Racecars, flamingo suits, cocaine bricks, Bollywood musicals, homing briefcases, moose tornadoes, bank heists, blueberry muffins, secret societies, suits of armour, headless horsemen and hungry, hungry hippos.
Hitman 2 is fucking wild! It's a diamond of a sequel that takes a solid core and polishes it while also taking the player for one hell of a ride, through a series of locations that escalate both in their ambition and their ridiculousness while providing hundreds of hours of top-notch replayability. I was already in after the 2016 release, but this is the one that got me hooked for life. The Hitman series will always be a top priority for me now.
Being a full sequel rather than a mere second season, Hitman 2 is a pretty significant upgrade. It adds working cameras, crowd-blending, tall grass, flash grenades for the guards, and cool new gadgets, such as a dart gun that causes targets to get barfy. These additions are also available in the previous maps, and I'm impressed with how well they're implemented. Even Colorado benefits from these changes, becoming less excruciating thanks to more opportunities for cover.
There's a lot to talk about here, but I'll try not to ramble on for too long.
You could extract all the salt from the Dead Sea, and the pile you'd leave behind still wouldn't compare to how salty I am that people so often dismiss Hawke's Bay as another tutorial.
Sure, it does teach you a few new tricks, and I wouldn't show it off as the first map to anyone who wants to know what Hitman is all about, but it deserves to be treated as a full map. It is a full map! It's the one that succeeds where Colorado failed; a story-driven stealth level that is actually built to match this somewhat scaled-down ambition, but without sacrificing playability.
Nightcall, the campaign mission, is memorable for many reasons. It's the first one to start with 47 alone as he breaks into his target's house. Her name is Alma Reynard, and she's pretty much an off-brand 47. She's another assassin who uses disguises, but she lacks the bald wonder's Terminator-like focus, which becomes her downfall in this very level.
Alma is not there, however. She's on a mission. This means that the house is a risk-free zone right away, and you can explore it as much as you want. It's a great level for teaching you how to deal with cameras and hide in the tall grass in a safe environment, and both of these elements feel like a natural part of the location. It might feel like a strange time to learn about these mechanics if you're playing through the previous game's campaign in Hitman 2 since their inclusion in previous maps should ensure you're already familiar with them, but that's a very minor issue that I don't think will affect anyone's enjoyment.
What makes the Nightcall mission so cool is that hostiles do obviously arrive, but not until you're already in the house. Every other level so far has made the challenge all about infiltration. This one tasks you with exfiltrating the building, flipping the usual mission structure on its head. You are inside a heavily guarded building and you need to get out, but not before dealing with the target.
Another cool gimmick here is that Alma doesn't have the usual cyclical routine that you see with other targets. Instead, she goes through a series of events which include the actual night call that the mission is named after, blackmailing the employee of some firm in Berlin to kill his boss. She has a drink, changes into her nightgown, has a conversation by the balcony, and then goes to sleep. A lot of the mission's replayability comes from all the different ways you can intercept these events. You can wait until she's sleeping and smother her with a pillow. You can poison her (or her boyfriend's) evening drink in two different ways. You can blow her up at the door. You can blow her up as soon as she arrives in her car. You can, in theory, save the life of some German CEO depending on whether you off her before or after the call.
It's the first level of the second game, so there are plenty of obvious opportunities to kill your target without being spotted. Exfiltration isn't too tricky either. There's some fake tension at the end when 47's boat is found by some guards, but the game provides an easy (yet satisfying) solution to this.
The placement of Hawke's Bay is strange, but I love it. It has fewer challenges than most maps, and as a result, it is the only map I've completed 100% (though I almost always go for full mastery and Silent Assassin/Suit Only runs). This makes me wonder if the other ones have too much content, but I'm not enough of a completionist to make that argument in confidence. I rarely ever engage with every single thing a game has to offer.
So the main mission is great, yet it is not my favourite aspect of Hawke's Bay. I think this is the only case where the main mission is surpassed not only by a bonus mission, but by an escalation. 'The Mills Reverie' is a Halloween-themed escalation that takes place in the mind of Alma's aforementioned boyfriend, Orson Mills. The map is completely redesigned to fit its theme, with creepy trees and skeletons and all sorts of Halloween crap all over. You don't even play as 47 - You're the Headless Horseman minus the horse, complete with a jack-o-lantern for where the head should be. This is so fucking mind-blowingly awesome! It's the ninja playthrough taken to a new level, and it goes way beyond what ordinary escalations offer.
