IO Interactive are back with the final chapter in their World of Assassination trilogy that began back in 2016 as an experimental episodic game. While it’s a tad sad that IO Interactive are leaving Hitman behind, at least, for now, they’re moving on to create a 007 game which I can’t wait to see. So, with Hitman and Hitman 2 being some of my favourite games…well, ever, how does Hitman 3 stack up? Is this the big send-off myself and millions of people were hoping for? Or is a bit like those assassinations that go horribly wrong and end up with you cowering behind a wall?
Right, Agent 47 and his shiny head are back again with murder in his heart and an assortment of weapons stuffed into his inexplicably massive pocks. Following on from the events of Hitman 2, Agent 47 is now accompanied by Lucas Grey as they proceed to hunt down the partners of Providence, the secret group that has done so much damage in the world.
The good news is that proper cutscenes are back after having vanished under mysterious circumstances in Hitman 2. Presumably they were stuffed in a cupboard and had their clothes stolen. The bad news is I still don’t care. I can’t help it: I remember almost nothing from the first game, and barely anything from the second, and like both of those games Hitman 3’s story washed over me like the spray of blood from my latest assassination who I stabbed with some garden shears and then shoved into the water. I don’t mean to indicate that the story is bad – certainly there’s plenty of effort put in and the performances are fine. It’s just…so forgettable. I don’t about the characters or the story or anything else the game is attempting to tell me.
It doesn’t matter, though, because like Hitman 2, Hitman 3 is fantastic to play, filled with playgrounds of murder and mayhem. So let’s do a little refresher course in case you forgot exactly what these modern Hitman games entail. You’ll stride into the environment with the simple goal of eliminating your targets in whatever manner you see fit, whether it’s making it look accidental, drowning them in a toilet or just putting a bullet in their head. It’s basically a playground, except everything is made of knives, poison and the occasional banana, which is a legitimate weapon in the world of Hitman. Pure stealth is a hell of a challenge, but there’s also one of the game’s core systems: disguises. Knock a fool out, stuff ’em in a cupboard and steal their clothes to amble happily through areas you wouldn’t otherwise be allowed in. Nab a waiter’s clothes and you can get into the staff area. Undress a bodyguard and you can happily follow your target around like the world’s most obvious stalker. There are people who can see through your disguises, strategically positioned so that you have to carefully weave through them. But for the most part, there’s a playful comedic tone in how utterly unobservant people are. You can lure away a guard from his chum and steal his clothes, and the other guard will fail to notice than his friend has grown significantly, is now bald, has a tattoo on the back of his head and is inexplicably carrying three crowbars, an apple, a hammer, two pistols, a handful of coins, a wrench, a load of rat poison and a unicorn horn. The joke is simple: Agent 47 is completely obvious, like a black man on an Irish beach, and yet nobody notices him.
When you aren’t stealing people’s clothes like some sort of prankster you’re usually standing around. I know it sounds boring, but somehow it isn’t. You wait a lot in Hitman, whether it’s waiting to watch a character’s routine or waiting for your victim to move into the perfect spot so that you can do unspeakable things with a banana or hurl a can of coke at their head. And when it comes to manipulating the people and world around you there’s a lot of options. You can poison drinks to cause a victim to go running for a bathroom before drowning them in a toilet, or cause distractions by turning on hoovers and throwing coins. Bodies can be dragged away and hidden or maybe even used as bait. Stoves can be turned on, gas leaks caused, bags of bricks kicked onto people’s heads from above and oh so much more.
To be honest, as super-serious as the story tries to be and despite the fact that you’re an assassin, the Hitman series is really more of a dark comedy. Yeah, you could be the ultimate professional and execute every target with ruthless efficiency without cracking smile, but it’s much more likely that you’re going to squeal in delight like an excited toddler when you find out that you can run around with a battleaxe or that you can slap fools with a fish or that you can just pile up naked corpses like a disturbed serial killer.
There’s really no getting around the fact that Hitman 3 feels more like a big expansion pack than a proper game in its own right due to the fact that it’s mechanically nearly identical to the previous two games. Only two new ideas have been introduced, the first of which is the camera, a gadget that Agent 47 has during every mission now. Apart from occasionally taking pictures of things, the camera is used to hack certain locks which gets used in a couple of the mission. It’s a weak addition to the otherwise stellar gameplay, adding nothing of real value to Hitman 3.
The other thing that IO have tossed into the mix are shortcuts strewn throughout the level that once opened up will stay permanently open for all future playthroughs, providing ways to bypass bits of levels and get around more quickly. It’s a good idea, I reckon, that rewards the more dedicated folk who play through the levels numerous times, and that also means it’s a feature that more casual players will barely even notice. Either way, it’s not a substantial change to the Hitman formula.
