Hitman Episode 2: When in Rome

Sapienza 1

This is an article on the second episode of 2016’s episodic Hitman. Our piece on the introduction and first chapter can be found here.

One way or another, the second level of Hitman 2016 was always going to be its breaking point. Traipsing around Paris as an impostor fashionista back in March was certainly a blast, but once the dust had cleared, doubt wormed its way into my mind. Could it keep this immaculate attention to detail and joyous experimentation going for however many episodes were planned? Or was this going to be the highlight, a lavishly produced teaser to get us in the door of a more pedestrian outing? Even maintaining the level of complexity felt like a gamble that could turn sour if all the cogs weren’t perfectly synced in its clockwork world.

Sapienza, Agent 47’s newest destination, dissipates those fears with a resounding roar. We’re once again thrust in a foreign country with two targets to eliminate, but the sheer size and diversity of the landscape makes Paris feel diminutive in comparison. I spent upwards of 40 minutes searching high and low for my second target (triggering my Instinct view told me the vicinity of the target, but not the door necessary to reach them), crossing through ice cream parlors, cramped tenements and a multi-level, dockside vista, before I even set foot in an equally intimidating estate. When I finally found the entrance to my elusive quarry’s laboratory/Bond lair, I realized I had passed the right door several times and didn’t even care: exploring what felt like a fully-realized corner of the world was a reward in its own way.

If Paris was a playground of mundane and outlandish murder methods, then Sapienza is a veritable amusement park. Battle axes and Silverballers are one thing, but why not send a pompous rich boy vomiting into the sea by spiking his meal with expired pasta sauce? Or play caddy for a day and load his tee with an EXPLODING GOLF BALL (which I have yet to find)? If you’re feeling exceptionally conniving, you can even recreate the same circumstantial poltergeist activity that left him in a less-than-ideal state of mind for several months. It all further vindicates Hitman’s optional objective markers, since the majority of players (myself included) would likely miss some of the cleverer moments without a helping hand.

Sapienza 2

Getting this up close and personal with targets for an extended period of time just wouldn’t be possible in any earlier Hitman games, where any disguise could keep you hidden in plain sight for five seconds or so, but here, your fellow AI neighbors are both intelligent and absent-minded in the right ways.The right hat can get you almost anywhere, with few observers even batting an eyelash. Blowing your cover by acting like a jerk will put you in hot water with everyone in the area, but you can always salvage a bad run with luck and persistence. Gone are the days of instantly failing or walling yourself into an inescapable position, replaced with a structure that understands experimentation is king.

Though the default online setting still has the potential to boot you out mid-game (the leading cause of hair loss in 2016), io and Square Enix sweetened its pot with Elusive Targets. Every so often, the devs announce that a new target will appear on a certain day, and you only get one shot to take them out. Other teams should take note: even as we’re buried under a deluge of new releases like Overwatch and Uncharted, I find myself with my ear to the ground for any new Hitman news, itching for an excuse to return and use other random objects as lethal projectiles.

It may be too early to make any claims about Hitman 2016’s place within the stealth hall of fame, but even two levels in, I can confidently state that this is the best Hitman has ever been. While previous entries certainly had an open-ended charm to their assassinations, the sheer level of difficulty restricted clever, lateral thinking. Sapienza has the size and charm of the best Hitman levels, without the small margin for error or downright ugly personality. Wherever our barcoded assassin travels next, I’m there.