Hawke's Bay is a deviation from the routine that admittedly comes at a strange time pacing-wise, but it's so cool and memorable that I don't mind. It also features 47 in a tight-fitting wetsuit, which nobody can complain about.
Mark Brown of Game Maker's Toolkit has deemed this the best map of Hitman 2. I don't agree, but I think it's a very close contender thanks to its major experimental feature: The racetrack.
I am so glad that the devs weren't afraid to think out of the box despite Colorado's reception. Turns out they're actually very good at it. The primary concept of Miami is so wild and ambitious that I'm surprised it works as well as it does. I can't think of another game in which you can snipe someone who's driving a racecar, but I suppose that's the beauty of Hitman: The fact that you can say so many sentences with that exact structure. I also can't think of another game in which you can dress up as a pirate and shoot a maid with a gun that'll make her vomit, or bonk a shaman over the head with a brick of cocaine.
The Finish Line has some of the most legendary kill opportunities ever. Sierra Knox's tough, reckless personality opens her up to a lot of misfortune. You can fry her on the podium if you let her win the race, poison her in 3 different ways during a drinking game, dress up as a flamingo mascot and kick her down a hole, and all that's just after the race is over. If you go in early, you can sabotage her car, or even kill her by kicking her own father onto the track just as she drives by. Robert himself also has some amazing opportunities, such as getting shot by a military robot of his own design. Something about this location must have inspired IO to go above and beyond even by their usual standards, because the creativity here is outstanding.
Miami embodies Hitman 2's lovable party vibe with its bright colours and exotic theming. It's one of the most outstanding 'event' type levels in the trilogy, lacking the stuffier upper-class tone of most others while providing its own charm and personality. And goddamn flamingo costumes, which can be unlocked as a starting suit for other maps because this is the coolest game ever made.
My only nitpick is a story one, and it's that the Providence meeting at the end is a little weird. I like Providence as a concept because they're a more believable world-dominating organisation than what you'd usually see. This one is just a gathering of wealthy families that own enough shares, resources and corrupt politicians that their influence is inescapable. This feels very relevant in a world where corporations keep growing bigger and more monopolistic, and most of the Providence scenes reflect this, but this meeting does not. The supervillain-ass VR lair in which it takes place looks more 'Legion of Doom' than it does 'corporate cynicism', and I think a golf course or a tropical resort would be a much better fit for this virtual meeting. They can literally have it be anything they want, so it's weird that they would choose the one type of location that would make them feel like caricatures of themselves. I might be the only person in the world who cares about this though.
The fun continues with Santa Fortuna, but it's not as obvious right away. At a glance, this appears to be a more straight-faced map that cuts back on the crazy scenarios we saw in Miami. Then you dress up as a shaman and discover the secret Indiana Jones temple behind the construction site, and that all flies out the window. This party's only getting started!
This place is huge. It's one of the biggest map across the trilogy, and that helps it convey the feeling that you're in an actual, fully explorable village, but the overall design isn't Sapienza-grade in how efficient it is. The different sections are much more isolated from each other. There is no spot that ties almost all of them together like with the Sapienza rooftops, so navigation is a little rougher. I guess it's thematically appropriate, and the map does good work conveying the idea that you're walking through a real, lived-in space, and the immersion is heightened here due to the inclusion of appropriate accents. It's one of the best maps for just walking around and taking in the atmosphere.
But, like I said, the wild ridiculousness is still here. The kill opportunities aren't quite as good as those in Miami, but they are still pretty great. I think the hippo kill is the one that steals the show here, and the fact that it's hidden so far away from the rest of the map makes it feel like a special treat for players who like to explore.
I feel like I have to give special mention to the cocaine brick melee items, because I'm still not sure I've managed to process the fact that IO just did that. They just went for it, this insane idea casually mixed in with the game's usual mechanics, as if these things were just any other common item. You can throw cocaine bricks at people and watch those things explode into a cloud of white dust, and it feels like something out of a beautiful dream.
The fields where these W.M.D.s are being produced provide the most fun use of the tall grash/bushes feature. 47 is almost overpowered when he sneaks around here, and it's immensely satisfying to grab guards from behind and pull them out of view in an instant. It's one of the many actions you can perform in these games that somehow never seem to get old.
