Two Episodes In, And Hitman Still Misses The Target
Despite having the best mechanics in the series, the latest Hitman's "episodic" format continues to kill my enthusiasm for the title.
I reviewed the introductory offerings of Hitman last month, and while the gameplay stays true to what fans have loved about the series, the drip-feed of content doesn't warrant an endless series of reviews over the next year. Instead, we'll review the complete package when it is available next January, and offer our evolving impressions in the meantime.
And my impressions have indeed evolved after playing the second episode, Sapienza – just not in a good way. While my original review still encompasses my overall feelings about the experience, episode 2 has reiterated some of the problems Agent 47 currently faces.
The Episodic Format
...and the game shouldn't even be considered episodic in the first place. Episode 2 contains one level, one story mission (plus another Sarajevo Six bonus mission on PS4), and a handful of Escalation missions. The story is virtually nonexistent, and the side content isn't particularly compelling since it all revolves around a) repeating an assassination you've already done several times, or b) killing random, unremarkable NPCs. Creating your own contracts is still a cool option, but the user-created criteria is less specific than in Absolution, and there's still no way to search for specific contracts, making it impossible to share your contracts with friends – instead it just disappears into the ether after it cycles out of the "Latest Contracts" tab. In short, Sapienza doesn't feel like an "episode" – it's just a level in a clearly unfinished game.
Square Enix's Online
Servers Can Be A Real Drag
The day after launch I spent several hours trying to see all of Hitman's newest offerings, only to be repeatedly stymied by Square Enix's servers. The login process for taking the game "online" (despite Hitman still being a single-player game) took more than a minute on average, and the servers continually lost their connection after about five minutes or so. While these server disruptions could very well be a rare exception (they were fine later in the afternoon), they aptly demonstrated how hamstrung the game is by its obsessive need for an online connection.
Getting dropped from Square's servers during a mission kicks you back out to the main menu, where suddenly the vast majority of Hitman's content disappears. None of the featured content, contracts, escalation missions, or Sarajevo Six bonus missions are available offline. The only content you can access are the story missions (there are now two, not counting the tutorial prologue), and even then you are stripped of the in-game challenges and all of the starting locations, weapons, gear, and disguises you have unlocked. You can't even view the lackluster stats that the game tracks – apparently an online connection is absolutely vital to find out how many headshots you've accrued. For all intents and purposes, Hitman should be considered an always-online game, and I'm at a loss as to why.
When everything is working as it should, Hitman is still a fun time. But episode 2 has only reiterated that setting a mission in a massive area doesn't inherently make it better. Sapienza features another gigantic mansion, this time surrounded by a small town. You can enter many of the shops and homes along the winding streets, but aside from a few novelty weapons like baseball bats and golf clubs, these areas aren't particularly relevant and distract from the mission at hand. In previous Hitman games, the levels were big but manageable – it was easy to tease out the more creative kill options, and replaying levels in an attempt to pull off the perfect hit was a fun challenge. So far, both of the new Hitman locations have been defined by endless sprawls of rooms and hallways (though Sapienza's layout is more distinct and interesting than Paris' big-block mansion). Finding the right items and opportunities is now the proverbial needle in a haystack, and while IO has added a lot more needles, finding a specific item (say, a damned keycard to access Sapienza's underground lab) can take a lot of time.
And contrary to the goals of IO's new approach, the longer missions make me less inclined to repeat them. Hitman's gameplay has always been a bit tedious – patience is the key ingredient of the perfect assassination. But when it takes an hour to sneak your way through the environments, find the right disguises, locate and acquire the right items, stalk your targets, and finally pull off multiple assassinations and complete any additional objectives, one or two playthroughs is enough. You don't get to the end of a marathon and think, "Hey, let's run it again – but this time I'll wear a clown suit!"
Despite Its Flaws,
There's Still Fun To Be Had
My list of grievances with how the new Hitman is shaping up may seem rather long, but I still love the core gameplay, and Sapienza offers up some fun opportunities. Hiding in plain sight as a corpse in a morgue and sneaking my way into a quarantined lab while donning a hazmat suit (and then stabbing all the scientists when they realized I wasn't supposed to be there) are two memorable moments that felt like classic Hitman. The bloated size of the map and mission length wouldn't have bothered me as much if I could move on to the next location without waiting a month. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait for the full bundle in January for that privilege, and unless you are a truly desperate and die-hard Hitman fan, episode 2 offers little incentive to dive in before then.