Wot I Think: Hitman Episode Two – Sapienza

This is more like it. This is so much more like it that it feels like the gap year abroad next to that disappointing overnight stop in Paris. In Sapienza, a colourful and complex Italian town, IO’s new Hitman [official site] has found the ideal location for a spot of sightseeing and silent slaughter. I’ve spent more than ten hours playing and feel like I’m still scratching the surface, and almost every hit has been a complete joy.

After struggling to find the fun in Hitman’s first episode, I was hopeful that the second location would be an improvement but I didn’t imagine it’d be this much of an improvement. Whether that’s a vindication of the episodic model or an indictment of it, I’ll leave for you to decide – until the whole game is in my hands I’m reserving judgement on the model. It’d be a shame if Paris were to dissuade people from sticking with the game but perfectly understandable and I can’t pretend to know how much of the feedback has had an influence on development.

There’s evidence of a learning curve, signs that IO have applied lessons learned from the first episode to the second, but Sapienza is a better sandbox right down to its foundations. I picked apart the Opportunities system and some of the stealth mechanics in the Paris episode, but most of my complaints were aimed directly at the level design. The fashion show was a box, an imperfect cube with multiple entrances and exits. It was isolated from the city, a relatively simple stage with Paris as its backdrop.

Sapienza has layers. Wander down to the beach and you can look back at the town and figure out new routes through the streets and buildings. There’s a much greater sense of being dropped into a living area, incognito, and either fitting in as best you can or creating chaos as you go.

The differences between Sapienza and Paris are clear as soon as the level begins. In the first episode, Agent 47 arrives at his destination as the mission begins – you’re right there, at the venue, ready for the kill. In this episode, you’re in a town and the mansion where your targets are secured is at the other side of town. You’re on the outside looking in and you could play for ages, meddling in the lives (and deaths) of the townspeople before even setting foot in the mansion.

In Paris, the level was the objective; in Sapienza, the objective is one part of a much larger and more vibrant location. There are so many stories to find and places to visit that the intricate design, as it relates to infiltration and assassination, isn’t immediately obvious. It’s a credible location, on the surface, rather than an obvious playground for the usual Hitman antics, but scratch beneath that surface and the brilliance of the architecture as a game-space becomes obvious.

It’s evident in the way that residential buildings have been used as low-threat passages between the streets. You’re trespassing when within them, and can be spotted when passing by windows or lingering on balconies, but the consequences aren’t punishing. For one thing, it’s easy enough to vanish into the warren of corridors and apartments until the heat has died down, and for another, it’s difficult for the authorities to interfere given the verticality of the town. Because of the time it takes the AI to reach the scene of a crime, you can take a shot from on high and make your way to a bench in a square to watch the investigations into your actions rather than having almost every moment of visible violence devolve into a clumsy chase or firefight.

All of the systems that came in for criticism in the first episode are allowed to flourish here. The Opportunities feel less obtrusive, by virtue of the many distractions to be found in the town, and stealth of all varieties shines now that there’s a less linear progression between low- and high-security areas. Even in the mansion itself, where a locked-down underground lab acts as a military-standard target, the game remains playful even as the difficulty and restrictions ramp up.

Even the plot works in the game’s favour. Sapienza is home to a weapon that is conceptually horrifying and also serves as a potential bullet in the heart of 47’s trade. Hitman’s morality has never been entirely clear – sometimes he appears to be a scalpel carefully applied to cut out rot that might spread, sometimes he’s a more traditional wire-for-hire – but here, he’s definitely the hero of the piece. Sure, you can make him push innocent people into the sea for a laugh, or greet every person in town with a knife to the back, but if you take out your targets, you’ll make the world a better place even if you soak Sapienza in blood.