Mumbai is the same story as Santa Fortuna. You think you're finally getting something a little less wild, and then you're suddenly offing a target by derailing a train in their direction.
This map is similar to Santa Fortuna in a lot of ways, actually. It's another gigantic one, but this one is a little easier to navigate thanks to an area in the centre that connects several different paths. That middle area is great for a lot of purposes, but most of all sniping, and I love that there's an escalation built around that. Sniping is a special thrill in this game. There's something about taking out a far-off target from a safe location of my own choosing, with the knowledge that a single shot could compromise that location at any time, that's so powerful to me. I get a similar feeling when I escape from a hostile location after I'm done there (which is something that made me fall in love with Hitman 3's Chongqing mission, but we haven't gotten to that yet so ssshh).
I think one of the best parts of Mumbai is the target Dawood Rangan, ex-pirate turned movie director, and everything that revolves around him. He's become a bit of a fan favourite due to his bold charisma, unrelenting arrogance and obsession with all the things that come with fame. He's the most entertaining asshole boss you can think of.
But the actual best part of the map is a guy known as The Kashmerian. This man is a competing assassin who finds himself in the extraordinary position of having been hired by two people to take down each other, and yes: They're both targets. Remember what I just said about how the middle of the map is great for sniping? Well, The Kashmerian had the same idea, but his embarrassing incompetence is giving him trouble. He just can't seem to get a good shot at Rangan. This premise kicks off an incredible journey through the vast spaces of Mumbai that will let you assist your rival in doing his job through some pretty elaborate setups. This mission story allows you to take down all of the targets, and I love everything about it.
Santa Fortuna and Mumbai make up a dense, meaty middle of Hitman 2. They feel like little open worlds that each connect a series of regular stealth levels, and while the party vibes never go away, that somehow doesn't stop these maps from being immersive, captivating places to visit. I think that's their claim to fame. As far as being engaging and entertaining video game levels to beat over and over, I'd say they fall somewhere on the middle of the scale for these games, but when it comes to being living, breathing environments that you'll want to explore just to see all the details, they're some of the best the medium has to offer.
Just like in 2016, the fourth map of this instalment brings with it a major shift in the story. Everything changes at this point. It turns out that the stubbled man with the seductive voice is an old friend of 47's, and they made an agreement as kids that they would take Providence down, since the organisation mistreated them throughout their childhoods. A distant memory is triggered and the bald bastard agrees, putting Diana in an extremely difficult position by switching sides at the speed of light. We're then given back-to-back cutscenes involving a memory-restoring serum and some arguments about morality between Lucas (the stubbled man), Diana and Olivia.
This is the point where Olivia's lack of screentime and development starts to become noticeable. Every scene she appears in makes her seem like a character that was supposed to have a much larger presence than she ever does. There's even a hero shot near the end where Diana, Lucas, 47 and Olivia are standing side by side like they're the fucking Ninja Turtles, and it doesn't feel earned due to how little attention this one character gets compared to the others.
During the second cutscene, 47 remembers having beef with an old Providence top dog, who happens to have retired to the next map in the game.
Whittleton Creek is okay. It's easily the weakest level in Hitman 2, and I think it's a bit of a break in the winning streak that Hokkaido started, but it's not frustrating to navigate either.
A have a few issues with it, the biggest one being that it's just a flat square full of mostly identical houses. It's a suburban block, and while it has a few surprises here and there, it's not a very exciting kind of place to explore. Sure, Hawke's Bay was just a beach with one house on it, but it was a much cooler house than the ones you get to visit here, and the main mission had a solid twist on it. It's a better map than this because it takes a solid idea and executes it well.
Whittleton takes a fine idea - a throwback to that one mission in Blood Money with the birthday party - and does enough with it to make it stand out, but not to make it all that interesting. Every surprise it has to offer is located in someone's basement or attic, which already starts to feel repetitive on the first playthrough.
Speaking of repetition, looking for clues in the main mission is a good build-up for the following map, but it's such a tedious process that it hurts this one more than it enhances the finale. It was cool the first time, finding those robes and hearing about this 'Ark Soceity'. It made me wonder where the hell the game was going with all this.
