Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hitman (2016): Episode Two: Sapienza review

    The decision to make Hitman (2016) episodic went over like a ton of bricks with the audience. I absolutely loved the Paris level and felt it was probably the single-best designed level I've ever played in a video game. Despite being confined to a single building, it was a huge level with hundreds of NPCs and dozens of opportunities to assassinate your targets in both entertaining as well as theatrical ways. I drowned them in toilets, dropped them over ledges, hit them with chandeliers, and even blew them up with a mine once.

    I was thus very excited about the possibility of another episode of Agent 47's adventures. In this case, it was a journey to a beautiful vacation town in Italy. Sapienza and Paris could not be more different in some ways but still possess the same DNA of glamorous exotic locations our professional assassin must visit in order to stop nefarious plots afoot. It feels very much like a classic James Bond or John Le Carre novel (depending on how you play).

Beautiful villas, beaches, and places to kill people.
    In Episode Two, Agent 47 is contacted by Diana who informs him Doctor Silvio Caruso, a stem cell researcher, has created a biological weapon capable of killing any specific individual on Earth. Basically, it's Foxdie from Metal Gear Solid. Less troubled by the ethical or political consequences of such a device, Diana and 47 are more troubled by the fact it could put them out of a job. Accepting a contract on Silvio, his lab assistant Francesca De Santis, and the virus itself--you must journey to this gorgeous locale then eliminate them.

    The big contrast to the Paris level is while that was all isolated to one building, this is spread across an entire small town and beach. The majority of the town isn't encountered in the assassination proper and I suspect a lot of it exists for players to use in Contracts or Escalation mode but it was still gorgeous to wander around. Whereas Paris was overcrowded and claustrophobic, this just feels relaxed and beautiful.

I never stop enjoying tossing people off balconies. Ditto drowning people in toilets.
    The targets this time are a bit more sympathetic than previously. Despite being a bioweapons engineer, Silvio is a decent man who is trying to develop a method to make the weak able to fight the strong even though he's blinded to the fact the opposite will likely be the case. Francesca is a career woman who has fallen in love with her golfing instructor (and vice versa) with both of them acting like love-struck teenagers rather than the cynical adults they've always identified themselves as being.

    The fact you can kill both in rather sadistic ways felt a less satisfying than the two jackasses from the previous episode. For example, you can kill Silvio as he's visiting his dead mother and drown Francesca in a toilet while dressed as her lover who you just murdered (seconds after she declares her love for you no less). Still, there's quite a few crazy ways to kill people and my favorite is using an explosive golf ball.

They'll never see you coming.
    The main plot moves forward but not in a way which is comprehensible. The agent from the first episode draws one step closer to his goal by acquiring the bioweapon data but it turns out the villains of the game aren't IAGO, like I previously thought, but a previously-unrevealed organization known as Providence. How this all ties in with Agent 47 or who the individual is has yet to be revealed. It's rare I complain about the complexity of a plot in a Hitman game but that seems to be the case here. At the very least, I'd like to know the main villain's name and what he's up to.

    There's numerous improvements made to the technical side of things with the Patch which came out just before this version. These include an ability to reconnect to the server if you're kicked, a dramatically reduced loading time, and other improvements which deal with the majority of my problems from the first episode. There's some glitches and bugs in this game like one Opportunity I really wanted to do not triggering and ragdoll physics but it still played remarkably well for a first day release.

My favorite part of this level? 47 in his "Dad on vacation" clothes.
    There's nothing particularly original this time around and there's plenty of reused assets but the mood of the two levels is distinct enough I don't have a problem with them. The graphics quality of this game is immense and I give kudos to Io Entertainment for coming up with something so beautiful. The game actually serves as a weird kind of travelogue as I've never wanted to visit Italy before playing this level but now kind of want to. 

     One small annoyance I will have is the fact the episode's female target gets murdered in those aforementioned sadistic ways primarily because of her lover. Only one out of a few of the Opportunities doesn't involve exploiting her clingy jealous girlfriend habits. Likewise, Caruso has "gynophobia" and severe mother issues which get exploited. It's kind of bizarre to have such an anti-woman focused level as it has no real bearing on the greater plot or 47 whatsoever.

Antique cannons are something every Hitman should make use of.
    There's areas which could have been better, I think, such as making the villains more hateable and having the assassinations be a bit more over-the-top. Still, I thought this was a very good "serious" Hitman level. It gives the sense of the world as a spy thriller which fits with the previous games but improves on them in almost every conceivable way. 47 is still mostly a blank slate but expressionless stoic is pretty much his established personality now.

    Hitman (2016) remains a great game and is probably the best in the series, including Blood Money, with all signs pointing to the game continuing its previous level of quality. Hitman (2016) is a slow and methodical game with immense replayabilty. The fact its episodic is something which will continue to tick off fans but is something I'm rather enjoying. I'd rather play bite-sized chunks of Hitman thoroughly than one big meal once. Indeed, if this becomes the new model of the game then I'd be quite satisfied.


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