So yeah, if you were hoping Hitman 3 would really build upon the ingenious foundations laid in Hitman (2016) and the first level plonked down on those foundations in the utterly fantastic Hitman 2, then Hitman 3 is going to be a bit disappointing. It doesn’t build on what came before, leaving the whole Hitman house as bungalow instead of a homey two-story house filled with weapons and wax for Agent 47’s startlingly bald head. And this is the point where I inform you that I’m perfectly content with a little bungalow. Yes, sure, a sequel should absolutely aim to improve on what came before and the argument that Hitman 3 cannot justify it’s triple-A price tag due to it essentially being a big expansion pack is entirely valid. But I’d also be lying if I claimed it bothered me personally, because all I really wanted was more Hitman.
At this point IO Interactive have nearly perfected their brand of clockwork level design, crafting intricate stages on which their grand piece of theatre plays out in an infinite loop. You know exactly when and where targets will be or how guards will move and where useful opportunities will pop up. The more you play the more you become the omnipotent assassin who knows details that he should not possibly be able to know, and as they say, knowledge is power. And you, of course, are the wrench thrown into the works of the level, sometimes quite literally if you opt to smack someone with a wrench. In other titles rigid way in which the world operates could be considered a flaw, but in the Hitman game’s it’s what makes everything work. The cast of characters tick along, following their little routines until you come bumbling in, stuff a guard in a cupboard, steal his clothes and drop a chandelier on someone’s head.
There’s six new levels on offer in Hitman 3, although the final one is a short, quite linear experience, so really there’s more like five of the usual murder sandboxes. Things kick of in Dubai with you skydiving onto the brand new tallest building in the world in what feels like a very James Bond way, which is fitting since IO Interactive are creating a 007 game now. The Shard offers several levels of possibility for Agent 47, and is a grandiose, opulent place that houses lavish living areas, an art installation and even a balcony/water feature.
Then it’s off to one of my favourite levels in the game which was featured heavily in Hitman 3’s marketing: Dartmoor Manor, where a murder has taken place and a private detective has been called in to solve it. The manor is everything you could possibly want in a murder mansion; creaky and old yet beautiful in its way. It isn’t as big as other levels but makes up for that in sheer atmosphere, character and detail. There’s secret passages to find, ledges and pipes to clamber up and people to throw pool balls at. It also houses the most inventive of all the Hitman story missions to date, and the developers make it pretty clear that they want your first playthrough of the mission to be as the detective. Donning the guise of a sleuth grants you something very rare in Hitman: an absolutely fool proof disguise. Provided you don’t do anything suspicious in view of anyone, you’re free to roam around without having to occasionally duck around a corner or hang of a ledge. It isn’t just a handy disguise, though, because you can actively go in and solve the murder by interviewing the suspects and searching for clues before eventually fingering the wrong person (maybe even on purpose) or finding the actual killer. I entered a cold-hearted killer, and wound up becoming Sherlock Holmes. Absolutely fantastic.
In Germany, Agent 47 stops off at an abandoned powerplant that has been converted into a nightclub, the heavy wubba-dubba music blaring through the underground portion of the structure as a crowd of people leap around. Round the back there’s a biker gang with a grow room, and a chilled out bar area. It’s a fun setting for some casual murdering, made all the more fun by the fact that you actually have ten targets to pick from, five of which need to be brutally exterminated to complete the mission. Again, IO Interactive toss in some unique kills, too, like being able to setup a meeting between you and the targets which results in a firefight, or stealing a targets sniper rifle and using it against them.
Next up on the vacation list is Chonqing in China, a city awash in neon signs that let IO Interactive flex their lighting muscles while also tossing in a generous shower of moody rain for good measure. It’s the kind of place that someone can do some good, hard brooding. There’s a fun contrast between the targets, one running experiments on homeless people inside of a ruined apartment building, the other wandering around a hi-tech underground lab complete with shiny white walls and people running around in hazmat suits. There’s a couple of fun opportunities for good kills to be pulled off, but overall I found this to be the weakest level of the package. Not bad or anything, but the one I felt least inclined to return to.
The penultimate location is a fancy party in Mendoza. This is a sprawling, visually beautiful map that encompasses a winery, fields, a villa and a smaller house. After the more restrictive Chonqing, Mendoza is nice and freeing with plenty of space to roam around and long lines of sight that make me want to whip out a sniper rifle and play hide the bullet. There’s some great things to find and do in this one, from stealing a rare bottle of wine to using a massive grape crusher to dispose of a body. There’s even ways to kill both targets without getting your hands dirty which feels entirely satisfying as you watch from afar with, your own face beaming even if Agent 47’s maintains that stoic death-glare. This is probably my second favourite level of the bunch, and a lot like Dubai it reeks of a classic 007 setup.
