Hitman, Part 2: Sapienza & Marrakesh (PS4) Review

This is the second in a series of reviews that cover the new, episodic Hitman game across most of 2016. Each episode will be reviewed and scored as it is released.

Check out Episode 1 here.

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THE SHORT VERSION


After the cold-toned mansion in Paris, Hitman uses more vibrant and thrilling locales for episodes that are mechanically solid but narratively shaky.



STORY


I've gotta be honest - I have no idea what the story of the new Hitman is anymore.


On the margins, it seems as if a grizzly older guy - who may be a former ICA operative, or is perhaps just a nutter with an
aptitude for murder - is after something being held by an
organisation called Providence. Though we keep getting cutscenes at the end of each story mission that attempt to convey the narrative, the game makes Agent 47 feel divorced from the larger plot going on around him by its alarming lack of focus within gameplay. Sure, one of the Paris targets might have turned out to be involved in the main plot during Episode 1's ending cutscene, but that felt more like a casual coincidence rather than a specific reason for 47 to go a-murderin'. 


Let's face it, you're not really interested in the greater story reasons for why you need to kill a corrupt bio-engineer in Sapienza and a coup instigator in Marrakesh, are you? Why should you be, when the game isn't taking the time to emphasise the story's importance to either 47 or the player?

As such, these cutscenes and the greater story of Hitman both feel vestigial at this point. Granted, things could come together with the remaining three episodes providing more narrative clarity, but look at it this way: we're now halfway through this season (first or no), and I'm still largely in the dark about what's going on. The game doesn't seem to want me to care about its story, given the absence of emphasis. With that in mind, both the Sapienza and Marrakesh episodes are narrative dead-ends that offer next to no engaging story.



GAMEPLAY


What they do offer, though, is some engaging gameplay.

Whatever the game's narrative shortcomings, Hitman is still a lot
of fun to play; the mechanics and game modes are largely the same as in the Prologue and Paris missions. All the previous stuff is now accompanied by a 48-hour contract mode called "Elusive Target", which locks the player out if they fail to kill the target once - the target also cannot be seen in Instinct Mode, and must be killed before 48 hours of real world time have elapsed. The novelty of the mode and its unique difficulty is countered somewhat by the frustration felt when you inevitably get killed (or, in my case, lose power to your apartment right before the crucial moment) and are therefore denied a second attempt, but I like it as a nice add-on to Hitman's overall package.

Otherwise, the episodes still have the problem of brevity and rely largely on replay value and used-made Contracts. Granted, the visually-stimulating new locales - Marrakesh in particular - are more fun to walk through a few more times over than Paris was, but replay value can only take a game so far.



VISUALS


Graphically, the game still relies on a high framerate and somewhat pared-down-detail character models. The punchy colours from the
beach resort of Sapienza and the bustling marketplace of Marrakesh really do the game a great service following Paris' drab fridge of a mansion, so at least your replaying of each level for Mastery points will be tempered by the backdrop being very, very pretty.

What's not a great service is the way eyesight factors into things; this'd probably cross over with Gameplay, but I'm putting it in
visuals because it's bloody misleading. More than a few times, I was infiltrating enemy outposts and doing a quick spot check to ensure the local security goons weren't letting their eyes wander over my lusciously bald head. Despite the fact they were looking away from me - at other guards, at the ground, at walls - I nonetheless got the immediate grayscale "Crime witnessed" message as I attempted my sneaky stealthing, resulting in several staggered foot chases and gun battles that were thrilling, action-packed and totally opposed to the notion of stealth entry. 

It seems unfair if the guards are going to have eyeballs in the backs of their heads, but the game's visuals fail to make that obvious. Hell, I'd've settled for there being a GoPro on the backs of their shirts as justification, instead of them just being psychic.



SOUND AND VOICE ACTING


Sound is still good, dialogue (besides David Bateson's) is still terrible. The latter is especially not helped by overacting in the
cutscenes, most egregiously in the "car backseat" confrontation at the end of the Sapienza episode. None of the NPCs are speaking anything resembling human banter with each other, which disrupts the game's immersion factor. If anything, the dialogue sounds more like off-cuts from an un-parodic and overblown No One Lives Forever rejected sequel script.



WRAPPING UP


I don't mean for the above to sound so negative, but on reflection I
know I come across as dispassionate about the whole Hitman experience thus far. I'm really enjoying it gameplay-wise; as I said in the first review, it's nice to go back to the organic sandbox feel of previous instalments like Blood Money as opposed to the linear railroad of Absolution. But there's little about it that pushes the boundaries of the franchise or its mechanics, nor is there any reason to be interested by what passes for story at this point.

If nothing else, after three episodes big on game but low on story, I'm asking why Hitman needed to be episodic to begin with. It's increasingly clear that a coherent story by season's end is what will make or break an otherwise enjoyable, if somewhat standard, stealth simulator. Hopefully the next episode - set in Thailand - begins to pull it all together.

- Chris







The second and third episodes of Hitman are available now for digital download on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Square Enix.

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