That’s a good thing. IO haven’t made 47 into a noble hero and they’ve smartly tied the mission into a hideous technology that has the side effect of making assassins obsolete – there’s a selfish element to the mission that also touches on the mythology of the agency in Hitman’s world. It’s as good a piece of Bigger Picture storytelling as the series has ever done and it doesn’t intrude on the self-contained stories that you can create from one playthrough to the next. That opening, 47 on a bench hiding his face in a newspaper, is an invitation to all manner of escapades: it’s Bond, it’s Bourne, it’s The American. Within its sandbox you can play however you want to play, and make 47 whoever you want him to be: mindless murderer, sleek assassin, sightseer, pilgrim, chef, gelato connoisseur…

The star of the show is Sapienza itself though. It’s a beautiful maze of possibilities, flowing toward the sea with vantage and access points sprinkled throughout. Wherever and whenever you create a disturbance, the ripples spread, causing all of the systems that make the game tick to trigger, and creating thrills and farce as they combine. I’m excited to see new targets and contracts as both the developers and players explore every nook and cranny of the town.

Though patches have been applied in the short time since launch, there are some technical issues, sadly. I haven’t seen any crashes or glitches but do experience some slowdown when large crowds react – bumping the graphics down to medium makes things slightly smoother but doesn’t fix the issue entirely. It’s not a severe enough problem to detract from my enjoyment but it is noticeable and all of my PC’s specs are equal to or higher than the recommended requirements here.

The slowdown is a small price to pay. It may have taken a while but Hitman is back and this Italian adventure is up there with the best of Blood Money.

Hitman Episode Two is out now.

From this site

35 Comments

  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    Ah, such a lovely setting!
    Reminds me of the holiday I spent in Lake Garda. The architecture, seawalls and piers, looks just like it.
    I wonder if it served as an inspiration to the devs, or if Sapienza is a mish-mash of different Italian towns.
    I’m actually tempted to give Hitman a shot now.

    • Premium User Badge

      Dorga says:

      Lake Garda? Naah, looks a bit like Amalfi or maybe Taormina to me.

      • Premium User Badge

        Cross says:

        It’s Amalfi. The town is referred to as the “Pearl of the Amalfi Coast”

    • manny says:

      They should try to get countries to pay them for promoting a city in their country for tourism. Cause I definitely want to go to Amalfi now.

      • phelix says:

        By enacting this audience participation, the next setting thus becomes Slough. Rejoicement all around.

    • Chiron says:

      It reminds me a lot of Cinque Terre

      • Cpt6288 says:

        Cinque Terra yes exactly. I looked this up to see if they used it as influence. I went there and the layout is pretty close. Could be a coincidence.

  2. unitled says:

    I’ve played this for a few hours now, completed the mission twice, but have barely scratched the surface. As you wander round you see the missing pieces of murder puzzles and, when you find enough of them, you slot them together to try and kill someone.

    I feel Hitman has always verged on being a stealth action puzzle game, and I feel Sapienza really scratches that itch.

    Bring on Marrakash!

  3. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    This is good news. I am still holding out for “the best one” and at least now I know for sure there’s one I want even if the rest and underwhelming like Paris.

    How many episodes are planned and what is the ETA for the final episode?

    • unitled says:

      Weirdly they’ve announced 7 episodes but only 6 locations? They’ve said previously that they’re aiming for an episode a month, but be aware the gap between episode 1 and 2 has been 6/7 weeks or so.

    • Vandelay says:

      Was going to ask the same thing. This sounds great, but I’m not going to put money down just yet for one OK level and one great level. I will likely wait until it is all out or at least at a point where I know I will still be playing before it is all done.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, everything in this WIT is promising.

    • Premium User Badge

      Cross says:

      So far we know episodes are planned in the US and Japan at the very least, and i suspect the last episode will involve taking down the mystery boogeyman pulling the strings of the plot.

      • Mi-24 says:

        I’m fairly sure I remember Thailand being mentioned as well

  4. C0llic says:

    Same. This is at least encouraging though.

  5. GameCat says:

    I hope they will make one episode in Bruges.

  6. ikehaiku says:

    May they should make this stand-alone, then, shouldn’t hey?
    I’ve never played a Hitman game, so dipping a toe with a single-episode is appealing to me…if it weren’t for the almost unanimous bad reviews the first episode had..

