The concept for the latest Hitman episode seems like my dream version of a boring trip to the beach. Instead of lying on the beach, gaining a tan and not gaming, you get to visit the beach and be a professional Hitman. Maybe that'll be something for VR next year?
All jokes aside, Sapienza is the first actual Hitman episode that is sold separately from Hitman's intro pack. It still strikes me as odd how the "upgrade pack" is basically a glorified season pass. Square Enix's business tactic of this installment of Hitman is certainly a controversial one, but that's hardly news anymore. So let's get on with the actual news, which is my review on whether Hitman Episode 2: Sapienza is worth your money.
As you probably have understood by now, this episode takes place in the sun-baked town of Sapienza, Italy. Here you are tasked with infiltrating a mansion with a hidden underground lab. Your goal: to eliminate two promising scientists who have made breakthroughs in developing a deadly precise virus that easily spreads but will only attack the body of a carrier with a specific DNA. Think FOXDIE for a similar concept. You must also sabotage and destroy this virus while you're at it. Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.
From the start I'm already feeling like I am playing a familiar Hitman game. In Paris I felt that, despite the rich setup, I was always rushed towards simple methods of "execution" as some opportunities or methods of murder seemed like they had time limits. But in Sapienza, I never got the feeling that any opportunities would start unless I put them in motion, leaving me free to explore and mess around with my surroundings. In fact, there is a specific opportunity involving a Private Detective, who will be continuously snoring on a bench until you "accidentally" wake him up and subsequently prompt him to making contact with one of your targets. This, of course, leads to an opportunity to get close and personal with one of your two targets.
Furthermore, while the mansion is where most of the action is at, the surrounding streets and beach are also accessible and quite large, while also coming with a few other unique opportunities of it's own. Unlike Paris, this helped into making me feel like a wolf prowling in the woods, hidden by foliage and trees. I had all the time in the world to study my surroundings and form a plan of action. And, more importantly, opportunities to fool around. This episode will certainly prove ideal for those players intent on getting creative with making contracts to challenge others with.
One trend I noticed in both Paris and Sapienza is that these missions took a lot of focus away from Agent 47 as a character. Diana handles most of the context sensitive narration serving to inform you, the player, of certain things. With 47 himself only speaking when absolutely required, such as pretending to be a new kitchen hand and reporting to the chef of service. Most of the former games always had this hook, this angle where 47 would fit in the narration. But, as the levels release per episode, this might simply be the build-up. It's too soon to tell.
Mechanically, very little has changed. You still earn experience that will serve to unlock both gear and weapons, as well as alternate starting points and dead-drop locations. Opportunities can be followed or found to show you specific methods to either gain entry or lure your targets into a specific position that will ease your attempts at murdering them.
The map itself looks and feels very rich, with details adorning almost every direction you look at. A large variety of items can be picked up/used for your means and the systems that fight back infiltration are hard enough that they are satisfying to circumvent. Though I am disappointed that you can't bump that beach ball you find drifting back and forth on the beach.
If I were to have one complaint on the gameplay side of things, it'd be that Hitman is clearly steering towards being more accessible to newer players. While beautiful and deliciously complex, the maps are generally very easy for veterans to complete, which does remind me of a point I made last time: There should be a difficulty setting. Instinct is very overpowered, even without the feature of "blending in" that Absolution tried its hand at. In the games prior to Absolution, the map was already a priceless tool to prepare your infiltration, but at least those games had difficulty settings that would tone down their usefulness. Refusing to use Instinct and/or the minimap feels more like a handicap that garners no real reward.
Sadly, the always-online DRM is still present. It's often that my first attempt to connect to the servers fails while booting up the game, prompting me to go offline after a few minutes and try again later. I still find it inexcusable and I've vented my feelings on it well enough last time in my last article.
To round it up, Sapienza is a worthwhile map that will scratch your Hitman itch. And while its complexity does not lend much difficulty, the continued attention to detail and atmosphere building does make this enjoyable to explore and turn upside down. I've definitely enjoyed myself more than I did in Paris. And who knows, maybe the later episodes will ramp up in difficulty. The curve just becomes blatantly more obvious due to the episodic release schedule.
A promising start. Here's to hoping the following episodes will at the very least follow in quality and detail. It's certainly looking good so far.
This episode was reviewed on PC using a Steam key provided by the developer.
Sapienza skillfully combines the elements at what makes an enjoyable Hitman level. Its lower difficulty, while making it more accessible for those new to the series, might slightly bore weathered Veterans.