There was a bit of controversy surrounding Hitman's distribution model at the release. It was difficult for IO Interactive to communicate the concept as they intended, and players have gradually built up a distrust of alternative business models, as they rarely seem to benefit the consumer. Despite the episodic format, we were really happy with the first chaper.
Hitman is not without its problems, but the level design and a wealth of options and details pulled it up in the end. We have now had a month to play around in a mansion in Paris during the big fashion gala, and how has that experience been? It's obvious that the episodic format offers a more fragmented gaming experience. There are not many who will have played Hitman continuously for a month until the next sandbox is available, and when you've played more than ten hours, one begins to yearn for something new. To pull that much time out of a single level is not bad though. New challenges have been added continuously, which offers opportunities for exploration and new assassination attempts. IOI is trying to keep our interest while we wait, and all things considered, they have done quite well (and all the live content has been free).
There are many new escalation contracts available, all of which challenge your knowledge of the level, but in the end you get tired of doing the same things and moving along the same corridors. We must nevertheless admit that we rarely have investigated a single level in so much in depth - it's an interesting side effect of the release structure. It's disappointing that we've not seen any of the promised elusive targets yet, which otherwise was one of the most interesting aspects of the whole 'live' idea. It seems that IOI has not unfolded its concept completely yet.
In the first episode we flew into Paris, but despite the festive atmosphere in the city we need new climes. We will get them with the addition of Italy. Here we arrive at Sapienza, a lovely little coastal town that you might instantly fall in love with. The midday sun beats down on the square in front of a church, tourists scampers around the narrow streets and one can almost smell dry-cured ham and coffee beans in the breeze. We're walking with Agent 47 though the alleys and enjoying the local life, as if the game were a tourism sim rather than a murder simulator, and we want to switch to sunglasses and swimming trunks as we reach the beach.
The city simply looks fantastic and, importantly, it feels authentic. There is something to explore wherever you go. The buildings are put close together, so you can climb from balcony to balcony and look through people's apartments. You can visit the local butcher or explore the ancient ruins (which are located just outside the town). We choose to take a short detour to the hairdresser - although it's probably a waste of money for 47 - to intercept any gossip about our target, Silvio Caruso. Silvio is a bio-engineer and a very persistent one. He is in the process of developing a biological weapon in the form of a virus, and 47 is out to stop him.
To go from Paris to Sapienza is exactly the kind of variation that the game needs. Although the Paris level was huge, it could sometimes feel claustrophobic. Sapienza feels much more open, and the circumstances are not nearly as hectic as they were during the fashion party. Not to begin with in any case. The Opportunities system is again a liberating tool in this vast city, but if instead you choose to explore on your own, you will quickly be rewarded.
It's not hard to find options. For example, a woman is shouting to her brother on a balcony because he's late for work. He was just hired as the new chef at Silvio's place. At the town's front gate a flower transport has crashed into a tree, so now another must deliver the bouquet to the grave of Silvio's mother. And by the way, the bell tower has a perfect view to Silvio's villa. Many NPCs are having conversations around the streets. We overheard a private detective talking on the phone with a scientist, Francesca De Santa, from Silvio's secret laboratory, which is hidden somewhere in the city. They arrange a discreet meeting at the pier. Since she has not met him before, she will recognise him by his tweed jacket. He didn't go into detail about his appearance, so it was not a shock when a bald broad-shouldered man appeared instead. Not until later, anyway.
We can't go into detail about all the opportunities that exist in the town, but there are many. It was only a small antipasto in the form of an hour of the game we got when we visited IOI, but it has definitely made us hungry for more. Now we must see how it all works when the the level is added, but currently we see no reason to lower the judgment from the original review.
We also got a short look at the third episode, which takes place in Marrakesh in Morocco. It was not in a playable state, but seemed just as promising as the previous two episodes. You can read more about Marrakesh in our earlier preview (which you can find here). The series format is maybe not the ideal way to publish a Hitman game, and we wish that the concept had been better integrated into the gameplay and the presentation itself, but if IOI can maintain the solid level design, and get the live elements running, we still think we might end up with the best Hitman to date.
Hitman's Sapienza location drops on April 26.
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