With Hitman 3, IO Interactive’s “World of Assassination” trilogy comes to a close. The whole series started out being released as individual episodes, and though its since moved to a more typical “full game” release cycle, it still maintains an episodic approach to storytelling that gives it the feeling of playing a prestige TV drama. In that sense, Hitman 3 is the long-awaited final season, and it sends World of Assassination out with a bang (mostly).
For the uninitiated, Hitman‘s whole thing is an approach to stealth that’s less about sneaking around in the shadows and more about using disguises to hide in plain sight. Agent 47 is skilled with a rifle and can knock out or kill someone in a matter of seconds with his bare hands, but his greatest strength lies in a quick-change that could rival Jimin’s Filter performance and an uncanny ability to blend in anywhere, so long as he’s wearing the right outfit.
Hitman, then, is about finding the right disguises that let you move unnoticed into the right places, letting you set up a kill. With multiple targets per level, numerous disguises, hundreds of NPCs who all have their own behaviours and schedules, and a wide range of events that can be triggered in different ways to affect the state of the map. I’ve seen it described as a “murder sandbox” and as an intricate puzzle game; both descriptions are apt. Hitman is all about using the world as your weapon to assassinate targets as quietly and/or creatively as possible, with dozens of different possible solutions to the puzzle at the heart of each level.
Hitman 3 doesn’t really mess with that formula, but it takes it to new heights with some of the most intricate level design the series has seen to date. From a penthouse and function centre atop the tallest building in the world to a sprawling vineyard in Argentina, each location isn’t just big but dense, full of little details and things you can use to your advantage (or that can be a spanner in your works, if you’re careless). Hitman 3‘s targets are some of the most well-protected and inaccessible, to the point that each objective seems impossible at first glance, but that just opens to the door to some of the most creative kills and setups. There’s nothing quite like making a giant wine tank overflow, then using the spilled wine and an exposed wire to electrocute the magnate when he comes down to yell at his staff and inadvertently stands in the mess.
But one of Hitman 3‘s best examples is Berlin, a level that takes place almost entirely within a crowded underground nightclub. Your typical Hitman level usually has some quiet, secluded spaces dotted around for when you need to knock someone out and steal their clothes without arousing suspicion; there’s hardly anything like that in Berlin. Even the bathrooms are crowded, and their broken doors would mean little privacy even if they weren’t. To top it all off, your targets are initially unknown to you—you have to identify them first—there are 10 in total (though you only need to kill five), and they’re all constantly on the move trying to hunt.
Berlin takes everything that makes Hitman work and turns it on its head, forcing a more reactive approach then the elaborate assassination setups you’d normally expect. But in doing so, it also accentuates the things that Hitman does best, demanding some of the most out-of-the-box thinking and clever use of the map I’ve seen in a Hitman game. This can also make it more frustrating, but figuring out the ebb and flow of the club and how you can use its quirks to your advantage is particularly satisfying.
At the same time, Hitman 3 downplays the sense of fun and playfulness that was a highlight of previous games. Hitman 2, especially, was great at finding humour in the juxtaposition of a very straight-laced spy story and the ludicrous situations 47 would find himself in while on the job, never missing a chance to poke fun at the AAA games industry, the spy genre, and most of all, at itself. The majority of Hitman 3‘s levels are far more serious in tone, and some of the series’ magic is lost in that; it still has it’s funny moments, but they’re fewer and further between.
But Hitman 3 brings some fresh ideas to the table, too. The addition of a digital camera to 47’s standard toolkit makes much more of an impact than you might think: with it, he can scan objects to gather new intel, get his handler to unlock doors and windows, and the like. The catch is that, like with everything else, you want to try stay incognito while you’re doing it—and depending on your current disguise and what exactly you’re scanning, whipping out the camera might look totally normal to passersby or might be incredibly suspicious, so figuring out when and how to use this new tool is important.
In particular, the camera opens up some nifty new possibilities for Mission Stories, the optional objectives that the World of Assassination games use to offer a bit of a guided path through their sandboxes. Each Mission Story plays out like a more typical objective-driven adventure game, with waypoints to follow and goals to complete, with each one ultimately setting you up to complete one of the main objectives in a level. They’re a way of getting your bearings when you first jump into a new level, and letting you play a more guided version of Hitman if you want to.
Mission Stories themselves are nothing new to Hitman 3, but the camera adds a new element to them. In most cases, it’s the simple addition of a new type of goal—finding and scanning a particular object—for a bit of variety, but there are a couple of cases where a whole story revolves around the camera. There’s one level that basically becomes an investigation game if you follow one of its Mission Stories, as you don the disguise of a private investigator and then proceed with a surprisingly detailed forensic investigation of a locked-room murder.
As far as the main plot goes, Hitman 3 is very much a continuation of where Hitman 2 left off—if you haven’t played the previous games, you’ll be left out of the loop without much to help you get caught up. (Again, the TV show analogy comes to mind: Hitman 3 is the final season of a show that’s been building to this point all along, not an unplanned new film that suddenly got greenlit because the previous one made a lot of money.) It’s the game that takes all those threads the previous two games have been weaving and tries to close them off and deliver a satisfying ending, while still keeping a few surprises in store along the way.
It mostly succeeds in that. Hitman 3 has its share of twists, a couple of genuinely surprising ones among them, and it gets unexpectedly emotional at times, for a game about someone who is, by design, an emotionless killer. The whole World of Assassination trilogy has been a story about 47’s journey to find his own humanity, really, and Hitman 3 is the culmination of that.
And yet, it feels a bit anticlimactic, too. Despite the high stakes of the journey, the conclusion is a little too neat and tidy, and lacks any real drama or follow-through—you did the thing, and now the thing is done, good job. Some of the more emotive moments have their impact lost amid poor pacing, with what should be a shocking revelation getting forgotten about almost as quickly as it dropped in the first place. I know it might be sacrilege to say, but Hitman 3 is a game that would benefit from more exposition, even more cutscenes. The writing and performances are top-notch, but many key moments are confined to pre-mission briefings that are too concise to really make their mark.
Pacing issues aside, Hitman 3 is still a worthy conclusion to the World of Assassination trilogy, and one that still manages to keep a few surprises in store despite the inevitability of its end. A more serious tone means there isn’t quite so much of the playful humour that Hitman 2 relished in, but Hitman 3 makes up for that with some of the most intricate and detailed locations the series has seen, leaving the door wide open to all sorts of creative assassination setups. That’s what Agent 47 does best, after all.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.