And then there’s the final area that I briefly mentioned before. I won’t talk about it in detail to avoid potential spoilers, so suffice to say that it’s a very linear affair with barely any replay value, especially compared to the other locations. It’s an interesting level in its own right but one that’s ultimately thwarted by the series’ own mechanics because you don’t get the same level of satisfaction from working through it nor the joy of a slick assassination. It also means that Hitman 3 only really has 5 levels instead of 6.
You could likely weave, incapacitate, sneak and kill your way through the game in 6-10 hours, depending on your skill level and experience with the series up until this point. But to do that would be to ignore what the Hitman game’s are all about. Each level is designed to be replayed numerous times, with dozens and dozens of challenges providing little hints toward new things to try. The specific story missions for each location provide a curated and guided path for newcomers to the franchise to enjoy, but once you’ve gotten a few successful hits tucked into your suit the real joy is to be found in discovering how to complete challenges, exploring the various mini-stories and generally just being a nuisance. In Dubai, for example, there’s challenges for clobbering the Sheikh with a gold bar and for eliminating both targets while they are parachuting, both of these encouraging you to figure out how to make them happen. There’s a lot to discover, and at this point I’ve already spent nearly 50-hours messing about.
One of the big selling points of the modern Hitman trilogy has been the way you can import the levels from the previous game. Hitman 3 continues this concept, letting you bring over all the levels and progress from the previous two games provided you’ve played them on the same platform. On PC this has been complicated by the fact that Hitman 3 is exclusive to the Epic Store, but both Hitman and Hitman 2 were only available on Steam. IO are promising to fix this soon, but it should never have happened in the first place. Over on the console things are quite a bit easier. On the PS5 the game automatically detected the previous two games that I had installed, and then it was just a case of venturing into the in-game store and redeeming the free level passes. As an added bonus the old levels have also been tweaked to match Hitman 3’s visuals, although quite honestly unless you looked at the game’s side-by-side you’d never actually notice.
Unfortunately, Hitman 3 does have one big problem that tarnishes what is otherwise an outstanding game, and that’s its online requirements. While you don’t technically have to be online and connected to the game’s servers to actually play Hitman 3, you do need to be online to enjoy it all properly. First, the game handles online and offline saves separately, so if you save an offline mission half-way through you can’t then load it back up when you’re online. Next, if you’re offline you can complete levels but you can’t complete challenges nor will you garner any XP in other forms, which means it turn you can’t increase your Mastery of a level and can’t unlock any new gadgets, starting locations or suits. In short, if you ain’t online you can do the murdering properly.
That’s already bloody annoying but exacerbated by the dodgy server connection. While I’ve personally been quite lucky so far, there are forums swarming with people who consistently get messages popping up that they’ve lost connection with the server, essentially losing them all their challenge progress in a mission when it happens. It’s a cumbersome, poorly thought-out system that unfortunately has dogged the so-called World of Assassination trilogy since it began in 2016.
A couple of other modes make their return for the third game, including the ability to make up your own Contracts and share them with the rest of the world, challenging other players to assassinate specific NPCs using certain weapons and gear. Escalation also returns, sending you on a murder spree through the levels, and then there’s the Sniper missions where you sit nice and far away from the action and gun people down, but do it stealthily by blasting bodies behind cover and such. The special time-limited Elusive targets are also going to return at some point, although we don’t know when yet.
On the PS5 Hitman 3 holds a rock-steady 60FPS for seriously smooth slicing and shooting action, and IO Interactive even take advantage of the Dualsense by offering some nice use of the vibration and by adding tension to the trigger when firing off guns.
There’s a few glitches and bugs to contend with, too. I had about half a dozen crashes, and encountered a few examples of characters getting stuck in animation loops or simply not moving. At worst, these would cause me to restart because I couldn’t kill the target in the correct way, and at best you can usually get them moving along their routine again by doing something else. I also ran into a couple of examples of Challenges not registering properly, which is a bit of a pain in the arse when you’ve just spent 30-minutes getting it done.
Ultimately, Hitman 3 is just more of Hitman 2 which proves to be its single greatest aspect and its most significant weakness. This is a very safe sequel, and so if you were hoping Agent 47 had learned some new methods of dishing out death then you may as well for for a price-drop and treat Hitman 3 as more of a big expansion pack for Hitman 2. But if you’re like me and the idea of more assassinations in new, exotic locations sounds absolutely delightful, then Hitman 3 is undoubtedly the most polished and fleshed out of the trilogy, although debates about which game has the best levels will rage on until the stars have burned out. Sneaking around, stealing clothes, murdering people in inventive ways and generally just causing havoc is a blast, and the new levels are a joy to explore. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m away to achieve full mastery on every level. I’ll see you in about *glances at clock* a year or so.