just different. Playing through Hitman and Hitman 3 is like playing through a series of Bond or Mission Impossible films. Playing through Hitman 2 is like playing through a graphic novel. It’s a welcome change of tone, one that prevents the trilogy from feeling like a singular game.
I’d also be remiss to leave out that I’m absolutely loving Hitman 2. Some of these stages—the Santa Fortuna one, in particular—are just jaw-droppingly brilliant. Had I played all three games when Kotaku determined its official rankings of Hitman levels, I would’ve pushed harder for that one to rank higher.
I still need to play through the game’s final level, and the two add-on stages: “The Golden Handshake,” set in New York, and “The Last Resort,” in the Maldives. No spoilers please, but I’ve heard those feature more traditional cinematic cutscenes than the base game’s static-image fare. This time around, I’ll know what to expect.