New levels, new targets, new graphical improvements, same Hitman taste. Hitman 3 won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the niche should be extremely satisfied.
Hitman 3 is a great game, and I don’t like playing it.
As contradictory as that seems, the Hitman games play to a very specific niche. Unfortunately, try as I might, I don’t think I’m in that niche. The reboot games have been all about approaching the well-designed levels like a sandbox, playing it how you want to play. That’s commendable, but I’m not the sort of player who cares to repeat levels and attempt different approaches very often. There were moments of fun to be had, but it’s really not the kind of game for me. Despite that though, I can fully recognise the craft on offer here. Keep that in mind for this review, as you might find this suits your tastes far more.
The Hitman titles are third-person stealth/action games. You’ll be given a number of targets and objectives, then dropped into a level to eliminate them. How you go about this is largely open ended. You can knock people out and take their clothing as disguises to get past barricades. Exploring the areas can find you side passages or less direct approaches to your goals. Equipment and useful items like keycards or poisons can be found to facilitate your mission. And should combat ever be called for, just about anything can be utilised as a weapon.
Hitman 3 continues the trend of exceptional level design and versatility that the previous pair offered. It’s mechanically solid and the variety is very present. Admittedly, I don’t think there’s quite as much diversity in weapons and tools as in what I’ve played of Hitman 2; perhaps I simply didn’t find the crazy stuff. The presentation is absolutely top tier however, with fantastic visuals and a very clean, espionage movie aesthetic.
Hitman 3 concludes the “World of Assassination” trilogy of IO Interactive reboots. You’ll be thrust straight into the continuing story, and while there’s a brief recap, it’s best to have played the previous content. Don’t feel as if you have to go back as a new player, though; the story is present, but it’s not the focus. You play as Agent 47, who is waging a covert war against a number of different shadow organisations and espionage agencies. All the trappings of a spy movie are there, and the visuals in cutscenes and gameplay alike carry that charm forward. But for all of that, it largely amounts to a mess of proper nouns and not a huge deal of intrigue. It’s simply the driving point to get you into the new levels.
Speaking of, Hitman 3 comes equipped with six new levels (as well as the first game’s training level, should you not already possess that content). Five are fairly open-ended affairs, but the sixth is a shorter and more linear level to conclude the story. In addition to the main playthroughs and various options therein, some of the maps have new tweaks on Escalation mode. These tackle the same map with new targets, and often new complications or limitations on how you can accomplish it. As before, each Escalation has three levels of difficulty that increase as you clear them. These remixed levels definitely add variety to the gameplay, and the shake up of new targets alone is welcome.
In addition, the Contracts mode is sticking around. This allows you to build your own custom hits within the framework, and then share them online. It’s worth noting that this is the only online functionality now, however. Co-op modes from the previous games are now solo affairs, such as the tweaked Sniper Assassin mode. Aside from chasing scores, there’s no way to play Hitman 3 with your friends as before.
Whatever mode you play in, a mission in Hitman will almost always see you going through a few set steps. You’ll plan your entry point and equipment loadout (if any), then start the level. From there, you’ll be scoping out a location to find the target, carefully setting up your kill just right. Getting past guards and checkpoints is often as much a challenge and puzzle as the actual assassination. Once you’ve made your way in, you can take out the target(s) and then escape the scene. But what’s in between these individual objectives can be dramatically different for each level.
More than anything else, Hitman is a sandbox. Every level has multiple different approaches, and a whole handful of challenges/achievements to go with them. You’re encouraged to replay the stages in a variety of ways. Each target has tasks to assassinate them via shooting, garroting, poisoning, drowning, or catching them in “accidents”. There’s also a number of thematic kills that you can accomplish, though this usually ties into the accidents. Either way, the wide-open nature of each level encourages experimentation and repeat playthroughs.
Whatever your target or your approach, the actual outcome of the missions can vary. Resorting to gunfights and action leans more towards being a last resort, though Agent 47 is by no means incapable. It’s entirely possible to go in with guns blazing, lob explosives indiscriminately, or snipe from the next building over. That’s rarely the most satisfying way to win, though. Hitman is all about the clean-cut, professional approach to contract killing. Arranging all the circumstances to allow for “accidental” deaths while leaving no trace you were ever there? That’s the true dream objective, and these deaths tend to be more cinematic (and occasionally hilarious). When all the pieces line up and your plans come together, the end result is a delight to witness.
