Hitman’s first episode is launching this week, and it has a lot to prove. For the most part, the ‘season opener’ fares well: it’s a cracking slice of traditional Hitman, one which also integrates all of the best elements of Absolution.
Still, the episodic model means that IOI has to constantly put out good-to-great levels to keep people buying the next one. One duff level – and previous Hitman games have had a lot of duff levels – and the momentum will be gone. Paris is a good taster but Sapienza, its Italy-set follow up, is arguably even more important.
If Paris recalled the best of Blood Money’s Curtains Down mixed with Hitman 2’s Invitation to a Party, then Sapienza’s sleepy Italian setting is reminiscent of Hitman 2’s Anathema. It’s a coastal town, with a sunny square to drink coffee in and pleasant roads which lead down to a beach filled with the speedboats of the not-so-idle rich. The town is dominated, for the purposes of your visit at least, by a large mansion which overlooks the bay. As ever it’s your job to get in, kill at least one person deader than Kinect, and get out.
Sapienza makes a nice change of pace from Paris: if that level felt fundamentally closed, with most of the action taking place inside, then Sapienza’s early going is almost the opposite. The mansion grounds are large enough to encompass a host of different buildings, from chef’s quarters to security centers, and the back of the estate has a pool area and enough room to practice your golf drive. It’s an idyllic, laid back sort of place. Well, until you arrive and start throwing mines about or whatever it is you terrible amateurs do.
Anyway, your target is Silvio Caruso, a scientist with a touch of a playboy, Italian Downey Jr about him, and whose love for golf will probably be his undoing. Caruso is working on a doomsday virus for Big Pharma, and it’s up to you to stop him and destroy it. As before, how you do this is up to you, and as with Paris there are various weapons, costumes, and opportunities to aid your killing spree, all of which we’re not able to tell you about because of embargoes. How sad.
As ever here’s a multitude of ways in and out of the mansion and its grounds, and some very interesting methods for luring the target to his doom. Like Paris, the presence of more than one mission objective complicates matters: hitting Caruso publicly before heading to his supervillain-level bioweapons lab isn’t really an option, unless you want to kill every single person down there. Even worse: missing your shot will see him hightail it towards a safehouse, much like your previous two targets at the fashion show.
So far, Sapienza looks great and plays well. The layout of the town works with the Secret Puzzle Game nature of Hitman, and that the target exists in a setting which Tom Ripley would find agreeable only adds to the deliciousness of the hits. It’s a nice counterpart to the dusk-set, interiors-dominated Paris map, so much so that you you’ll be far more naturally inclined – and less likely to be stopped and told to go the other way – to seek out opportunities without having your hand held.
Sapienza will be followed in May by Marrakesh, which we were afforded a sneak peak at after we’d finished playing the Italy map. Reminiscent of Hitman 2’s middle eastern missions, particularly Murder at the Bazaar, 47 is there because there’s a riot occurring outside of the Swedish consulate, where a banker accused of embezzlement is hiding out. He’s your first target: your second is an Army general who seems to be coordinating the country’s forces for an imminent coup. You can probably see how these two targets go together.
Marrakesh was a hands-off demo, but from the various flythroughs it looked packed with places to go and people to meet and probably garrote for their shoes. The gleaming embassy stands in direct contrast to the dusty, sun-fucked streets and crowded marketplaces outside, and represents what should be a nice increase in difficulty: if in Paris you could literally just walk in, and Sapienza allowed you to scale one wall to get in the perimeter, then I’m hopeful this will provide a slightly sterner test. From the presentation it seemed that most of your play will occur outside of those walls, particularly with regards to meeting important contacts who have a vested interest in what’s going on inside.
With Paris proving to be a stellar first episode, Sapienza so far looks to both continue IOI’s good work while also changing the experience just enough to pull people back in. It remains to be seen whether or not the all-important challenges will be as inventive as those in Paris, but I can say for certain that at least two of the costumes available will make long-term Hitman fans happy.