Reviewed on Xbox Series X
Much like Agent 47 himself, IO interactive’s pursuit of the perfect execution has required many practice runs, some more successful than others. After 2012’s Hitman Absolution, a cynical attempt to turn the franchise into a more linear, action sequence focussed narrative tile; Square-Enix granted Hitman another attempt to become a big hitter.
Hitman was reborn as a service title, the Hitman “World of Assassination”, taking on an episodic format, where each dense, highly replayable map was delivered months apart. Hitman 3 is essential “Season 3” in the world of assassination, does 9 years of ongoing engine development and 5 years of in-situ player testing mean we now have the perfect Hitman game?
Assassination a la carte
Hitman 3 takes a surprise turn by mixing things up a little compared to the previous games, which could easily be enjoyed a la carte. Hitman 3 is clearly best enjoyed played sequentially following the story, which is more closely woven into each mission right down to an exceptionally linear finale.
Whilst on paper this might sound concerning after what happened with Hitman Absolution, IO have balanced this by creating levels that unlock slightly after that initial playthrough, allowing you to start after a cinematic sequence, or with some of the paths/shortcuts, you have already unlocked now persistently open (Dark Souls style), allowing for a less linear approach to the level after the initial run.
I feel that this makes for a slightly more accessible game than the others and hopefully serves as a great entrée for those who found the previous games almost overwhelming. The structure for each level is fundamentally the same as before, assassinate your target however you deem fit. Get within touching distance of them and outright pop a bullet between their eyes, strangle, drown and electrocute them, or maybe set in motion a series of events that lures them out to be sniped from the safety of distance. Ideally, you want to do this without anybody even knowing you are there, but unless you are chasing leaderboards and high scores, the game is very forgiving about you killing anybody that stands if your way, providing you dispose of their body!
You are guided through some of the games’ more elaborate sequences of murder using the game “Mission Story” menu, which provides you with waypoints. These are entirely optional but serve somewhat as a tutorial for the level allowing you to come back armed with some knowledge of how the level and it’s inhabitants behave. Most levels feature three of these, some of which you can attempt during a single playthrough – although listening to the conversations of in-game NPCs will often unlock new ones, leading you to discover new areas and methods of murder. On occasion, I had actually used part of these stories without realizing that they were. There is a simple joy of feeling you have pulled off a spontaneous infiltration or obtained a disguise. The fact that many of these are by design is a testament to just how refined an experience IO has curated.
The meat of Hitman 3 still comes from the replayability of each map, which is a meticulously crafted, living breathing pastiche of an exotic location from the world. The franchise as a whole has heavily leant on 007’s globe-trotting to glamorous locations filled with horrible people and H3 is no exception.
The level of detail within the world is staggering, with each and every environment being filled to the brim with stories of its own. NPCs reveal details about their lives and those around them, name dropping celebrities and business tyrants who you may have come across (Murdered) in previous maps and games.
Architecture plays a visible part in each map, giving a connection to the real world, but also creating a play space that feels convincing as you trespass private spaces and disappear in plain sight within public areas.
In-game props, textures, and lighting have clearly had love and care poured into them, which are all additive to creating a very tangible, beautiful game world. Each level is big enough to allow exploration and throw you surprises, but still small enough for you to get to know like the back of your hand.
The density of detail and intimacy that can be had with each level very much reminds me of things like Return of the Obra Dinn, What remains of Edith Finch or The Outer Wilds; games that understand bigger does not equal better.
Across Hitman 3’s six missions (which I scratched the surface of during my 10-hour initial play though on the easiest difficult setting ) there are a couple of stand out levels which sit above and outside of what we have seen before:
Murder Mystery Tour
Dartmoor, England’s Agatha Christy Novel / Knive’s out inspired murder mystery mansion, which sees Agent 47 not only trying to kill someone but also solve a mysterious “suicide”. A selection of eccentric characters makes up their own series of interwoven stories. It’s the perfect place for Agent 47 to make more constructive use of his subject: murder.
