Io Interactive’s weakness for lavish settings may be the closest you or I ever come to an exotic vacation. Hitman’s debut gave players a whiff of Paris, a chance to fraternize with high-fashion models and choke on caviar at an invite-only pageant. Opulent French ballrooms, gardens, and basements built a beautiful playground for Agent 47 to arrange assassinations, catering to fans with falling chandeliers and dirty martinis. Hitman’s season opener laid a strong foundation, and episode two reinforces it. But even contract killers need the occasional break.
Hitman’s second act trades claustrophobic crowds, electronica albums, and blinding lights for a quiet, coastal retreat along Italy’s shimmering shores. Although it can’t be said for the men and women players weed out, the fictional Sapienza comes alive, embracing a “home is where the heart is” atmosphere. The town butcher markets salivating meats behind his bistro counter; the barber’s clientele debates a millionaire’s unknown enterprise; priests leave their cathedral doors open, greeting anyone that seeks God’s forgiveness.
Agent 47, meanwhile, channels his inner James Bond. Dressed in a slim button-down shirt and slacks, users are welcome to enter nearby boutiques and stroll through Sapienza’s streets as a tourist with years of secret spy training. You’re on the clock (the ICA did not dispatch 47 for his window shopping skills), but there’s less of a rush to complete your assignment and board the next plane home. Hitman’s second episode begins on a bench outside Sapienza’s chateau, with our expert assassin reading the local newspaper. Do you savor the leisure?
I now understand why the elderly enjoy “people watching.” Hitman’s citizens bustle about their afternoon routines, visiting cafés for a coffee or admiring the speedboats docked at sun-soaked piers. The whole assassin premise aside, Hitman does achieve displays of normalcy. The city’s residents aren’t partygoers or influential celebrities like last episode’s. As 47 gets down to brass tacks, you break into their apartments, their stores. A distinction between Sapienza’s affluent and ordinary populace exists, though neither side seems terrible to live on.
The socially anxious Silvio Caruso controls a majority share of Sapienza’s wealth, and you’ll no doubt notice his elegant manor when you commence Hitman’s “World of Tomorrow” mission. A former bioengineer, Silvio draws the short straw, as does his research assistant Francesca De Santis. The duo whipped up an airborne virus in the villa’s subsurface field lab, and Agent 47’s employer cannot condone its application.
In its current state, the pathogen endangers our anti-hero’s profession. Too many blue-eyed or brown-haired people on this earth? Let Caruso’s concoction rectify that. The disease checks a person’s genetic makeup, infecting targets – and only those targets – that match specific DNA profiles. If the virus remains undetectable and harmless to non-victims, its efficiency could breed an era of armchair killers. As budding competition, the mutagen and its makers must go.
Io Interactive molded Paris into a dense diorama of interconnected hallways and doors, where security uniforms allowed easier access to most of the estate and perimeter. Sapienza is more dynamic, more plausible in terms of interaction – one disguise does not fit all. To dispose of the reclusive Mr. Caruso and cutthroat Francesa, Agent 47 navigates an intermingled labor pool of waiters, housekeepers, gardeners, lab technicians, military personnel, and so on.
Players must react to their surroundings without notice, given the absence of massive mobs to blend in. Agent 47 presses his luck when you turn corners blindly, and carelessness is not 47’s style. On my first playthrough I nicked a mansion key card from a late-to-work employee, then made a quick stop at an ICA safe house to collect my smuggled lockpick and volatile golf ball. I soon set Silvio back a couple strokes after his nuclear tee-off. Do explosions count as eagles or birdies?
Ms. De Santis left herself vulnerable despite her benefactor’s undoing minutes prior. Imitating a maid, I hurried up the manor’s third floor, pulling out my lockpick and slipping into a bathroom adjacent to Francesca’s office. As the doctor’s hired help turned their backs, they afforded me a clean headshot.
Invading the lab required a little derring-do. The police barring entry to the underground facility wanted to frisk me for weapons, but my silenced pistol wasn’t having it. I grabbed a hazmat suit from an unattended supply locker, snuck through the containment room, and one sterilized virus later, I stole a seaplane without resistance.
You could tackle those objectives in a separate order, of course, or without needless bloodshed. Like episode one, Hitman’s latest act unlocks new starting locations and gear as your mastery level rises via feats and discoveries. Choosing the lab for your infiltration point (you begin the mission undercover) provides immediate admission to Silvio’s private property. In ten minutes, I incinerated the plague from a scientist’s secure laptop, used Silvio for antique cannon targeting practice, and delivered Francesca’s resignation with my sniper rifle through a bohemian’s open window.
I leafed through a checklist of assassinations beforehand, but Hitman appeals to inventive and inquisitive minds all the same. Franchise veterans, especially, will take pleasure in discovering executions that appear too intricate to be true. (You can’t dump bodies in a garden shredder … can you?) You just know the developers have as much fun – if not more – brainstorming goofy murders as we do putting them into effect.
Take the escalations for example. “The Apeiron Sadness” contract tasked me with eliminating a militia guard by way of explosives. It sounds elementary, and early tiers are. I chose Sapienza’s main square for my spawn location, within earshot of my target. As I ducked behind an SUV, I tossed a proximity mine into view. When the nitwit wandered within range, kaboom! Sentry terminated.
Carrying out escalations, however, adds new objectives to a contract each time you finish it – hence the tiers. For round two, 47’s superiors instructed me to blow up the gunman again, but they forbade innocent casualties. I applaud Hitman’s willingness to roll with a person’s mistakes during the campaign, though I respect the structure its side content entails, too.
The remaining content needs some work on a technical level. Io Interactive improved Hitman’s load times since episode one, reducing hold-ups from minutes to seconds. But mending those messes fostered another. I witnessed hundreds of loading screens while drudging through the escalations, and every transition subjected my ears to auditory misery – the Hitman soundtrack stutters as long as the loading screens last. The hellish static became unbearable, and I began reaching for my TV’s mute button on instinct.
No less of an issue, the plot continues to suffer for the game’s piecemeal nature. I watched one man shoot a nameless businessperson in his car, who handed the killer a key before throwing around buzzwords like “Providence.” A two-minute cutscene to appease the player’s narrative needs? Hitman, you shouldn’t have. While I’m unsure how these events relate to Agent 47 and the ICA, I am certain I’ll forget the “details” in the weeks we spend waiting for episode three.
For now, Hitman exceeds the avant-garde gameplay patterns forged by Hitman: Blood Money. Locate your targets; erase them from existence in a comedic, convoluted manner; improvise an escape. Those orders remain unchanged – monthly hiatus be damned – but Io Interactive also delegates time to revel in 47’s surroundings, shove civilians into wells, and disguise yourself as priests or other ironic roles. This chapter is the complete package, a virtual Eden where players can relax or save humankind from wily chemical terrorists.
With such lofty expectations, is the next Hitman episode doomed to be a shadow of Sapienza’s splendor?
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which we were provided.
With a solid gameplay framework already in place, Hitman just needed the destination to match. Sapienza may be a glamorous port city that photographers slap on postcards, but its boutiques, apartments, and inhabitants also tolerate hours of murderous fun (and guns) in the sun.