I think everyone is, at the very least, mildly concerned about Hitman 2. The 2016 episodic series was awesome and revolutionary, and it really seemed like IO Interactive had stumbled onto a formula that could keep Agent 47's macabre adventures alive and fresh forever. But then the wheels fell off in a profoundly mystifying corporate debacle. Square Enix made it clear they weren't interested in funding the company any further, so IO bought themselves out and migrated over to Warner Bros. In the week before E3, Warner Bros. officially unveiled Hitman 2, stating that it will ditch the serial format in favor of a full-length story campaign that, at least nominally, echoes some of the disappointments people had with Hitman: Absolution. Still, I walked into my demo hoping that IO can still deliver the amazing, labyrinthine death traps they perfected in 2016.
So far, so good. I got a chance to play Sniper Assassin, a mini game that exists outside of the full campaign that's available to everyone right now if you pre-order Hitman 2 (opens in new tab). In it, Agent 47 is perched on a mossy hideaway with a sniper rifle, overseeing a royal wedding full of rich idiots. You're instructed to take out three primary targets with your sniper rifle, which is strange when you consider how the series has always de-emphasized gunplay. 47 is locked into place—no coins, or garrote wire, or disguises. It is a shooting gallery masquerading as Hitman, and on paper, that reads pretty damning.
But miraculously, Sniper Assassin does an excellent job of blending all the elements that made the episodes great into its limited premise. You can target chandeliers to bring them down onto unsuspecting guests. You can blow up the wedding cake, which causes a distraction and lures one of your hits outside. You can destroy the beer bottles that a base jumper is enjoying on a distant mountainside, which causes him to muster up the nerves to jump. All of the twisted, modular Hitman logic is there, which is especially impressive considering IO limited my toolset to a firearm.
It's heartening to know that Warner Bros. realizes the ingredients of the Hitman Renaissance start and end with astute, multi-layered level design—the sort of contraptions that kept us coming back over and over again to chase down elusive targets and pull off increasingly convoluted kills. The only time this series stumbles is when it leans too hard into its thin-lipped narrative, or the occasional too-linear map. But from what I played, IO is still very much working within the formula of the reboot. God bless any game that lets me put a .50 caliber round through pastry. You know, for strategic purposes.