Another sure-fire fan favourite will no doubt be Berlin’s underground rave-inside-a-derelict-power-station, which turns the tables on the player, having the bald-headed baby-face trying to identify and take out 6 other disguised Hitmen. This larger level features minimal prompts and is perhaps one of the most freeform maps in the trilogy. It’s particularly atmospheric, you can almost feel the sticky floor and smell the sweat and alcohol. Like many of the missions, it is inspired by a real life location, Berlin’s Berghain – the home of techno. Here Agent 47, in a move that is reminiscent of the Bourne movies, takes down his targets by listening in on their chatter through a stolen earpiece. There are plenty of opportunities for shenanigans as you take over the role of drug dealers, bar workers, and chilled out clubbers.
My personal favourite is Chongqing, China. This level begins on the dark and rainy outskirts of an Asian megacity, complete with working laundrettes, quiet restaurants, and oh, a high-tech secret underground facility with a clinic performing experiments on the homeless.
Like all of the levels, this is pitch-perfect recreation of a place or mood, and in this post-pandemic world, is almost as close as I can get to travel somewhere new, although I might check Tripadvisor for that clinic first.
As a game that straddles both generations, there are no giant leaps in visuals from 2018’s Hitman 2, the notable difference being the inclusion of Screen space reflections. These give many of the game’s often grand and luxury locations a literal next-gen sheen and paves the way for a future update that will switch on Ray-traced reflections.
Xbox Series X delivers a 4K 60fps experience by default, with no options for performance/quality. Given how the game is carried by some wonderful art direction and how close it is to last generations Season 1 and 2 of Hitman, I wouldn’t expect a significantly diminished game experience on Series S or the last generation Xbox One S or X. The game is also a fully-featured smart delivery title allowing you to move freely between native versions of the game on different machines and take saves with you. Throughout my time with the game so far, I’ve not noticed drops or hitches in framerate (however this could be down to the game working with VRR).
Glutton for Punishment
One of the most interesting aspects of what is on offer in Hitman 3 is you can import all of the content from the 2 previous games for free ( if you already own them) or by purchasing an access pass as DLC.
Hitman 2016 has been included with Games with Gold, so if you redeemed this at the time, you can play a bonafide next-gen upgraded version of it within Hitman 3 – complete with the engine and gameplay tweaks which breathe a little extra life into what was already a fantastic looking game.
With a whole 3 games worth of content all being wrapped up into a single package, there is a truly gargantuan amount of game on offer – for reference, I have already clocked up almost 500 hours of enjoyment between Hitman 1/2, these games offer a huge amount of replay-ability.
What has been a surprise to me is that Hitman 3 does offer a different experience to these, not just being more of the same (which I would have been more than happy with). IO have clearly spent time creating a different structure to level progression and storytelling – occasionally letting the game step outside of being a murder sandbox. Something that did surprise me was being given a plot I was genuinely interested in seeing through.
IO is continuing to serve up new free content into the game, so far this has been in the form of Escalations, short boss rush like modes where each time you complete them, they start again and get slightly harder, with additional criteria on how to perform a kill. These are almost arcade-like versions of the main Levels, broken down into smaller, bitesize chunks.
A World of Assassination
Tonally this 3rd season is less goofy overall, particularly with the in-game NPC dialogue and mission structure, with the game often taking itself a little more seriously. However, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the inherent ridiculousness of Agent 47’s dead pan delivery and Poe-faced cosplaying.
If you haven’t stepped into the world of assassination before, Hitman 3 may strangely, be the best place to begin.
Hitman 3 is like that demo disc you had as a kid, you know the one (we all had one), the one where you played it 500 times and knew every nook and cranny.
It’s a game I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone; the remedy to the degenerative AAA condition of exponentially longer and larger games. Clearly ‘Practice makes Perfect’ – Focusing and refining Hitman over the last 9 years has paid off, and IO has earned a Silent Assassin rating.