The final chapter in the Hitman: World of Assassination Trilogy has arrived, and it’s been well worth the two-year wait.
Hitman 3 picks up right where its predecessor left off, reuniting the player with (Agent) 47, his handler Diana Burnwood, as well as their new and uneasy allies, 47’s childhood friend (not to mention one of the world’s most wanted terrorists known as The Shadow Client) Lucas Grey and hacker Olivia Hall, as they hurtle towards the inevitable endgame with their common foe, the secret organization known as Providence. While the society’s mysterious figurehead, the Constant has just escaped their imprisonment, his brief interrogation has provided them with the identities of Providence’s three remaining partners, and they are one step closer to taking the entire consortium down altogether. But it won’t be easy. With the Constant still at large and armed with the knowledge that 47 and Burnwood are now working with The Shadow Client against the directives of their own employer the ICA (International Contract Agency), it is only a matter of time before they too become targets.
If that synopsis read at all to you like something off the back of a pulp spy/thriller novel, you’d be quite accurate in assessing the game’s intended tone. Developer IO Interactive has made no small effort in its marketing to declare Hitman 3 as “the dramatic conclusion to the World of Assassination Trilogy”, and as such there is an unprecedented focus on the story in comparison to Hitman (2016) and Hitman 2 (2018). One of the most impactful changes players will notice before they even take control of 47 in the first mission is that the fully animated CG story cutscenes which were so impressive in Hitman but were replaced by 3D rendered still-frame sequences with voiceover in Hitman 2 have returned to their former glory. While Hitman 2’s cutscenes were arguably stylish and told the story in their own visually effective way, when compared to the first game’s effort the “moving CG slide-show” ultimately came across as an unfortunate cost-cutting measure by the now independently-owned IO Interactive that detracted from the experience. Hitman 3’s fully fleshed out CG story sequences brings the narrative back the status quo, and while the caliber of animation might not be as impressive as what IO was able to produce when they were still owned by Square-Enix, the scenes still go a long way to deliver the emotional impact that “the most important contracts of [Agent 47’s] entire career” call for.
The renewed focus on narrative isn’t just superficial either. Unlike in Hitman and Hitman 2, where most of the gameplay in missions were largely tangential to the main story that unfolded during the cutscenes, Hitman 3’s missions hew more closely to Agent 47’s personal motivations to protect his friends, take down Providence and ultimately regain his childhood memories. There’s a tangible sense that the stakes are higher for 47 and Diana than they’ve ever been, and without going too much into spoiler territory, there are some delightful surprises and/or twists within a number of the game’s six locations that can slightly alter or even fundamentally change the nature of the mission 47 was originally on (at least temporarily). The early missions “Death in the Family” and “Apex Predator” are two brilliant examples of this, and fans of the previous two games are bound to appreciate the stronger sense of agency that is occasionally afforded to 47 in how a particular mission or an event that occurs within it might unfold.
While the story doesn’t disappoint, players who are coming off of Hitman 2 are likely to be underwhelmed with Hitman 3’s core gameplay, as not much at all has changed in terms of 47’s stealth abilities or the game’s overall mechanics. In fact, there are only two significant changes to the formula that are worthy of note. A very nifty spy camera has been to 47’s inventory that can be used surreptitiously hack access terminals either on its own or remotely by Oliva, granting 47 entry to restricted areas. Similarly, 47 can also use the camera to take control over devices that can draw attention towards or away from 47, conceal his activities by dimming the privacy panel on a window, and of course fulfill mission objectives that require taking a photo of a person or scanning an object in the game (which will in turn provide the player with intel that is either necessary or helpful in completing the mission). Strangely however, the camera doesn’t appear to store any general photos that the player may choose to take, and as of this writing, the game does not feature an official Photo Mode either, which is a real shame. But You can at least get an idea of what an Agent 47 selfie would look like simply by pointing 47’s camera towards a mirror or reflective pane of glass (by the way, reflections in Hitman 3 are quite stunning, even though the game does not yet support Ray Tracing).
The second gameplay enhancement are Shortcuts, a new game mechanic that seems to lightly borrow from the Dark Souls franchise. Shortcuts are golden doors, retractable ladders or vents that once unlocked from the right direction or with the right tool (e.g. a crowbar, screwdriver, etc.) they will remain unlocked in future playthroughs. As the name implies, these points of access allow players to skip entire areas of the map and reach destinations far more quickly, making subsequent playthroughs far less daunting. More importantly, alongside the game’s plethora of unlockable starting items and locations in each level, Shortcuts will undoubtedly prove to be a crucial tool in one’s arsenal for speed-runners, streamers and players who are hunting down the limited-time, one-shot Elusive Targets, which just like in Hitman 2 will likely start appearing in the game on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis very soon.
