Arriverderci Roma, it’s time for us to part
We may have been a bit on the fence about Agent 47’s episodic debut before it released last month, but our fears were quickly snuffed out when we first set foot in Episode 1 – Paris‘ palatial hunting ground. Hitman’s debut chapter was an impressive showpiece for what the current crop of consoles – and PC hardware – can do for the franchise, delivering massive crowds, slick performance and more dynamic gameplay than ever before. It did a great job of re-introducing players to the series’ signature chrome-domed assassin by offering a massive landscape to explore, littered with murderous opportunities to exploit as players tracked their targets through the grand Parisian museum. By the time we had executed our last target with rat poison while disguised as a vampire magician, it’s safe to say we were in love with developer Io-Interactive’s latest vision for the long-running murder simulation series.
Hitman Episode 2 – Sapienza dials things back a bit from the previous chapter in terms of spectacle, but it manages to be every bit as entertaining from start to finish. Gone are the dense crowds and mingling fashionistas that packed nearly ever square inch of Agent 47’s Parisian contract in place of a much more sedate setting. The mission is set against the backdrop of the (fictitious) Italian town of Sapienza, located on the Amalfi Coast. This idyllic Italian village is home to quaint gelato shops, picturesque fountains and a host of colorful characters, all representing potential opportunities as you work to assassinate Silvio Caruso, one world’s finest stem cell researchers who has taken up the profitable bio-weapons business and his associate, researcher Francesca De Santis.
These aforementioned opportunities – typically found in conversations you overhear that give you insight into the world and allow you access to your targets – are more plentiful than ever this time around. Numerous townsfolk wandering around Sapienza grant Agent 47 a wealth of opportunities to infiltrate Caruso’s seaside villa, including a lazy chef’s apprentice who is training under the bio-engineer’s prestigious private chef, a pair of dim-witted florists who are tasked with delivering a floral arrangement to the grave of Caruso’s mother that’s conveniently located on the estate, and even the target’s psychiatrist himself. Donning each of these disguises offers its own interesting – and often entertaining – methods to dispatch our targets. And these are just a few of the many options at your disposal in Sapienza, but we don’t want to give all of them away and spoil the fun for other armchair assassins.
Sure, you could simply waltz atop the nearest building and zero in on your targets with a trusty sniper rifle, or try to go in guns-blazing and paint the walls of the multi-million dollar villa red, but that’s missing the point. The avenues to a successful assassination that Io-Interactive have carefully woven into the experience are simply brilliant, and these various situations are enough to make you want to ditch your guns and bombs altogether in favor of the inventive methods of murder the game puts at player’s fingertips.
Just as the plentiful disguises you can wear open up new ways to execute Sapienza’s duo of budding bio-terrorists, the stage itself is just as impressive in its scale and intricate layout, which is simply teeming with cleverly interconnected paths and tucked away routes. These branching boulevards and underground corridors provide plenty ways to help players navigate the sprawling compound and its surrounding shops and plazas. It’s in theses seemingly random locales that you’ll find some of the most entertaining ways to complete your objectives. Stalking around the perimeter during one of my play-throughs I discovered an antique canon situated atop ancient, crumbling ramparts just outside of the villa grounds. After successfully scouring the nearby ruins for a blackpowder charge and a cannonball, I managed to unleash a volley of artillery fire right at the head of Caruso as he was teeing off on his own private golf course. Moments like this are simply spectacular, and will make you want to explore every last inch of the environment for more entertaining and sadistic tools to obliterate your targets.
Simply put, Sapienza serves as a wonderful playground to test your murderous mettle, and it could well be considered a candidate for one of Hitman’s Greatest Hits. That said, it’ll be interesting to see what the community manages to do with this map over time as they design their own devilish contracts. Considering the broad scope and seemingly limitless possibilities this area grants players, it’s pretty safe to say we’ll be seeing some superb player-made missions popping up leading up to the launch of Hitman’s third episode next month.
While Agent 47’s sun-soaked Italian vacation is largely a success, a few nagging issues from the previous chapter do rear their heads from time to time, though at least one of them has seemingly been improved upon a bit. Namely, the nasty load times that plagued Hitman Episode 1 have returned, though they do seem a little less severe than before. Even still, it still feels like you’ll be spending the better part of a minute staring at loading screens in-between deaths and at the start of each session. Additionally, enemy A.I. is still a little too easy to exploit at times, which can make for some pretty entertaining scenarios when you gun down a target mere feet from a bumbling bodyguard. Considering Io-Interactive’s willingness to listen to user feedback, we’re hoping that the developer takes a bit more time to fine-tune the loading times a bit more and spruce up the mechanical AI routines of some of the NPCs in upcoming episodes.
While Hitman Episode 2 – Sapienza doesn’t completely address some of the admittedly minor missteps of the series’ debut chapter, it still manages to deliver an exceptional experience that rivals some of the best missions in the Hitman’s history. With a densely-packed playground to experiment with as you pick off your targets and complete the episode’s numerous challenges, it’s easy to imagine this chapter keeping fans busy until the next episode releases in May.
Sure, we may have had our doubts at first when it came to this episodic entry in the long-running series, but Io-Interactive have been shooting to kill with Hitman. The first two chapters have done an exceptional job of showcasing the developer’s vision for the game by delivering the requisite thrills and kills on a grander scale than ever before as they remind us that sometimes it feels great to be the bad guy. We can’t wait to see just where they take us next. One things for sure: there will be blood.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Square Enix ; Developer: Io-Interactive ; Players: 1; Released: April 26, 2016; Genre: Action ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review was written based on PS4 review code supplied by the game’s publisher, Square Enix