My dislike of playing Hitman 3, then, comes from everything in between those perfectly executed moments. Maneuvering your target to the right conditions may take lots of trial and error, if not loading saves repeatedly. The timing windows for specific events can be extremely tight, yet despite this? They will often be sandwiched between multiple minute-long stretches of waiting. Everything is set up for that chandelier to drop without witnesses; now I just have to wait for two minutes while the target slowly saunters to that point.
I enjoyed Hitman 3 when I was breaking into buildings, exploring the level, and formulating plans. The actual execution of the plans, on the other hand, usually felt tedious and time consuming. Brief moments of elation, lots of nothing to get there. I’m usually quite patient when it comes to my games, but there were simply too many instances where it felt like I was waiting for an arbitrary moment where everything lined up.
Ironically, I had more fun with the game when I let myself play sloppily. If it was clear that I would have to scour a level for all the right triggers and sequences to get one specific kill, I stopped reloading saves. I’d try for the special kill, but the moment something messed up, I’d face the consequences. Having to stash unplanned bodies, only to get spotted and face increased security? Trying to shake dogged pursuers or simply go at them guns blazing? That made the moment to moment gameplay more unpredictable and enjoyable than the waiting did.
This slow and methodical approach is a niche that I simply don’t fall into. In encouraging me to play perfectly, I get into the mentality of not being allowed to make those mistakes, which can lead to lots of loading saves. Then, careful play and waiting for just the right moment to engage can take lots of time doing little but watching.
Of course, you don’t need to accomplish your missions that way. Hitman 3 will still let you finish and tick off objectives or challenges as long as your targets are eliminated somehow. That’s the nature of the sandbox. But a sandbox game encourages players to replay the level multiple times to try out everything and see what works. Whether you’re willing to explore the systems within and push the level design to breaking will determine if you get your money’s worth here. If you’re like me and play once for the story, or to execute the one plan perfectly? Hitman 3 might not be the game for you.
There are incentives for replaying missions beyond simple bragging rights, mind. Every stage has a mastery level that increases as you accomplish challenges within them. Reaching level milestones can unlock new options for these replays, such as new starting points or equipment. New to Hitman 3 are shortcuts, which can be opened in a run and remain open in subsequent plays. These include doors that are unlocked from one side, or raised ladders that can be lowered. Simple stuff, but it rewards exploration and allows you to clear subsequent attempts with some variety.
It’s worth noting that much of what I’ve stated so far is interchangeably applied to all three Hitman reboot games. It’s possible to speak very generally about these games, as they’re practically modular additions to one another. This is by design, as you can go back and purchase the Hitman 1 and 2 content to play in 3. At present, this is leading to issues with the PC versions, as Hitman 3 is an Epic store exclusive and content compatibility is facing hurdles. If you own the previous games on Steam, you might want to look into that before you commit to picking this one up. IO is working on a solution, but that doesn’t look like it will be available on launch.
Still, the modular nature of each game’s entries means that all three play extremely similarly. So if you’ve played Hitman 1 or 2 already, you know exactly what you’re getting with 3. There’s nothing new or ground-breaking here, just more of the same. Honestly though, that’s perfectly fine for those who like this style of game, as the high quality of level design carries forward.
You might not get a wholly original concept or sequel with Hitman 3. What you will get is that same intricate set of levels applied to new areas and concepts. Whether it’s trying to uncover covert operatives in a Berlin rave, or weaving through the secret passages in a Dartmoor mansion, these locales and their implementation really are a treat. I may not have gelled with the gameplay as much as I could’ve, but I certainly loved exploring these areas and plumbing their secrets.
Overall, I can identify the sheer quality of Hitman 3, even if it’s not the kind of game I’ll be going back to a lot. This is also not exactly a great place to start for newcomers, and I’d recommend checking out the earlier games/levels first. For those who are already fans though, this should be just what the unusual doctor with the barcode tattoo ordered.