Hitman 2's new levels feel like the series at its peak

Above: this is from the PS4 version of the game.

Agent 47 is crouched in a meeting room, hiding by a door and waiting for a target to walk in and get electrocuted by an elaborate trap I've set up. I've exposed a live wire, and made a water machine leak, and now I'm just waiting for the right moment for my cartel target, Andrea Martinez, to wander in, check out the leak and meet a dreadful end. 

Unfortunately, her guard notices the leak first, and walks in to investigate. Sod it, I think. I'll turn on the plug anyway. I electrocute the guard, take his outfit, then tail Andrea around her headquarters until she decides to wander back down to the meeting room. When she walks in to investigate the half-naked guard's fried body, I choke Martinez, snap her neck, climb through the window and hop over the creaky wall I used as my entrance. 

Such messy encounters are how Hitman levels typically play out for me on the first attempt, while I'm learning enemy patterns and how the level is structured. I can't promise my next attempt at Hitman 2's Colombia-set level, Santa Fortuna, would've been much better, but discovering a new backdrop is as fun here as it was in 2016's episodic affair. 

I've played a more-or-less complete run through the two revealed Hitman 2 levels now, including the Miami racetrack revealed at E3. If you loved how lavish Io made the levels last time—with entirely different-feeling districts, opportunities, chatty NPCs and little stories playing out in the same space—then this is similarly dazzling. The jungle-based Santa Fortuna is broken up into two main areas: a slightly ramshackle village neighbouring an enormous Delgado cartel mansion, where the mission's other two targets are waiting for you. This mansion is separated by a bridge, which has a Jabba's palace-style sentry and enormous gates keeping you out. Luckily, Agent 47 can climb vines around the right-hand side of the wall, letting him hop into the heavily guarded gardens.

One of the two additional targets is Rico Delgado, who wanders from the swimming pool of the mansion to his guarded office, and the other is Jorge Franco, who's making a new drug in his nearby factory. My dispatch of the latter was a pretty over-the-top affair. With five minutes to go until my time with the game was over, I garrotted him in a shed without realising a guard had spotted me through a window. I then had to shoot my way out, fending off guards wearing those Breaking Bad-style overalls that I recognise as the uniforms of people who make drugs for a living (see the screenshot above).

I see a bunch of escape methods: wandering peacefully out of the mansion wearing a sicario uniform, which I wear for a while while tracking Rico, and another via a speedboat on a beautiful nearby lake. In a preview demo like this, it's hard to get a sense of all the different ways in and out of the place, but like Sapienza or Hitman's other best levels, I can see myself spending at least five hours here unpicking all the different methods, costumes and related secrets. 

This comes from a studio that knows its fans extremely well at this point. If 2016's Hitman gave you everything you'd wanted from the series since Blood Money, this is very much more of the same so far. That might be deliberate in the case of the Colombia level—some bigger twists on the formula are waiting deeper into the game. "Colombia is quite traditional, in a sense, that you have the targets and know where they are on a map," explains Io's community manager Travis Barbour. "There are some locations where we mix that up a little bit. There's more options in terms of how you approach the level, and you're not always just searching for targets. There's other elements involved in the locations as well."

Not releasing the levels episodically means there's some welcome mystery to the other four locations in Hitman just a month before release—we've still only seen less than half of them. "We do have a plan for how many we're going to reveal, but we're not going to show too many more," Barbour explains. "We [have] six locations, and we've shown two. Miami, people have seen a lot of. Colombia, people will start to see some of. And the rest, we don't really want to show in too much detail. But I think it's important to let people know what they are in for, what's coming up. So we will have some things that will allude to the locations and show them very quickly." 

My remaining fear for Hitman 2 is that, given the drama around Square Enix dropping the series last year, it's now being wedged in the release calendar between Red Dead Redemption 2 on consoles and Fallout 76 when it arrives next month. On the evidence of what I've played so far, Agent 47 will once again deserve a lot of attention, but it's arriving at what will probably be a challenging time for any game that isn't enormous. I hope it doesn't get lost.