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Hitman Episode Two – Sapienza Review -

If IOI still has something to prove with this episodic version of Hitman – and judging by the amount of people saying they'll wait and see how it goes, or just pick up the disc version sometime in 2031, it definitely does – then this second episode has to be good enough to finally convince players of the worth of its new direction. It succeeds, in terms of mission quality at least, and is filled with so many accidents, incidents, and multi-part assassinations that it may very well go down as a classic hit.

If the first mission's Paris fashion show focused more on tightly controlled corridors and slipping between lines of omnipresent security as you made your way up through a building, then World of Tomorrow is about exploiting the gaps in a idyllic coastal town's sprawling landmass and its accompanying social and commercial circles. Sapienza seems sleepy, with its winding cobbled roads, half-hearted street entertainers, and tightly-packed alleys filled with ice creams shops and florists, but its sprawling nature means more places to get in, and more people to exploit.

Silvio Caruso is one of your main targets, a wealthy genius who has been waylaid by the death of his beloved mother. His family owns the town, and it's his estate which overlooks the nearby beach and coastal ruins where most of the action is going to take place. As ever, the choice of entry points and weaponry is up to the player, but this may be the most devious, sly Hitman level yet.

Part of this is down to the setting (helped by 47's default outfit of shirtsleeves and sunglasses making it all feel like at any moment he may go off and star in an episode of A Place in the Sun), which gives everything a real Patricia Highsmith vibe, of easy corruption among beautiful people. But part of it is also the terrible, brilliant ways you can off your targets, and how many of the intricate hits play into faults in their personalities.

Silvio is a golfer, so gimmicked golf balls make an appearance. Opposite his house is an old battlement (with working cannon), which ostensibly once protected the family and now can be used against it. You can even exploit the mansion's more innocent features – stairlifts, attention-bells, the various staff – to convince a mentally unstable target that their fallen family aren't quite as dead as they thought.

Then there are the other actors who can be pushed and pulled to manoeuvre your real objectives into position: the playboy golf coach who's seeing your second target and has set up a conveniently secluded romantic engagement, the lazy chef's aide whose inability to get out of bed on time means his job becomes yours. As ever, there are dozens of challenges involving these people and the world around them, and most of them are pleasingly elaborate in their construction and execution.

An example: under Caruso Manor is a field lab that houses a deadly virus, which you've also got to dispose of. It's heavily guarded, requiring all manner of keycards, outfits, and bio suits to get close enough to destroy. Or, you could explore the town and find the guilt-wracked scientist who has gone to confession in a nearby church, and who also holds the key to remotely destroying the virus. She also leads you to a morgue, and an open coffin, which – with the right disguise – can be exploited to its logical, hilarious and downright macabre conclusion.

This is what makes Sapienza great – its many means of dealing death are intrinsically linked to the targets' foibles, an ironic playfulness which complements the series' delight in players messing around and finding out how to put the pieces together. There are so many sophisticated ways of killing your prey that using a sniper rifle or poisoning a drink begins to seem rather mundane. Bar some jarring AI issues (guards not being quite as hot to bust you as before, some disguises granting near immunity when they shouldn't) IOI has improved on (the already impressive) Paris in almost every regard.

It has also looked at some of Hitman 2016's more glaring technical issues, and while the game still judders at times, and suffers from occasionally low-res textures on PS4, it is on the whole quite stable. Loading times when opening the map or inventory have been slightly improved, but loading in general is still a little too long for my liking. Still – challenges and front end tiles seem to have little issue displaying thus far, a huge improvement on what went before.

In an ideal world Sapienza would have been the first Hitman episode released, as it's an even better showcase of the new (old) direction and mechanics and is obviously massive to even a cursory glance, heading off the 'wait, it's one building?!' criticism at the pass. Still, it's here now, and while it's a great Hitman level, it's also a superb experience in general.

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