Other than that, I don't have much else to say about it. It's exactly what you'd expect a map like this to be, and the only way it keeps the party vibe going is by featuring a literal garden party. It's an okay map, but I would have preferred something a little different, such as an Irish village with more varied buildings and more interesting nature. There just isn't a lot to talk about with this one.
Isle of Sgail
Isle of Sgail is what I consider the strongest map in Hitman 2, and a fierce contender for best overall. It's the coolest concept for a level as well as the best finale of the trilogy. This is an island of castle ruins that features a party hosted by a cult of rich assholes in a setup that feels straight out of BioShock.
Isle of Sgail's aesthetic is upper-class taken to an uncomfortable, almost scary extreme. The outfits are too elaborate, and only get more so the further you approach the Ark Society's inner circle. Everyone wears Phantom of the Opera masks here, guards included, and the entertainers are blindfolded so that they won't be able to reveal the island's location. Luxury bunkers are being shown off for potential wealthy customers in case an economic crash or environmental disaster causes the apocalypse. Cynical oil barons and cutthroat CEOs discuss the potential benefit of investing in green energy for the sake of good PR.
It's hard to deny that this wacky island one of the most interesting ideas in the game, but what greases my gears even more is that I already happen to love a good castle level. Castle levels are so good no matter what type of game they appear in, be it old Nintendo games or newer stuff like Dark Souls, if you give me a cool castle and let me explore it, I'll have a good time. Isle of Sgail is obviously quite different from the standard castle level, in that it's a ruin that has been partially rebuilt. It lacks the usual throne room and drawbridge scenarios, but it has plenty of dungeons and scalable walls. Some of the rooms also technically serve as modern throne rooms if you consider the theme of CEOs being the new monarchs of the world.
What's twice as cool is the fact that you can find and wear a suit of armour, because this is still Hitman 2. You can wear armour and swing a sword, so the game has you covered if you want to go medieval on your targets' asses. I mean... you all get why I'm gushing so much about this game, right? Or do I also need to mention that all the crazy shit you can get up to also looks and feels great in action? Because it does! All melee moves are context-sensitive animations, but they're so fast and satisfying that they always feel like you're the one doing them.
Isle of Sgail has a collection of mission stories that are a little tricky, but which are never unintuitive and feel incredible to figure out on your own. One of these is another callback to Blood Money, which I admit seems a little excessive after the entire previous map was already one of those. I guess the creators of every long-running franchise feels this pressure to ensure that fans of the older games feel seen. Thankfully, the actual event is entertaining enough to warrant its inclusion, seeing as it's the funeral of the last mission's target. We've also got huge fire displays and political mind games as backdrops for some climactic assassinations.
All those paragraphs, and I haven't even mentioned the new mechanic introduced here: The addition of reverse-targets, as in, NPCs that the mission will not allow you to eliminate. Arthur "The Constant" Edwards can not under any circumstances die, since your little Scooby-gang needs him to tell them where the Providence partners are. It's not much of a challenge since the guy is never in any real danger unless you decide to test out the aforementioned broadsword on his fragile, balding head, and the mechanic is sadly never pushed anywhere near its full potential in the rest of the trilogy. I know we all hate escort missions, but Hitman's mechanical depth might have resulted in some fun opportunities. In this instance, the mechanic still allows for a pretty satisfying (and satisfyingly optional) moment where you get the drop on the trilogy's overarching villain early on. It feels good to be able to outsmart a major character in this game without killing them.
After the mission is done, we get the names of the Providence partners followed by the reveal that 47 killed Diana's parents when she was a kid. It's a fine ending, but I can't help but feel like there should have been more leading up to it. Hitman has an enduring weakness in that the games aren't all that climactic. The best idea the series has ever had for a climax was already done in Blood Money, and even that bit seems like a poor fit for the series in retrospect. Yet even Absolution never went as far as to feature car chases, helicopter crashes or boss fights in its finale. Everything has to be set up so that the player can always sneak flawlessly through every obstacle and escape with zero alerts, which wouldn't be a very thrilling conclusion to something like a James Bond movie.
