header is screenshot from Hitman 2
Richly Deserved
Reid McCarter

Agent 47 is never invited to high society events. He doesn’t arrive at the VIP section of a Miami racetrack, hang out with famous actors in Mumbai, or receive an invitation to a masked ball for the 1% at a well-appointed island castle in the North Atlantic because someone put his name down on a list. Just the same, he spends a lot of time rubbing elbows with—and piano wire against the necks of—the richest people in the world.

The reason for this is simple: in Hitman 2, as in its 2016 predecessor, Agent 47 is always out to kill villainous people. Though the plot provides more convoluted reasons behind his assassination contracts, beaded with sweatily realized conspiracy theories regarding secret societies and extranational spymasters, the primary joy of playing the series is in travelling from place to place and finding novel ways to knock off whichever poor bastards the mission dictates. In most every case, these people are the richest of the rich—the absurdly wealthy who the game depicts as not only living in total luxury, but pulling the strings on international affairs as well. What role, exactly, they play in manipulating the game’s fictional version of our world isn’t important. What matters is that they’re stand-ins for the powerful people we watch and read about every day.

Each of the game’s levels provides an assortment of Rube Goldbergian steps to accomplish an assassination. In one, 47 may find a celebrity tattoo artist, knock him out and dress himself in the man’s clothes, then use this disguise to gain entry to a cocaine cartel leader’s mansion where he can “fix up” the ink on his target’s neck by jabbing out his throat meat with the buzzing needles. In another, 47 steals a racing pit crew member’s uniform and loosens a replacement tire so the daughter of an Elon Musk-styled tech CEO suffers a terrible car accident. The common thread among all of these choices is that 47, a man of apparently no great socioeconomic stature himself, sneaks into the gilded spheres of the upper classes by making himself appear non-threatening and, most importantly, useful to them.

The idea is that the very wealthy see those who aren’t as powerful as them as tools—human instruments not worth considering as more than a means to achieve whatever goal is on hand at the time. A servant’s face isn’t worth remembering. He’s only for keeping the house in order and the food prepared. An artist or technician is valuable for what they can do for their client, not for thinking of as more than someone who exists beyond their skills at tattooing or maintaining race cars.

These people are, of course, enormously good targets for videogame violence. Hitman 2 is gruesome, but it’s also extremely funny and part of achieving this delicate balance comes from the fact that the game’s creators know who to cast as their villains. Guiding 47 through an intricate infiltration process so he can kill, say, a building’s janitor or a construction worker would be a little discomfiting (Hitman 2 docks points off the player’s mission score for any non-target characters killed) so, instead, it’s the rich and powerful who are designated as his prey.

Finding an appropriate target for videogame violence is always fraught, but the superrich are about as good a human enemy as can be designed. Hitman 2 takes this one step further, ambient dialogue often reinforcing what assholes the targets are socially (they’re frequently heard berating those around them) and allowing 47 to gain their trust by dressing up as someone who can be of use to them. Wearing a real-estate agent’s clothes allows 47 to give a private house tour to a well-protected man who doesn’t suspect a subservient person might have the gall to kill him. Again, the cartel leader doesn’t seem to suspect that the tattoo artist he’s paying would want to harm him and the tech CEO’s daughter can’t envision why a lowly mechanic might engineer her death. It’s a form of karmic justice, the upper classes seeing those who serve them as so insignificant that they can’t notice the danger those people ground down by their existence might direct their way if so desired+.

It would probably be a bit much to suggest that the game’s irreverent thrills are meant to function as an outright depiction of class warfare—Agent 47, after all, may disguise himself as an everyday person yet he’s contracted to kill the elite by other members of the game’s governmental elite—but there’s a persistent streak of frustrated economic satire running through its design that’s impossible to ignore. In its last level, 47 moving around a castle where the world’s wealthiest have gathered to play power games and revel in a cultic celebration of luxury, Hitman 2 shows these character gleefully burning piles of their cash in a ceremonial bonfire++. As the player systematically assassinates two of the evening’s key attendees, that bonfire flickers in and out of view, a noxious reminder of the entitled waste of those he’s stalked throughout the game. It’s a big and cartoonish icon, the burning mound of money, but it sticks in the mind as an apt caricature of the very real superrich who exert an outsized negative influence on our daily lives. It stirs something in the gut and in the head that transcends parody and calls for an indignation beyond what’s shown on screen.


  • The best example of this is in 2016’s Hitman. After infiltrating a private, spa-like Japanese hospital where international clients come for expensive care from world class doctors, 47 can dress up like a medical technician to take delivery of his target’s heart transplant before the operation and toss the valuable organ, with perfect nonchalance, into a nearby garbage can.

++ Cameron Kunzleman wrote a great piece on this level that’s well worth reading.


Reid McCarter is a writer and editor based in Toronto. His work has appeared at The AV Club, GQ, Kill Screen, Playboy, The Washington Post, Paste, and VICE. He is also co-editor of SHOOTER, co-hosts the Bullet Points podcast, and tweets @reidmccarter.