Hitman 2 is the best James Bond game in years
The rare video game where 'more of the same' is very welcome indeed.
The Hitman franchise is a strange one.
Frankly, it's a little weird that the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and Bully received so much Helen Lovejoy-style complaints from the public while Hitman mostly avoided controversy.
The second entry into the series - 2002's Hitman 2: Silent Assassin - came under fire thanks to a level that featured the killing of Sikhs within a depiction of the Harmandir Sahib, a holy site where hundreds of Sikhs were massacred in 1984.
That section was understandably subsequently removed from the game following complaints, but by and large, Hitman has been free to walk its murderous path.
A lot of that comes down to the game's charm; a mix of gameplay focus that prioritises stealth and cunning over all-out violence and a pitch black streak of humour that rarely feels too exploitative or casual.
As the video summary below illustrates, Agent 47 has come a long way since the turn of the century.
Clip via Nick930
As graphics, game engines and technology has evolved, so too has Hitman's stoic, bald and bar-coded anti-hero.
Agent 47's story is gloriously over the top and complex some seven games in but the cliff notes are this; he is a genetically-enhanced clone purpose-built to be the ultimate weapon.
As such, he travels the world killing select targets for an assassination agency and is the best in the world at what he does.
Each new game unravels the story a little further but it's really secondary to the matter at hand.
Recent years have seen something of an upheaval with regards to studios and game developers, and thus Hitman has gone through the mill a little bit.
2012's Hitman: Absolution was excellently designed in terms of mechanics, feel and aesthetic, but it was both constricting with regards to what the player was allowed to do and the story was intrusively poor.
2016 saw the reset button being hit and thus Hitman was born again. That game was released episodically, which some argued hurt sales even if it instructed the player to explore every single aspect of each new level.
Overall, it was a great restructuring of the series, boasting vast, detailed maps, sharp gameplay and tons of replay value in the form of numerous ways to go about your business, various rewards through mastery of the game and lots of additional available content.
Which brings us to 2018 and Hitman 2.
Clip via HITMAN
For a time, it looked like Hitman 2 might not happen, but with developer IO Interactive picked up by publisher Warner Bros. Interactive, it was time for Agent 47 to be unleashed again.
With little in the way of development time between games and that general uncertainty in the air, fans and critics rather braced themselves for more of the same.
And so it is that Hitman 2 is essentially just six more maps with some extra polish and a few new bells and whistles thrown in.
Which is just what the doctor ordered, really. It's rare enough that 'more of the same' is accepted or even desired in the gaming world, but it totally works here.
Hitman doesn't require a brand new game engine yet. Generally, it's smooth as silk even when packed full of non-playable characters, such as the Miami level that takes place during a real-time Formula 1-style race.
Naturally enough, one of your targets there is one of the drivers. That level is a perfect microcosm of what makes Hitman great; a series of clockwork puzzles that require precision and patience to conquer.
Again, as ever, you can go in all-guns-blazing if you so desire, but you'll likely die quickly while also missing the point.
Hitman doesn't want you to do that. Sure, you'll have an ever-expanding arsenal of increasingly slick weaponry at your disposal, but this is essentially Metal Gear Solid if Snake was a contract killer.
When you break it down, Agent 47 is James Bond in all but name. Super stylish, utterly ruthless, fond of disguises and the odd quip, good at removing villains from the world.
That's another thing this series has always revelled in; ridiculous bad guys who you shouldn't feel too guilty about taking out.
Indeed, one mission briefing even concludes with the line, "They have it coming."
So don't feel bad, kids! Agent 47 is just doing his job.
Back to the 007 comparison for a moment.
Hitman 2 - and its predecessor, whose levels slot into this one like a neat jigsaw piece so you can revisit with both ease and this game's new features - legitimately feels like what a great James Bond video game should be delivering.
Globe-trotting adventuring, rich character work and a sense of weight to every shot fired.
The true joy of Hitman, however, is twofold, and a little bit contradictory.
A clean hit can take as much as handful of minutes or a couple of hours (or more, honestly) depending on your strategy.
With so many ways to go about your mission, you genuinely can play the same map a bunch of times and have a different experience.
The real adrenaline rush comes when you find your own way - turning off the 'Mission Stories' that essentially hold your hand throughout is strongly advised - and stumble upon a string of intricate methods in which to win the day.
If you really surrender to a stealthy and perfect approach, you'll find the tension ramping up the closer you get towards the end.
Spending the guts of an afternoon figuring out one level and skulking around in the shadows only to make one tiny mistake and have it all come crumbling down around you is a genuinely intense situation.
So, even when it goes horribly wrong, it somehow goes brilliantly right.
Emergent gameplay is a bonus, but it really is all about how you play it. Hitman 2 offers the player a genuine sense of freedom, one that tightens the garrotte wire as the excellence of its execution sinks in.