This shortcoming is more notable here than ever, since the Isle of Sgail is such a perfect candidate for a setting that should come crashing down in a spectacular way, and I wish it had. If Hitman 2 had been made with twice the budget, I wonder if they would've done something like that. How amazing would it be if one of the opportunities triggered a cutscene that showed the island ruins crumbling and huge battle breaking out, only for the mission to end with an action sequence taking you from top to bottom in a now-different level? Maybe wishing for something like this is like wishing for stealth in Doom or crafting systems in Tekken, and I don't usually care for the way games seem to have thoughtlessly merged together in recent years. Hitman is a dedicated assassination game, and I love that, but I also wish the escalating stakes communicated by the game's story, music and visual design were matched by its moment-to-moment gameplay. I have to wonder if there's a solution to this that won't betray the series' core ideals.
The credits roll, but the Hitman 2 experience isn't over yet, because the game received some pretty substantial DLC in the form of two new maps.
New York is the cigarette drag after the wild intercourse that was Isle of Sgail, minus the health risk.
The best way to make a bank level fun is to allow the player to perform a bank heist, and you can do that here in order to obtain a secondary objective, but there's another way to do so that isn't as elaborate. You can instead choose to steal an item from two NPCs, making them function as semi-targets and resulting in a much different mission. I think this is much smarter than having to look for clues in Whittleton Creek, and I'm glad IO has continued to learn little lessons like these.
There's a tightness to this map that makes it one of the most enjoyable to navigate. I think part of that is its smaller size, but a more interesting factor may be that it's the only map without any outdoor areas. Every exit in the building serves as a mission exit, so you won't be crawling up any drain pipes or dragging bodies into bushes here. For a map that's already far from what you'd expect of a map set in the large fruit, this choice seems a little ballsy - A mistake, even. I see it is a wise move, however, since we're at a point where maps need to shake things up in order to stay interesting. An outdoor area would only have made it more familiar. We'll always have Paris.
I've never had more fun during a Silent Assassin/Suit Only run than here. While it doesn't seem that way when you explore the bank in the usual variety of disguises, it turns out that almost every part of this place is designed like a very solid traditional stealth level, with guard patrols to watch for and natural routes from the bottom and up to the target's office. There are also shortcuts here so subtle that I didn't find them until after several playthroughs, even though they were staring me in the face.
The last thing I have to say is, that for a location so dry, there is plenty of variety and personality packed in. The nerdy IT-lair comes to mind, but the various offices also differ from each other in noteworthy ways. I also love the little break room where two guards are busy watching baseball, and not just because those guys are practically fish in a barrel, just begging for me to ruin their day every time I come in there.
Seeing as the bank was a little smaller than most maps, I expected the same to be the case for Haven Island, so I was pretty surprised to discover how expansive it really was. It also houses a more traditional main mission in which all you have to do is kill three distinct targets and leave. No facial recognition, no clues to find, no intel to steal, no virus to shoot, no VIP to kidnap. It makes sense given that this is the last map in Hitman 2.
Haven might be the most 007 level IO has ever made. I'd say it's between this, Sapienza and Hitman 3's Mendoza. Locations don't get much more exotic than this. It's also a place I'd love to visit if it weren't for all the shady crap going on there. Now that I know some places have bars built into the middle of a swimming pool, my life will never be complete until I've been to such a place. Damn all these cool luxuries I can't afford!
Exploring this map is extremely rewarding even for this game's standards. For example, it has a treasure hunt built into it that sees you looking for pieces of paper to put together a map. This even ties into a pirate-themed escalation, because someone on IO's team has a crush on me and wants me to be happy. More noteworthy is the fact that there's an entire underground complex that you never need to visit. I'm pretty sure you can even reach full mastery without even knowing that it's there, which is pretty wild considering how much time it must have taken to make. The layout of this place reminds me of the older Metal Gear games due to its metallic surfaces and square shapes, and I'm happy to report that I'm not the only one who has noticed this. Is it a subtle reference? I don't know, but it's neat either way.
Tyson Williams, the owner, has another mansion to infiltrate. This has become a bit of a recurring theme by now, but Tyson's mansion still manages to have a personality of its own. It's honestly pretty wild how this trilogy of games has managed to feature every type of mansion you could think of, sorely out of a need for variety between levels. The one on Haven is the smallest one by a long shot. I'd even say that this building treads the fine line between 'mansion' and 'rather large house'.
