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The special sauce to Hitman is that its levels feel like real places, even when they're meant to be unreal. In Hitman 3, the first mission takes place in Burj Al-Ghazal, modelled on Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. A mega spire built in the heart of Dubai. This hotel-meets-conference centre is all marble, gold, and glass. It's an architect's dream and the sort of place you'll likely never step inside unless you're from that ultra-rich, elite class we hear about but rarely see.
The space reveals itself in layers. The lobby leads up a grand staircase into an atrium spaced with tall columns. There are sweeping staircases framing the room and crowds of guests mill about taking drinks from waiting staff. This is the mission's public face, an area you can explore without needing a pass or a disguise. But, as with any conference centre, if you look for them, you can see doors to staff areas, security guards blocking entrances to off-limits spaces, and barriers you can only pass with keycards, codes, or lanyards. Once you get through those doors you step into the back of the stage - the marble is replaced with concrete, the chandeliers with striplighting.
The joy of Hitman is the way that its levels unfurl as you explore. It's not just that you learn the layout of the buildings, working out what staff door lets you through to the maintenance staircase leading to where your target is held up, but as you walk around the map you'll overhear conversations, spot signage, find keycards, all things that will crack open the mission a little further. For instance, in that Dubai mission, there's a staff briefing room with a door code scrawled on a whiteboard - note down the code and it will let you through most of the low-level locked doors. Pick up enough of this information and you can break away from the more overt routes to your targets and begin to construct more off-piste approaches.
I followed around one of the targets, a wealthy oil baron who's protected up in the penthouse suite of the hotel. As he wanders, always trailed by two bodyguards, he records his memoirs on his dictaphone. He hates to be interrupted and he rewards himself whenever he completes a thought by having a whisky on the rocks. Dotted around the penthouse are glasses which staff keep refilling for him. This was the weakness I would target.
I'm dressed as a penthouse guard which gives me free run of the high-security area - but I still need to keep out of view of one or two of the other guardsmen who will recognise I'm not one of their own. While the oil tycoon is on his walk, dictating away, I go up to his bedroom. There's a member of staff waiting next to his drink, ready to top it up. I rifle through my inventory, take out a coin and toss it into the corner of the room, drawing him away from the drink. With his back turned I pour rat poison into the glass. It won't kill my target, but it will send him to the nearest bathroom to vomit.
All I have to do is wait in the bathroom for the tycoon to come and kiss the porcelain and then hold his head in the bowl. While I'm waiting I have another look through my inventory. It would be a shame not to use some of this high-end equipment. I mean, fibre wire, silenced pistols, knives, hammers, so many things that I've picked up as I made my way up to the penthouse. At that moment the tycoon enters the room holding his stomach and I grab the first weapon in my inventory I can. It's a banana.
I throw the fruit at the mega-wealthy leader of a shadowy cabal of international super criminals and it knocks him to the floor. I grab the next item I can. An explosive rubber duck. I toss the bomb down on the floor next to the oil tycoon. Walk out the room and, as the door swings shut, pull the trigger. Target eliminated.
There are more efficient ways to murder Hitman's targets. Ways that will let you walk out of a successful mission with no characters aware that your targets are even dead. That might be the way that gets you the highest score, but if a game gives me a way to win with a banana and an exploding duck, then I'll take it.
The Hitman games have always invited us to return to missions after completing them once, tempting us to discover just how many secrets each level holds. In Hitman 3 you have all the challenges that hint at showcase kills. For instance, there's a reward in the Dubai mission for killing both your targets as they skydive. Which tells us there's a way to coax your targets to leap from the skyscraper if you can find it.
But there's now a new tool. Dotted around levels are unlockable shortcuts that, once opened in one run, will stay open in all future playthroughs. These shortcuts don't make the game easy, but they do open up new possibilities. For instance, normally, while dressed as a clown, Agent 47 wouldn't be allowed through any security doors; but there's a maintenance door in the lobby of Burj Al-Ghazal that, once unlocked, means he can sneak (well, sneak as quietly as his clown shoes allow) up two floors without passing any guards. I've not yet worked out how to kill both my targets while dressed as a clown and armed with a banana, but I think this shortcut and others like it will be a key part.
Hitman 3 is more Hitman. Which sounds like faint praise, but I think the recent Hitman games represent the best the series has ever been. Every mission is a rich meal to be picked through and digested. I can't wait to tuck into the full game and find every secret its levels hold. If you've liked the previous Hitman games then you absolutely should check out Hitman 3 when it releases on Jaunary 20, it's a whole new anthology of globetrotting murder. There are new toys sprinkled in there, but that's not why I'm keen to play more; it's because of simply having more of these incredible levels from a team that has been perfecting its craft for more than 20 years.
Featured Image Credit: IO Interactive
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