You can find our VR review of Hitman 3 here.
Hitman is a unique property. There aren’t many, if any, games like it which is odd given the video games industry’s penchant for flogging a dead horse. IO Interactive has crafted and iterated upon Hitman for years and since 2016 has worked on the “World of Assassination” trilogy. Moving Agent 47 out of smaller, more linear levels and into assassination sandboxes, IO has struck upon an increasingly addictive formula.
From Hitman (2016) to Hitman 2 (2018) improvements across the board could be found in level design, quality of life, scope, visuals and creativity. I’m not sure the leap from Hitman 2 to Hitman 3 is quite so large. However, IO has let its imagination run wild this time around as Hitman 3 features some of the most unique, offbeat and ‘different’ sandboxes in the trilogy.
Refinements in gameplay are few as Hitman 2 already had things pretty much nailed down, however, it’s easily the most visually impressive of the trilogy. Levels are huge, detailed and intricate and some include more NPCs than previously thought possible. It may be more of an iteration than a reinvention but as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Hitman 3 Review
Following directly on from the events of Hitman 2, Hitman 3 begins bombastically atop the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Right away, this first mission looks and feels very different from most other Hitman sandboxes. It has a focus on verticality with its footprint spread over multiple floors rather than expanding outwards. This minor change to the mission’s layout greatly changes how you approach it and how you make your way to the very top. In most Hitman levels, entering a restricted area requires you to find the correct costume or find a way to sneak in.
When the level is vertical, it becomes much harder to find ways to sneak in without being seen. Thus, Dubai includes the first of Hitman 3’s new shortcut feature. Once unlocked, these shortcuts remain open on all future playthroughs, making your journey from the lobby to the penthouse far speedier. Shortcuts aren’t altogether game-changing but they do feed into the desire to replay the level and immediately have you thinking about your next run and how you’ll approach it differently.
Dubai also introduces Agent 47’s new camera. Able to hack certain locks, scan QR codes and get evidence, the camera is a handy new tool but not one that makes much of a difference overall. It’s nice to have but it’s not going to fundamentally alter how a mission plays out. And that’s fine because (nearly) all of Hitman 3’s levels are slam dunks. The vanilla loop of recon, sneaking, murder and escape are as thrilling as it’s ever been and with IO’s anything-goes approach to level design, it may just be even better.
Without going into details, lest I spoil the surprises, each of the levels following Dubai is vastly different from one another and from what’s come before. From the visual splendour and NPC filled tumult of Dubai, the second mission takes place on a remote estate in the UK. It has far fewer NPCs than Dubai but it’s got its own hook that makes it one of the best missions in Hitman history. Despite being less densely occupied, there’s still a huge number of ways to approach the hit and some genuinely excellent environmental storytelling.
The same goes for Berlin, Chongqing and Mendoza. The final mission is a huge departure for the series and a big swing by IO but for me, it falls a little flat. I won’t say more, but it’s anticlimactic at best. I only hope there are some additional DLC levels to satiate fans.
Like previous entries in this trilogy, Hitman 3, is best when players are free to explore and come up with clever ways to complete missions. And the more you play a level, the freer you’ll become. As you open shortcuts, new starting locations, stashed items and more, what begins as a dauntingly huge level becomes like home. You’ll learn every nook and cranny and know it like the back of your hand as you seamlessly stroll between patrolling guards and finish the hit within a few minutes.
Not to mention knocking people out with bananas, murdering them with exploding golf balls, poisoning drinks and drowning them in the toilet they just vomited in.
What’s not to love?
At the other end of the spectrum are the hits that take time and careful planning. When those ones go off without a hitch, it’s a dopamine release like nothing else. Successfully tinkering with the enormous, living Rube Goldberg machines that are each of the levels and managing to successfully make enough of a change to murder your target in audacious and increasingly outlandish ways, well, it’s just pure bliss. IO calls Hitman a puzzle game and it couldn’t be more right.
Hitman may look like a shooter and control like a shooter but it’s anything but. Resorting to blasting enemies with your weaponry will only ever succeed in 47 dying, the target escaping or you earning the lowest, most pathetic score possible. Hitman is a game of patience. It’s chess, not checkers.
And while only six levels may not sound like a lot, there’s so much replayability in them, you’ll still be trying to 100% them well into this year. Not to mention that each level comes with Escalations (increasingly difficult special assassinations), Elusive Targets and themed events. If you’ve not played the previous titles in this trilogy, you’ve got close to 20 levels and bonus content to wade through, which is a hell of a lot of Hitman.
Visually, Hitman 3 isn’t going to blow your socks off, but it looks nice. There are some great details in the architecture of the levels and the environments are, by and large, the most visually impressive element. Agent 47 and the sea of NPCs are pretty average looking but it allows IO to literally fill the screen with them. It’s a bit disappointing to see the same few character models again and again but it’s just another part of the weird Hitman logic you have to get on board with. The same way you can believe a person can mistake 47 for somebody they just spoke with, despite them looking completely different; it’s all part and parcel.
Unlike Hitman 2, Hitman 3 has done away with the static cutscenes and uses animations instead. The story of Agent 47 and Diana Burnwood’s war with Providence continues, though I have to admit I felt lost on more than one occasion. The cutscenes seemed to skip over details and expect me to know them. I could only keep up with what was happening by guessing so the narrative didn’t feel like it had much impact. And again, the final mission really does fall flat in this regard.
That being said, the plot is the least important part of Hitman 3. The level design, missions and interactivity are what these games are all about and Hitman 3 excels in each. It’s easily the most inventive and unique of the trilogy while still managing to retain that classic Hitman flavour. It’s enormously addictive and is endlessly replayable. For one of the first major releases in 2021, Hitman is an absolute home run.
Hitman 3 was reviewed on PC using an Epic Games Store code provided by the publisher.