Another thing it has going for it is the music, a tense yet fun guitar melody that oozes atmosphere. This is the best time I can think of to point out how good this game's music is overall. Both this game and its predecessor go for this clean, professional espionage vibe that will never stop feeling fresh. Not only does the music always complement the environments you explore, but some of them are unforgettable. It amazes me how many little melodies from this game are just stuck in my head now, unlikely to ever leave. The countless replays and escalations may have something to do with it, but the music is dynamic and changes all over, and it doesn't take long for a melody to stick with me. Aside from Tyson's mansion, standout examples include Athena's office in New York, the podium music in Miami, Draufgänger from that same map, the low-tension music in Sapienza, the whole Patient Zero theme, I put 47 spices in the pasta, the exfiltration music, and the eardrum-bursting Sanguine fashion show music in Paris. 2 might be a slight step down in some ways with its less interesting menu theme and somewhat dull combat music - and honestly, every stealth game ever made should have hype combat music just to ease the frustration of getting spotted. The soundtrack is a winner overall though.
Damn near everything Hitman 2 brings to the table is an improvement. There are more places to hide and more ways to conceal illegal items, which is balanced by the cameras and their ability to trigger an alarm. It's remarkable that they were able to add new elements to old levels without breaking them. There may be a few spots where the briefcase makes infiltration a bit simple, but the tightness of the gameplay is largely maintained. It is, by all means, a better version of what came before, and the only exception I can think of is the significant downgrade in cutscene quality that came from the smaller budget.
Well, that and some new content that isn't so hot. I should mention the ghost mode and sniper maps, but I don't want to say too much about them. In my honest opinion, IO might as well have used this dev time for longer lunch breaks given how little these parts of the game matter. Having the full trilogy available in Hitman 3 by now, I honestly couldn't tell you if any of these features even survived the transition. If they were cut for the sake of saving space, then I fully approve of the decision to do so.
Ghost mode is a flawed multiplayer concept that only ever became available on two maps, and I don't have much to say about it. Sniper maps are a little more intriguing, but playing one of them once reveals how lacking they are. The fun of sniping in the real game comes from figuring out your own positioning and making your escape once the deed is done, the former encouraging creativity and the latter creating tension. It's the thrill of knowing that you did something forbidden and got away with it, disappearing out into the world as the security personnel that rushed to your position are left behind without a clue. Strip these aspects away, and what's left is a dull exercise in waiting for the right time to shoot.
Being unable to carry over your progress on the old maps was a major frustration when this game first came out, but I'm a little torn on whether it's fair to be too critical of this. The fact that the old maps are available in Hitman 2 at all is a major luxury that they didn't have to include in the first place. There are a few unfortunate caveats that come with playing this game, but I'm not prepared to say that this is one of them. The situation is a little more complicated there. I'm more ready to criticise the fact that Hitman 2 and 3 both do the whole "luxury edition" thing where they not only cut out some cool content from the base editions, but they go as far as to tease this content in the menus even if you get the standard version. I don't appreciate such a tacky reminder that I'm not getting everything the game has to offer.
This trilogy is surrounded by such a weird mix of consumer-friendly and unfriendly business practices. The online requirements and the season passes reek of the usual greedy industry bullshit, but IO has also given entire maps away for free, and they always add free content to the games post-launch even for people who didn't buy a season pass, supporting each game for months after release.
Overall, even if some aspects of the game are less than ideal, Hitman 2 is still a banger of a game. Like most people, I prefer to perceive the whole trilogy as one giant super-game, but this perspective was challenged by Destructoid's blog editor, forcing me to split one blog into three as to not exceed the word limit. Because of this, I feel much more compelled to choose which third of this journey is my favourite, and I must say that the honour goes to 2. It's the biggest one at the time of this writing (and it seems like IO won't care to make much DLC for Hitman 3 now that they're working on two games at once, so it might stay that way), yet the quality is consistent. Isle of Sgail and Miami are masterpieces, Mumbai and Santa Fortuna are immersive as hell, Hawke's Bay and New York are fun experiments, and Whittleton Creek is by far the best worst map across the trilogy. It all adds up to one of my favourite games ever. It's rare that I put hundreds of hours into one game, but this is an incredible exception. I just kept coming back to this one over and over and over again, in part due to the monthly content updates, but also because I developed a very specific itch that only this game could scratch.
So how do you follow up a game this wild, colourful and ridiculous? Well, you could always go the other way. Make it a little darker, a little more intense, more understated and more personal. You could shake up the formula in riskier ways that challenge the comfortable routines players have gotten so very used to. Maybe you raise the stakes. Maybe you get personal. Maybe, in the end, you take it all a little too far...