    • adwodon says:

      It didn’t have unanimous bad reviews, 76 on metacritic isn’t bad. It had unanimous middling reviews, most reviewers seemed unsure of what the format would mean. Plenty enjoyed their time with the game, especially considering the low cost, but weren’t sure if it would lead to a good product overall.

      Honestly I enjoyed Paris, I understand peoples feelings towards it, it didn’t have the staying power you might’ve wanted but it showed promise. If Paris were much bigger or more complex it would’ve been overwhelming for a lot of people I think, it was a decent introduction into what their new hitman games could be. Glad to see that this isn’t just more of the same but a proper ramping up, which the game certainly needed.

    • baozi says:

      Is it not stand-alone?

  7. Mi-24 says:

    Fantastic level design! My one criticism would be that once in the lab area itself the game becomes quite challenging / a lot more linear, guards everywhere. Otherwise fantastic, the number of climbing spots is really fun as well.

  8. Blake Casimir says:

    But still DRM. No thanks, Squeenix.

  9. woodsey says:

    I am enjoying it but the performance is driving me absolutely fucking bonkers.

    I have GTX 980 / i5 4670k, installed on an SSD, and the frame rates are all over the place. Turn V-Sync off and it’ll often stay in the 70-90 ballpark but with the frame timings all over the place, and at times it can fall all the way down to 40 on ultra (no super-sampling).

    (Whilst we’re on the subject of V-Sync, it’s a total toss up as to whether it works or not. Set it to cap at 30fps and sometimes it’ll do it, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it.)

    I’m fine with turning stuff down but the only real difference is when you set everything to low(!!) and even then it seems to skip a beat once in a while.

  10. kud13 says:

    This sounds nice. I’ll have to look into it once the whole package is out (until then, there’s much to do with my backlog)

  11. Crusoe says:

    Phew, what a huge relief.

  12. goon buggy says:

    Ho ho ho. Im not falling for this again.

  13. Banks says:

    This game is wonderful. Paris was great but Sapienza is simply the best level in the whole series. Brilliant setting, full of charm, outstanding level design and fine dark humour. I can’t believe how good this is.

    The worst part is that everyone speaks english with american accent. I want to hear sexy italian when I’m in Italy, thanks.

    • Mi-24 says:

      It breaks the immersion a little when you hear the same voice actors over and over again

      • person678 says:

        When you notice the guy who does Yosuke in Persona 4/Sasuke in Naruto is doing 90% of the voices you can never unhear it.

  14. manny says:

    This episodic aspect of the game is good, cause then I can skip the levels which have low reviews. I always disliked the Hitman games for forcing me to go through tons of mediocre levels to get the more rare good stuff. Also makes choosing which levels to use guides on easier.

    An idea for IO is they include a ‘mini movie/trailer with spoilers’ in leiu of cutscenes for people who want to skip the level and move to the next. That way they get a feel of what the level was about and get the necessary story details, without getting frustrated by a mediocre level. This would reduce the grind and increase the casual player enjoyment of the game.

  15. Just Endless says:

    does anyone know if this can be played without constant internet connection? i’d pay for it, but i live in a place where a steady connection isn’t possible.

    for whatever reason it’s REALLY hard to get a straight answer to this question: on the official forum saying “drm” at all seems to get your post shut down, which like, i sorta get but also

    Can i even play your game, Ubisoft? thanks

    • k47 says:

      It has DRM, as in, if you lose connection it kicks you out to the main menu. Google “Nerd³ Plays… Hitman – The French Disconnection” and skip right to the end to see it in full single-player kicking action.

      Back on topic, I’m glad the episodic release is working out for them with a stronger second level. I try to stay positive about the format, but I can’t keep the cynical thought out of my mind that having press coverage and regular reviews episode by episode is playing too much in their favour.

  16. keyze180 says:

    Do you think role playing as a ‘hitman’ is the most appealing aspect to this game?