Hitman’s second episode is even better than the first.
Part quaint Italian seaside town, part sprawling mansion, and part high-tech underground cave lair, Hitman’s second episode – Sapienza – is about as James Bond as the Hitman series has ever been. It’s an excellent level brimming with experimentation potential that will provide hours and hours of gameplay.
Dressed for the Italian summer in a crisp white, tucked shirt pilfered from Daniel Craig’s wardrobe, if it weren’t for his distinct lack of hair 47 probably wouldn’t look out of place easing an Aston Martin up to the nearest hotel and seducing the concierge. Double-O Forty Seven, perhaps.
Either way, Sapienza is a vastly more expansive experience than the previous level, Paris (reviewed here). While large and bustling with partygoers, staff, and equipment, Paris is still a single building and its immediate grounds. Sapienza, in contrast, is not just an expensive villa with an infectious disease lab facility attached; it’s everything around it too. There’s a village square lined with cafés and small stores. There are narrow cobbled streets that wind down to a small church, morgue, and a modest cemetery overlooking the ocean. There’s also a picturesque beach and seaside shopping area; from here you can access the town’s underground tunnels or wind your way past the jetty to discover a ruined fort. All of this is outside the large mansion and secret lair that houses both of 47’s targets, plus his additional objective.
Investigating the massive Sapienza level and prodding for access opportunities and weaknesses is extremely satisfying.
It’s huge. Intimidatingly so, at first, but slowly uncovering each of the many avenues that will bring 47 to his targets is always half the fun of the classic Hitman experience. It’s no different here, although that fun lasts longer considering the drastically bigger scope of Sapienza compared to even the best Hitman levels of old. Investigating the massive Sapienza level and prodding for access opportunities and weaknesses is extremely satisfying; it’s a very well-honed illustration of developer Io’s commitment to building non-linear environments that really tap into the spirit of what has always made Hitman great and unique.
Sapienza does this even better than Paris; there’s even more variety here, both in the place itself and in the situations 47 will find himself in. One moment he’s hovering around an ice cream parlour disguised as a waiter, avoiding the staff and trying to tamper with one particular patron’s coffee; the next he’s clad in a HazMat suit infiltrating a high-tech, high-security lab chamber on the hunt for a dangerous supervirus. During one attempt I went from hiding in plain sight as a corpse in an open coffin to posing as a golf instructor in order to kill my target while he was taking time out to perfect his drive. This happened within 15 minutes, and that was before I found the incredibly dastardly exploding golf ball.
These are the sort of dark yet comical mini stories that can be weaved here. Don’t expect much in the way of an actual story, though; a single, short cutscene delivered upon the successful completion of the mission is all we get to move the overarching narrative along. Unfortunately it’s already proving difficult to get invested in a story told in minute-or-so bursts, several weeks apart – and we’re only at the second episode.
The Italian Job
Sapienza continues to build on the Hitman: Blood Money/Hitman: Absolution hybrid gameplay Io established in the first episode. Like Paris, Sapienza is bursting at the seams with ways of getting the job done, and the more you explore the world, the more useful items, disguises, and people reveal themselves. Sapienza demands many successful attempts to unlock all the gear and new mission starting locations available, and some of my early, patient playthroughs took close to an hour apiece. Even trying to rush through like an indiscriminate thug will take time, considering how spread out and tough to access the objectives can be. Overall it’s a more complex hit than Paris, and slightly trickier as a result.
Sleepy Sapienza lacks the visual spectacle and flash of last month’s ostentatious Paris fashion show level but the change of pace makes it worth it. I recommend checking out the level from the church steeple, too; the panoramic view you get up there really helped inject proceedings with a real sense of 47 being a lone, invisible killer in a big world. That said, I found true immersion was hampered by the voice acting, which fails on all fronts to feel authentic due the overwhelming abundance of American English accents. It was a mild annoyance in last month’s Paris level, but it’s a far bigger one here. This may look like Italy, but it doesn’t sound like it at all. It’s thoroughly jarring walking into a charming Italian corner store barbershop and finding nobody sounds remotely Italian. It’s far from gamebreaking but the atmosphere definitely suffers.
Pleasingly, the menus aren’t troubled with the same frustrating lag that plagued the interface at the launch of the debut episode, and the often horrifically long loading times from Paris have been trimmed.