In the gap between the last episode of Hitman and this one, much has changed. The larger criticisms of that Paris-led section have been fixed for the most part. The diabolical loading time fiasco has been reduced to just the one soul-crushing initial load and tolerable ones after that. Then there’s the online side, leaderboards, contracts et al that are now pretty stable, despite previously being flakier than an Arsenal side made out of dandruff. It speaks volumes that the first episode still received an 8/10 despite these, and other smaller, issues. That’s because developer IO Interactive brought back the classic Hitman setup with some of the more modern touches that worked in the divisive Hitman Absolution. The sheer level of creative, grisly and often darkly-comic, ways to off targets, coupled with the near-endless ways you could create your own contracts, and participate in special challenges, made for a thoroughly absorbing experience. The second episode though? That knocks the season opener for six. This episode is Hitman at its very best.
World of Tomorrow, Hitman’s second episode, sees Agent 47 travel to the Mediterranean coastal town of Sapienza. His targets on this little trip? We have a troubled genius, a manipulative scientist-type, and the destruction of a potentially deadly weapon to contend with. On paper that sounds fairly straightforward, but of course, this is Hitman, so there’s a lot more to it than that. Our targets reside in an extravagant-looking mansion, the focal point for this slice of Italy, and just getting into it is the first of many puzzles facing you on this hit.
Sapienza itself is a remarkably large, detailed and open for a Hitman level. You can wander into apartments and shops around the town, all full of great little touches and attention to detail. There’s a working sewer system, a dilapidated fortress and a few secret areas to boot in this sun-kissed beauty of a map, all of which interconnects seamlessly. The variety of locales gives World of Tomorrow a far larger scope for 47’s murder-based mischief. The mind boggles just thinking about the various ways you can kill your regular targets, but you’ll be practically salivating at the thought of how many variables can exist when you start doing the Escalation and the user-created contracts. Well, you will if that sort of thing is your bag (it’s totally mine). To say too much about what means I have used would be a bit spoilerific. The joy and surprise of discovery is, after all, key to Hitman’s appeal, but I will give you a vague idea about my favourites so far.
One involves faulty wiring and a sun lounger, while another sees you employ the ol’ switcheroo to ridiculous effect. That just covers two of the more scripted setups I enjoyed, the ‘in the moment ‘ stuff is, more often than not, the source of much morbid cackling. My absolute best moment on the Sapienza map was when I lumped a can of spaghetti sauce at someone’s head and it set off a ludicrous chain of events I could never have seen coming.
That’s the beauty of Hitman. Carefully-planned hits and on-the-fly botches are equally satisfying for pretty much the same reasons. Since the game’s launch, the creativity put into Contracts mode by members of the Hitman community is proof positive of how flexible and well-designed IO’s areas are. There’s already some fine examples for Sapienza, and I can see there being some pretty exceptional user-created contracts coming off of this map in the future if the ones made for Paris and the training missions are anything to go by.
As in the previous episode, there’s the ongoing story bookending the World of Tomorrow contract, tying into what you’ve been doing without directly involving you. There are some lovely-looking cutscenes for sure, and the voice acting is surprisingly good, but they are so very brief and awash with espionage waffle. To some, this is a valid complaint about the needlessness of episodes for Hitman, whereas I feel Hitman isn’t episodic for the same reasons as almost any other season-based game. It has become abundantly clear, with the launch of the Sapienza map, that IO wants you to savour, explore and experiment with each episode. In story-led seasons, you generally play through for a couple of hours and wait till the next one. With Hitman, each episode treats the main story mission as a bridging point, a doorway to understanding and manipulating the map in new ways. You get the feeling that by giving you room and time to play around with different methods of play, IO are preparing you for challenges to come that would be significantly tougher had you not had that time to learn the trade. Objectives in World of Tomorrow are far less clear-cut than in The Showstopper mission, but thanks to the repeated playthroughs and alternate contracts I’ve had on that first episode, I can rely more on what I know the game can let me do than I ever could have before.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and for Hitman’s latest episode, the flaw is that occasionally the mask of a living, breathing slice of a coastal town slips, and the mechanics at play become very apparent. A lot of things still tend to only happen once you get within range, rather than organically. Characters also blatantly wait for your arrival too, standing on the spot for all of infinity if you so wished. With so many moving parts working together so well, it’s a forgivable flaw considering it makes the game the sadistic joy that it is.
My only fear going forward is that the series could have plateaued. That it’ll never be this good again. Time will tell, but I’m more confident that future episodes can be equally as good as this one, if not better in their own way. The worry that this was ‘budget’ Hitman has been all-but-erased with these opening two episodes. World of Tomorrow alone proves this is 47 back to his best.