Notwithstanding, beyond the two new elements above, Hitman 3 sticks to its tried and true reward-feedback loop which I praised back in 2016; the exploration of a stage and experimentation in how to eliminate and/or dispose of 47’s targets within it unlocks new items (weapons, tools, tech and other curiosities), new starting locations and new areas where additional items can be smuggled in, all of which the player decides upon in the planning phase. In turn, these new advantages allow for new and even radical strategies in the next playthrough, which leads to more discovery, more unlocks and even more potential to experiment in the next playthrough. In Hitman 3, the mind-numbing possibilities and opportunities for play are further multiplied by the massive size, complexity, scale and in several locations, the immense population of NPCs in its sandbox levels. At times there are seemingly hundreds of NPCs, all following their own routines, carrying on lengthy, fully voiced conversations with other NPCs and reacting realistically to 47 and whatever actions they witness him taking.
Consequently, when players enter a stage in Hitman 3 for the first time, more often or not they are almost immediately overwhelmed by choice. Which path should they take to their target? Who should they eavesdrop on? Which NPC should they neutralize first to steal his or her clothes? Thankfully, Mission Stories, a feature which was added in Hitman 2 has returned in Hitman 3, offering three main storylines in each level that the player can either select from the planning stage or trigger organically and choose to follow when they encounter a character in the field that is key to one of those stories. Once the story is “active”, a green idea lightbulb will appear within the level that will guide the player to the next story point and provide some direction on what the player needs to do next (though it won’t hold your hand). It’s a brilliant way to keep the player focused on what they need to do to finish the stage, but at no point is the player locked in should they get distracted and choose a different way to go, although choosing to break with that story thread may eventually result in “failing” it. But who cares when you’re having fun?
Speaking of distraction, in my humble opinion Hitman 3’s levels and NPCs are by far the best the franchise has ever seen from a visual standpoint, and IO Interactive’s meticulous attention to detail in regard to both simply begs me to explore every room and alley-way, or sometimes just stand around and watch NPCs loiter and interact with each other up close (but not too close, you’ll weird them out), constantly marvelling at just how good they look on my Xbox Series X. But what brings locations like the rain-slicked, Blade Runner-esque streets of Chongqing or the cloud-piercing vistas of the world’s tallest tower in Dubai to life are not simply the graphics alone. It’s the marriage so many things at once. The pitch-perfect orchestral/electronic soundtrack. The hours upon hours of recorded NPC dialogues, monologues and other voice work that breathes life into the hundreds of on and off-screen characters that 47 pushes his way through, encounters, interacts with, and sometimes kills. It’s the impeccably clean design language that not only informs the overall look of the game but also drives the hyper-realistic consistency and integration of the many of the trilogy’s fictional brands, products, personalities, companies and conglomerates into the game-world’s advertising, NPC conversations and even and past character cameos. And so much more. The World of Assassination is frighteningly real in its immersion.
It goes without saying that Hitman 3 stands to offer immense gameplay value whether or not you’ve played or own the previous games in the trilogy. The aforementioned replayability of each level plus the included non-story focused challenge modes such as Escalation and community-created Contracts can keep players entertained for countless hours alone, and IO Interactive has already promised that more content is on the way, the first of which are likely to be the return of the Elusive Targets mode as well as a re-vamped version of Hitman 2’s 2-player Ghost Mode. Furthermore, if you own Hitman and/or Hitman 2 on the same platform that you own Hitman 3, you can port those games at no cost into Hitman 3 where they will be accessible as one complete game and benefit from any applicable gameplay improvements and system enhancements. The game offers a one-time “carry over” of Hitman 2 item unlocks and progression transfer to Hitman 3, allowing players to play the latest Hitman game with items they have already unlocked in Hitman 2, while also not having to start the previous game from scratch should they choose to revisit that game as part of the complete trilogy. Considering that Hitman and Hitman 2 can frequently be seen going on sale on the Xbox Store and other platforms for very low prices, picking up Hitman 3 is a no-brainer for anyone curious about the game but also wishes to leave the door open for more content should they like what they see.
As a public service announcement it should be noted that I only encountered one apparent bug with the game, but as it effectively prevents progression in one of the game’s Mission Stories was a rather serious one. In the level “The Farewell” which involves 47 infiltrating a vineyard as Corvo Black, a glitch constantly arose where that Mission Story auto-failed within 10 seconds of successfully sneaking into the vineyard and encountering the quest-giver, or auto-failed within 10 seconds of completing any subsequent task related to that quest. I reached out to IO Interactive’s PR company that provided us with the review code and the issue is being looked into. It’s my recommendation that players avoid the Corvo Black Story Mission until the issue has been fixed and instead follow one of the other Story Missions to get around the problem in the meantime.
To wrap up, when seen through a gameplay lens, Hitman 3 is more of a refinement or re-tweak of the franchise’s gameplay than it is a sequel, breaking very little new ground in that aspect. Yet as a continuation and conclusion of the latest (but not necessarily final) chapter in Agent 47s career, it’s an excellent send-off for the character and the franchise after four enjoyable years as IO Interactive prepares to work on their next project (cough cough 007 cough cough). If you are looking for the game equivalent of a high-stakes spy thriller, love an equal balance of stealth, action, puzzles and sandbox play, or simply love the fantasy of flying to exotic locations, meeting highly interesting people and killing them, Hitman 3 has your number.
I’ll leave you to prepare.