If Hitman 2016 was IO Interactive testing the waters of a more expansive, replayable breed of Hitman game, and Hitman 2 was the next iterative step, Hitman 3 closes the trilogy with the veteran studio firing on all cylinders.
Not only does Hitman 3 offer some of the most impressive maps in the franchise’s history, but it packs them full of small details and nuance that even after ploughing through the campaign, I found myself itching to return to the scene of every crime.
Don't look down, 47.
For the uninitiated, the Hitman franchise is a puzzle-filled sandbox wrapped up in a third-person perspective. Sure, you can fire off a few rounds, slink behind cover, and turn every level into a battleground, but you’re unlikely to last long.
Instead, Agent 47 sets about finding his targets in sprawling levels, working out ways to isolate them and surprise them, and ensuring he’s the last thing they see.
In many ways, that formula has been in place since the franchise’s debut, but with each instalment in the “World of Assassination” trilogy, IO has grown in confidence.
In Hitman 3, Agent 47 is tasked with hunting down agents of a shadowy organisation known as Providence – and they aren’t easy to find. His journey takes him from Dubai to England, to Argentina and Romania, each setting offering something entirely different from the last.
Take the opening Dubai mission, for example. Whereas many Hitman locales are known for their wide-ranging pathways and blend of stealth gameplay and disguise-swapping, Dubai is built on verticality – more so than any Hitman map before it.
Now not only can Agent 47 grab a disguise and head upstairs, but he can shimmy up vertical railings hundreds of feet in the air. These have always been options, sure, but now they feel more like parts of 47’s growing toolkit than ever before.
Knives In (Necks)
Dartmoor is a clear highlight of the campaign
As stunning as Dubai is, it’s the Dartmoor location that truly stands apart from its peers.
One part Hitman mission and one part murder mystery, it offers some surprising narrative twists and an oppressive atmosphere that’s unlike anything else in the franchise before.
To ruin anything would be downright cruel, but suffice to say that the mission is incredibly dense and intricate, both in mechanical and narrative terms.
Fake It Until You Make It
Chongqing is a perfect demonstration of IO's Glacier engine's power
Of course, how much fun you have in each level will be dictated by player flexibility. You could, feasibly, burn through the campaign in a matter of hours, but doing so would miss the point of experimentation.
Take the Dubai sequence, for example. Sure, you can walk straight up to your target and pop him with a silenced pistol, but the real fun is putting a “Rube Goldberg” machine of death into play.
Maybe you steal your target’s bodyguard’s outfit on his first day and gain the opportunity to get close to your mark for the perfect moment. Or, maybe you poison his drink. Opportunities aren’t signposted as obviously as in prior games, but they’re there – waiting to be found.
Old Habits Die Hard
Sure, little of this is new per se, but perhaps it’s fitting, then, that this concluding chapter in the trilogy is essentially a victory lap for Agent 47.
Hitman 3 allows players to import mastery levels, locations, and unlocks from both prior games, meaning from Paris to Romania, you’ve got eighteen sprawling locations to explore and deal death in (and that's not including prior DLC locations).
Each imported location gets some new tweaks, too, including improved lighting and reflections, making Hitman 3 the dream destination for hired guns.
It’s worth noting that Ghost Mode doesn’t return for Hitman 3, with the wildly underrated asynchronous multiplayer mode offed after Hitman 2.
Thankfully, escalations return. These contracts remix existing areas and characters in interesting ways, increasing in challenge with each successful hit, and with Hitman 3’s playgrounds being arguably the best of the bunch, there’s plenty of fun to be had there.
Hitman 3 is a confident end to a trilogy that has steadily gained in reputation with each entry.
It’s a beautiful, dark, and frequently testing entry in a franchise that has matured over two decades, and is undoubtedly the best way to kick off 2021.
Welcome back, 47.