Back in March, the first episode of this year's Hitman landed on digital storefronts, with monthly installments scheduled to release over the coming year. The game parted itself from previous entries in the franchise through this altered distribution method, which concludes with a retail re-release in 2017. When we reviewed the game's first episode, we looked forward to what the future has in-store for the franchise, with some of the most innovative level design in the past decade. Sadly, some major technical issues overshadowed an otherwise great revival of the series.
Agent 47 is now back once again in his second episode, tasked with destroying a man-made virus and the two infamous masterminds behind it. The assassin's latest adventure takes place in the fictional Italian town of Sapienza; a traditional Mediterranean coast retreat, obscuring a dark secret in the tunnel network below.
An Italian Paradise
Sapienza is a massive step up in level design, with a much more diverse and open sandbox than the game's previous representation of Paris. The seaside town is littered with an array of outstanding landmarks, each opening up a varied range of opportunities. In contrast to the first episode, where a majority of the mission took place inside a large mansion, the expansion treats players to a variety of dense environments sprawling out from the town centre.
"A much more diverse and open sandbox than the game's previous representation of Paris"
The bustling streets are where Sapienza truly comes to life, with each of the town's inhabitants going about their day in the Italian paradise. Dozens of naturally flowing, believable conversations can be overheard between townsfolk, adding more character to an already diverse and animated town. The attention to detail is one of the most compelling aspects of Sapienza, which begin to resonate when exploring each of the town's stores and back alleys.
This is the first time such a large sense of scope has been portrayed in Hitman, with the title's choice of prior locales partially to blame. These changes accumulate to make Sapienza one of the most authentic Hitman environments to date, raising the bar for the game's level design.
"Cues are more subtle, without transparently leading the player towards certain situations"
Sapienza feels less linear than its Paris counterpart, loosening the reins in a less structured, free-flowing layout. This time around, cues are more subtle, without transparently leading the player towards certain situations.
Ditching the large mansion in this episode also breaks away from sectional level design, which added strict boundaries to each section of the Paris map. Inside the mansion, each segment of the map had a bold division, which in turn, strongly dictated the use of disguises. This time around, a majority of the playable areas naturally transition between differing environments.
The ultimate assassin's toy box
As advertised, Hitman's latest episode boasts the same classic gameplay traits, opening a wide variety of choices during each playthrough. Whether loading a cannon, smuggling an explosive golf ball or roaming the town as a sniper-wielding priest, each approach to an assassination feels natural and creative.
While exploring in the game's sandbox, I found myself experimenting with objects in the game's world, only to find out they have an effect the surrounding area. An example of this was the inflatable crocodile that caught my eye when perched on the roof of a nearby church. To my surprise (and dismay) the crocodile burst when pumped with lead, drawing the attention of surrounding beach-goers. Small details like these come together to create an immersive sandbox, providing the best assassination scenarios in franchise history.
This month's release of Hitman content is the best so far, and easily among the greatest levels in Hitman history. Many of my worries that arose last month have now been cleared, including decreased load times and better performance on the Xbox One. Contrary to public outcry, if Square Enix can keep to the strict schedule it's proposed, the franchise's new distribution model may mark a turning point for future Hitman games. This episodic model has already been proven successful, by keeping the game relevant in the media one month after release. The only remaining gripe is my inability to remember the game's control scheme and mechanics after a month hiatus.
While the core gameplay of the latest episode is almost unchanged, the content introduced in Hitman's second episode is the best to date. Sapienza's level design is a commendable effort, improving upon the game's Paris level in almost every way. If you're still unimpressed by the new direction of the Hitman series, Sapienza is a perfect chance to revisit the world of assassination.
Hitman's second episode is currently available for free to owners of Hitman: The Full Experience. Those who held back and purchased the Hitman Intro Pack are also able to purchase the level individually for $9.99, or as a part of the Upgrade Pack for $49.99.
- Immersive, realistic world
- Environment littered with objects to interact with
- Overall improved performance over previous levels
- Hard to pick up again after a month break
This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy purchased by the reviewer.