IO Interactive, the studio behind the long-running Hitman franchise, has retained the rights to the franchise after completing a management buyout last year. The move made them a completely independent studio and allowed them to seek a new publisher, which they did: Warner Bros. has taken over publishing duties of all IO’s titles, starting with HITMAN 2.
Under their own direction, IO took the same approach to the 2016 HITMAN sequel that they did to Absolution, which is to release a teaser game that’s immediately playable for anyone who pre-orders the main game.
So I was only too happy when we received two codes for said teaser, called HITMAN: Sniper Assassin. Why two? Because HITMAN 2’s main differentiator is the presence of co-op play for the first time in the franchise, and the local distributor wanted us to get the full experience.
Due to a convoluted sequence of events, I was unable to test the game right away, either due to scheduling conflicts with my partner in crime, Mr. Brendyn Lotz, or because my home internet was down.
So when I was back online, I jumped at the chance to jam some Sniper Assassin with Brendyn. And boy am I glad I did – HITMAN: Sniper Assassin is tons of fun on its own, but it’s at its best played with a friend!
A sophisticated shooting gallery
Before I get into the co-op aspect of the game, let me first touch on what it is you’re expected to do.
As the heading implies, the teaser game is a big open gallery full of people, and players are tasked with taking out the designated threats – bodyguards and three targets – at long range with a powerful sniper rifle from a static position, over the course of a 15-minute window of opportunity.
And since this is an IO game, targets don’t just stand around waiting to be shot. They walk all over the level – a sprawling cliffside mansion that is the scene for someone’s wedding – and it’s up to the player to pick their targets off one by one without raising an alarm.
The point is to finish the mission and score as many points as possible; these serve as experience points which level the player up and grant them access to better weapons, more ammunition, improved aim stabilisation, and other little extras that make completing the level a little easier.
The main conceit here is that the three primary targets must be eliminated and not allowed to escape, while the other 15 targets – all bodyguards – can be taken out at your leisure, and killing civilians loses you points. It doesn’t matter to the successful completion of the level if the bodyguards escape, but as any gamer knows that just means missed opportunities to score more points, so taking them out is a must.
Many ways to skin cats
That’s the core mechanic, but as with any Hitman game, there are many ways to complete the mission and figuring them all out and pulling them off with professional timing is a lot of fun, not to mention highly satisfying as well.
That’s because IO has mastered the art of creating beautiful, interesting, highly interactive locations that are full of secrets, accidents waiting to happen, ways of disposing bodies quietly, and concealing extra challenges for the player to accomplish, even at a distance.
In this case, successfully completing those extra challenges – called Feats – unlocks score multipliers that boost the overall score obtained from completing the level, and there are quite a few. Shooting the specific things (as hinted at in the Feats section of the interface) is fantastic fun, especially when you figure out what each Feat requires of you without resorting to a YouTube video walkthrough as the hints are quite obscure. I, er, might have consulted with YouTube myself for a few of them, but I enjoyed doing them afterwards anyway.
There are also over a dozen ways to take out your targets, some of which require supreme patience, skill, and timing, which makes the game highly replayable and never boring.
So I played the game quite a bit on my own and enjoyed myself immensely, but when Brendyn joined me, that enjoyment only increased.
Narrative-wise, we were playing as two new hit-people, Knight and Stone, rather than as two Agent 47s. There was no explanation offered for the presence of these two new characters, but presumably they will be in HITMAN 2 in some capacity, and we’ll learn more about them when it releases in November.
Calling out targets over Discord, we worked our way through the level several times. We experimented, pulled off synchronised shots, shouted warnings when bodies were occasionally discovered, took potshots at whoever was about to raise the alarm, and generally raised hell, laughing a lot at the dark humour of it all but also really appreciating the fantastic level design at play and the opportunities for synchronised murder that it presented us.
On the technical side, I saw one or two warnings saying the connection quality wasn’t very good; I put that down to us being in South Africa, and IO’s European servers being 10000+km away. The good news is that it wasn’t enough to introduce significant lag or ruin the co-op experience.
Totally worth the pre-order
I am not a fan of pre-ordering anything, to be totally honest, but in this case I’d actually recommend it.
Firstly, HITMAN 2’s standard edition is only R355 on Steam, and that’s a damn good price for what will likely be a fantastic new game (holding thumbs!). It’s also not episodic – the game that releases will be story-complete, barring DLC levels and any extras like weapons, outfits, and what-have-you.
Secondly, that HITMAN: Sniper Assassin is included in the price is just icing on the cake, as there’s a lot of entertainment on offer here that will keep you occupied in the months leading up to the full game’s release. Even if you only play Sniper Assassin a few times, it’s a nice bonus that’s accessible right now, so you’re not just plunking down cash for HITMAN 2 and waiting.
If you’re not keen on pre-ordering but you’re interested in this long-range-murder mode, don’t worry – Sniper Assassin is bundled with every copy of the game, according to Wikipedia.
Should you be so inclined, there are also Silver and Gold editions to pre-order which offer even more Hitman for the cash. The Gold Edition is likely the best value, because not only do you get the “Executive pack” of goodies for Agent 47 to play with, new locations, new missions, and additional sniper maps, but you’ll also be able to play the game four days before its official release. Not bad for R549, if you ask me.
The addition of co-op to a HITMAN game is intriguing, and its execution within Sniper Assassin has me hopeful that IO is on to something here. Sure, HITMAN games are traditionally solo affairs, but perhaps being able to play with a friend is the shot in the arm the sequel needs to set itself apart from its predecessor.
Whatever the case, I, for one, am definitely looking forward to HITMAN 2’s arrival on November 13, when it’ll be out on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Codes for HITMAN: Sniper Assassin were supplied to us by the local distributor of Warner Bros. Games.